The Regency Wardrobe collection - research & making - Sir Robert Smart

Reader's note: This post details the work done on one or more of the pieces in The Regency Wardrobe collection. The collection was created over 15 months and is the result of a residency at the Regency Town House, Hove; a Regency era house that is gradually being turned into a heritage centre through the work of volunteers. Fine artist Stephanie Smart worked closely with town house volunteers in order to: incorporate local social history and period research into the design of each piece; develop paper and thread techniques. She also visited the storage facilities of public and private collections in order to research Regency art, design and fashion. These include: The Royal Pavilion Brighton, The National Maritime Museum Greenwich, The National Trusts’ Fashion Collection at Killerton House, The Army Museum London, Chertsey Museum, Worthing Museum, Bath Fashion Museum and The Fan Museum Greenwich.

The Regency Wardrobe collection consists of 11 life size garments, plus accessories and shoes, all made entirely from paper and thread. The entire collection was due to be exhibited to the public in May 2020. Due to Coronavirus this had to be cancelled. The collection is due to tour with pieces being able to be seen at Chertsey Museum and Worthing Museum over the coming months. For more information please check back. More venues expected.

In the navy

(Sir Robert Smart's epaulette, paper & thread, see below)

There are three naval uniforms in a case in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich that were of special interest to me as I considered the style of the piece I would make. That is, once I had realised the importance of the navy in British warfare, particularly toward the end of the century preceding the Regency, under Nelson (see: https://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/nelson-leader)

nb. there is a fabulous painting by Turner (The Battle of Trafalgar from 1805) displayed in its own separate room on the ground floor of the museum, with a fascinating soundtrack about this period. Please see: https://www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/we-recommend/attractions/turners-battle-trafalgar-gallery

Originally I'd expected I would make an army uniform inspired by those worn by a British regiment at the start of the nineteenth century. Then I met three naval re-enactors as I showed my work in progress at an open day at The Regency Town House and we got chatting.

They converted me, the importance of the sea began to seem undeniable and the National Maritime Museum appeared the obvious place to continue my investigation.

In the image below you can see the three uniforms: a lieutenants dress and waist coat from about 1748; a captain's full dress coat from 1774; an admiral's full dress coat from late 18th, early 19th Century. They stand with instruments of their profession and rank and seem so apparently sure of themselves. The admiral's dress coat I would come to think of as especially interesting, not simply because of the date of it but also because my research would finally isolate an admiral of special interest to me personally, as I will detail shortly.

I went also to see similar examples which the museum holds in store at a separate site nearby. I’m not allowed to publish any of the photos I took at the storage unit but I can include these links to the garments I saw, including (the last one) to the outfit which after months of internal debate I would settle upon as the primary inspiration for the particular style of the outfit I would make:

https://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/71352.html

https://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/71308.html

https://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/71341.html

For more images please scroll right

As I began I found that Wikipedia helpfully lists the naval ranks as they were at the time: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Navy_ranks,_rates,_and_uniforms_of_the_18th_and_19th_centuries

Life in the navy, certainly at the end of the eighteenth century, was no picnic: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/empire_seapower/life_at_sea_01.shtml

And this article is interesting: http://allempires.com/article/index.php?q=english_navy_1649-1815

It is mentioned in one of the collection of letters held by The Regency Town House, Brighton (see: http://www.rth.org.uk/collections/bevan/death) that the young son (aged maybe 12-13) of one of the families writing is at sea and in fact dies there. This had struck me whilst reading through them, so I was interested to know more about the practise of sending young boys to sea. There's information about this on the walls at The National Maritime Museum. Or please see: https://www.cnrs-scrn.org/northern_mariner/vol14/tnm_14_4_11-24.pdf

Working toward creating my own jacket I started out by sketching one of the jackets I'd seen in the museum store, though it wouldn't be the jacket I finally settled on in order to shape the piece I made.

I then began early experiments (above) making gold naval trim, which seemed clumsy at best.

Thankfully in the end (below) I discovered that a combination of gold and navy tissue paper, navy blue paper tablecloth (kindly donated by Duni) and masses of gold Madeira embroidery thread plus various styles of stitches would give me the look I wanted.

For more images please scroll right

For more images please scroll right

Looking for the anchor symbol is the key to recognising a naval button so it seems - produced here using quilling paper, card, Japanese mizuhiki paper chord, gold paint and varnish.

Button credit Gilly Burton

I turned to mizuhiki chord and over stitching to make the button hooks.

The buttons on the waistcoat were made of white quilling paper with gold edging, simply coiled.

Please click on each image to enlarge

I debated long and hard about whether to produce breeches or to just show a frockcoat and waistcoat combination. In the end I found a mannequin with a slimmer body shape than the one I had begun using and this one had thighs which couldn't be left bare so that made the decision for me.

I'd seen breeches at Worthing Museum of the sort I then saw at the National Maritime Museum store, during the first museum visit I made for this project as part of The Hidden Wardrobe research. In order to get the appearance right I turned again to a paper tablecloth this time folding, cutting and stitching, then gathering, pinning and fitting. I had to extend the thighs of the mannequin slightly, down to the knee which I did by making a paper pocket and stuffing it with screwed up cut-offs.

How the breeches began

Right at the end of the making process I did look at examples of actual patterns of frockcoats but by then they served only to prove the decisions I had had to take according to the logic of dividing such a garment up such that in segments it fits a male mannequin. It was nice to see that this was the way it is indeed done by costumiers and manufacturers. As a rule however I don't look at patterns rather at finished items, making them then by eye.

This piece is a work of fine art rather than an item of clothing, as are all the pieces I make. I am not a fashion designer or a costumier. I do not make pieces to be worn and am not interested in making a direct copy of a garment for the sake of it. My medium is not fabric it is paper and my aim is to interpret, incorporate, collage and sculpt. Thus the decoration of this uniform would not be merely gold trim and buttons with anchors on them, rather it would be words, impressions and images that would represent real experiences and the feelings of two real sailors.