The Regency Wardrobe collection - research & making - Dressed for promenading






Walking in Regency England


"Walking Dresses were worn to see and be seen. They are often referred to as Promenade Dresses, a very literal definition of their purpose. The fashionable Regency woman was seen walking in the parks or in the shopping districts during the London Season (spring and early summer); at the popular seaside resorts in August and September; and in the countryside at their own estates or at house parties during the fall and winter months. Walking Dresses differ for each location and season of the year. Because they were meant to be worn outdoors, the full costume of the Walking Dress always included a head covering of some kind, an outer garment or wrap, and gloves. Bonnets, caps, and veils were worn to cover the head, and were often the means of the most dashing or frivolous fashion statement".

- https://www.janeausten.co.uk/walking-dresses/


As an interesting aside I smiled when I came across this image of a woman taking snuff before a walk

(or afterwards): https://www.regrom.com/2018/01/12/regency-culture-and-society-ladies-taking-snuff/


Imagine if you will setting out for a walk in Brighton, from Brunswick square, in the late 1820's. Of course you would likely head along the sea front in front of the townhouses that look out to sea, therefore toward the Chain pier; promenading along the promenade so to speak. But in the early days of its existence Brunswick square was right on the edge of Brighton & Hove. So if you had turned right instead of left you would have walked straight into a green landscape, whilst yet staying beside the blue horizon. As this image shows:

© The Regency Society & the Society of Brighton Print Collectors - please see: http://sbpc.regencysociety.org/view-of-brunswick-square-and-adjacent-buildings-adjoining-brighton/

And if you were female and the weather was a little chilly you might be wearing a floor length pelisse.

As is evident in the quote from janeausten.co.uk above the term "walking dress" seems included the outer layers, jackets, cloaks, wraps etc, that a woman would have worn whilst walking. These outer garments were often made from colourful fabrics, while the dress beneath was commonly white during this period. Earlier styles of jacket include one coincidentally (considering where our imaginary character is walking) called the Brunswick, please see: https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O115756/brunswick-unknown/ but by the early nineteenth century fashion would more surely have dictated that a Spencer or a Pelisse be worn

For more about the history of the Pelisse please see my earlier post: https://stephaniesmart.wixsite.com/stephaniesmart/single-post/2018/11/26/Pelisse

Loops, Buttons and Trim

I found this wonderful sky blue example early on in my research and became absolutely enamoured by it (there seems to be a green version in existence also). It's owned by the museum of London: https://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/82460.html and covered in, what I would go on to discover, was called rouleaux work. I also went on to find other examples of beautiful rouleaux work but few seemed quite to compare.

Rouleaux is usually made from fabric of course, by sewing together the edges of a long strip and then turning it inside out. Please see: https://fabricnfiction.com/tag/regency-dress/

Making garments from paper means that many fabric techniques have to be adapted and I'm very grateful to Gilly Burton for all the time she spent working out the best way to create reams of paper rouleaux for the front of Loops, Buttons and Trim, part of The Regency Wardrobe collection.




Image of the middle of Loops, Buttons and Trim showing the paper rouleaux

Working and finished photos of the Loops, Buttons and Trim showing the paper rouleaux being applied. For more images please click right

Rouleaux credit to Gilly Burton, Jenny Fraser, Kerry Crofton

In the past I've always banned the inclusion of any material other than thread and paper (but including card) in the making, or even in the display, of any of the garments I've made. But I have found it very interesting, during my research into historical fashion, including whilst looking at real pieces in museum and private collections (for more on this please see: https://stephaniesmart.wixsite.com/thehiddenwardrobe), to consider how real garments were held together. And pins were commonly used not just during construction but whilst pieces were actually being worn, to hold them on the body.

"Pins were so essential to the 18th c. lady that the British trade embargoes against American colonists during the Revolution made their price skyrocket in Boston and other colonial cities. Ladies could live without tea. Pins were quite another matter. Abigail Adams famously wrote from Massachusetts to her husband John in London in 1775, begging him to "purchase me a bundle of pins & put them in your trunk for me. The cry for pins [in Boston] is so great, that what I used to buy for seven shillings and sixpence, are now twenty shillings, and not to be had for that." - http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com/2009/11/pins-pinning.html

While hooks and eyes for example (see image above) were in use by this period pins were still essential during the Regency for holding together parts of an outfit whilst it was being worn.

For an interesting history of pin usage please see: https://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/regency-pins/


as another quick aside it might seem that dress pins would be more dangerous than

hairpins but the hairpin was at this time could be dangerous in a way you might not imagine:

http://www.regrom.com/2016/10/18/regency-health-and-medicine-important-caution-to-females/

I mention this because it's true that for the first time I did decide not always to try and find alternatives, ribbons etc that i could make out of paper. So, when stitching has proved inappropriate for holding parts of a garment in this collection together, for it's display on a mannequin, I have employing pins, if rarely. Certain parts of paper garments are obviously fragile, in different respects to the ways in which fabric garments are, but there are many lessons that are transferable, in construction as well as attachment. After all, who am I to argue with the fact that humans have used pins since possibly as early as 3,000 BC presumably for good reason. Sometimes they are just the best way of holding one part of a garment to another.

