Jane Austin’s classic novels have enchanted readers for years, taking place in a rather interesting time period for fashion. You’ve probably heard the word ‘Regency’ associated with the clothing and styles depicted in Austin’s books, which deserves some clarification.
The term ‘Regency’ marks the time period between 1811 and 1820, which is encompassed by the Georgian era. It is called regency because it takes place during the actual regency of George IV for his father who was also named George, whose father was also named George, whose father was also named George… hence the Georgian era.
Key identification markers for this style are more conical silhouettes for women with empire waisted gowns. These were usually in white or cream colors as cotton was readily available during this time. For men, the silhouette was more severe and plain, with dark colored jackets, boots, and extremely stiff cravats and shirt collars. They look rather uncomfortable, but that was the trend, nonetheless.
If you so desire to experience a taste of Regency period fashion without spending too much in materials, this is a perfect way to dip your feet into practical historical fashion.
To make a Regency nightgown (which doubles quite well as a regency costume), you will need a good-sized bedsheet in your desired color, some rope elastic or ribbon, thread that matches your bedsheet, some pins, scissors, measuring tape, and a dressy scarf. Now, please don’t go taking your parents’ linens without their permission, because that might not go over so well.
Start by ironing out any wrinkles in the bedsheet, and then fold lengthwise. You’ll need to spread it on the floor in order to measure the pieces. Then lay yourself across the doubled fabric to mark your measurements, or if you want to make the dress for somebody else, employ the aid of that person. In my case, that person is fellow TPSer, Morgan Dix.
The measurement you’ll want to mark is the neckline. When measuring the neckline, make it double your usual size, because you will gather it with elastic later. You will essentially be cutting out two rectangles of fabric with a long neckline. The length of these will depend on what height you are, but they should fall from your shoulders to your ankle. Don’t worry about armholes just yet. The pieces you’ll cut should look like this.
Take your two pieces, place them right sides together, and sew only the top of the shoulders. Use your iron to press the seams open.
After that, sew a channel around the neckline for your elastic. This is done quite simply by folding the raw edge of fabric back against the wrong side of the fabric until it forms a channel with a thickness of half an inch. Then sew across the bottom of that fold.
Once you have done this all the way around your neckline, you might be tempted to put your elastic in now, but sew up the sides first and press them so you have a complete rectangular smock. Then flip your regency dress in the making right side out and try it on. If you find there is not enough room to move your arms, you can always take out some of the stitches.
I ended up having to remove quite a bit of stitching so the dress would fit my sister correctly, which won’t hurt your fabric, but it will take some extra time. Morgan is an average-sized twelve-year-old, and her arm holes needed to be about ten inches long. However, this was on account of me using ribbon instead of the rope elastic, so this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem if you are using stretchier materials.
Once you have the correct stitching, seam up the arm holes and run elastic through that elastic channel. The amount of elastic you use should be enough to gather the neckline, but not so much that it pulls at your neck. I ended up having to use ribbon instead of elastic, which is another viable option.
Now, elastic is not historically accurate, and real regency dresses would have had buttons up the back and cap sleeves and a more glamorous fabric than a bed sheet, but unless you plan on inventing a time machine and traveling back to the middle of the Georgian period, you’re probably safe.
In which case, you’re done! Actually, almost, but not quite. If you feel so inclined, put on your dress and tie the scarf a little above your natural waistline, grab some princess gloves fashionable for evening wear, put your hair up, and then go model your fabulous creation like you’re Elizabeth Bennet.