Likewise I looked at belts, from the period, particularly those attached to a pelisse. In fact it's hard to find images of women's belts otherwise. The empire line, high waisted style of many dresses meant that belts appear to have been rarely worn except on these long jackets.


When we visited the store at Worthing Museum to see this gorgeous emerald green example we found an example of a belt with a large bow attached to the back, with a simple sliding front, just as is shown in the Museum of London example. As you can see there was also beautiful rouleaux on this piece.

Regency Town House volunteer Megan Breckell and the Worthing Museum pelisse.

The top three pictures of this pelisse were taken by me on our visit to Worthing, the bottom two come from: https://www.facebook.com/pg/KentCostumeTrust/posts/

I chose to mirror the design of the front fastening of these belts on Loops, Buttons and Trim, whilst applying a large decorative feature (but on the front as a twist) to the third white walking dress in this series of three, please see The Chertsey Pelisse (below).

As I've said in other posts pieces made by The House of Embroidered Paper are never direct copies of historical garments that were once made in fabric. Instead each is unique but often designed by encorporating and combining elements of two or more other pieces, depending on where my research leads. That is true in this case. Having fallen for the pale blue pelisse above I also went on to see examples of both pelisse and spencer jackets held in store at Chertsey museum, part of the Olive Matthews collection. One of them had leaf like trim around the neck line and on the shoulders, and seemed to speak directly to the slightly larger but similar shapes that can be seen on the Museum of London Pelisse. Of course this spencer is also covered in beautiful rouleaux

Spencer 1 1815 - Image copyright The Olive Matthews Collection, Chertsey Museum. Photo by John Chase Photography

For more images of this piece please see: https://stephaniesmart.wixsite.com/thehiddenwardrobe/post/chertsey-museum-fashion-collection-spencer-jackets

Planning the accompanying video

In my original sketch and the plan I'd made for the walking dress that would become Loops, Buttons and Trim I'd stayed quite close to the Museum of London garment but added, for the first time into my work, the idea of using projection. The idea of projecting simple shadow imagery, in black and white, on to the skirt of an all white outfit, in this case around the trim, excited me.

So rather than planning to place rouleaux all over it I'd thought at first that I might represent foliage, grasses etc, shown twisting in the breeze by the side of a verge, of the sort that a lady might promenade past, by projecting their shadows onto the skirt of the piece.


I made my first short, experimental, clip on a bright breezy summer's day while I was out for a walk:

It was after I'd seen the Chertsey Museum spencer that my ideas began to change. The layered leaves around the shoulders and necklines looked like the layered branches of trees, giving a three-dimensional element to the shoulders. I was now pulled instead toward other clips I had filmed, this time of the shadows of leaves in woodland.

But I wasn't so sure about projecting this onto the skirt of the dress, the shadows of grasses might be cast on the bottom of a long skirt around a hem but the shadows of leaves would fall on a passer by from above and/or fall around them.

Gradually it became clear that all three of the white dresses in this part of the collection could be and would be under-lit in some way. I knew I would use shadow and light but not as I had been thinking. I considered projecting imagery from inside out, using turntables; that's an idea I might return to.

And whilst I'd started off imagining projecting onto the outside of this one piece, around the trim of the whole skirt, I also wanted to honour and focus on the craftsmanship that was becoming only ever more apparently impressive as the piece itself developed. The quality of the rouleaux that by now Gilly Burton was making demanded note.

I therefore began to cut shapes that reflected the shapes of the twisted rouleaux and to experiment with layering them on the underside of the skirt and merely lighting the piece from within. This way I could apply her rouleaux all the way down the front.

These pictures show me putting the basic garment together

For more images please click right

And these show the wide paper cut stems (mimicking the shape of the rouleaux design) that run up the sides of (but underneath) the skirt. I'd thought a black strip might give a better, darker shadow, whilst being hidden beneath the white top surface layer but it showed through so in the end all the layers were made white.

I still planned to use the video I'd made of the shadows of leaves but as a backdrop . To see how my final decisions work out in practise please come and see it all live at the exhibiton.


A final note:

The single dark blue thread

There is a single piece of dark blue thread sewn into this all white garment. The question is why?

During the period when I was making Loops, Buttons and Trim my, rather old, sewing machine started having trouble. The original exhibition deadline was looming and I tried sending off for a new one but had to send it back. So I was stuck, I didn't have time to research and purchase another but needed to get the work done. My partner stepped in.