Long Ramble from a non-expert.
Posted by Caroline on February 28, 1998 at 14:44:28:
In response to So what are the clothing myths?, written by Carolyn B on February 28, 1998 at 00:18:06
I really have no right to claim any expertise in this matter. I'm not a historian per se, neither have I formally studied costume history. However, I 'm really interested and have done quite a bit of costume for re-enactments, school plays etc, I come from a long line of professional dressmakers, have been a Laura Ashley addict for over twenty years, and grew up in England where I had plenty of opportunity to look at museum clothing.
The clothing books I really like are those which concentrate on the ordinary. The book "The Fabric of Society" ,( in the bibliography) has photographs of real clothes, on real people, some of them museum pieces, some reconstructions. It's based on the Cunnington Collection of costumes at the Manchester Gallery of Costume, and gives as much detail about clothes making and care as it does about the fashions themselves.If one book explains what real people wore, and how they wore it, it's this one.
Moreover, from the point of view of this board, it is very useful in that it concentrates on the period 1780-1880, and uses terminology entirely consistent with that found in Jane Austen (it calls the scarfy thing around a woman's neck a 'handkerchief', for instance).
Most authentic costume is too fragile to be handled by the hoi polloi, but many local museums in England have examples of clothing from the period on display, and not just "ballgowns" and ceremonial clothing, although these are often given prominence. And of course, the old factories and industrial buildings that produced regency clothing still exist in places. I once went round an old silk factory in Suffolk, that was still weaving on eighteenth century silk looms and had the first -ever jaquard loom in England (dating from before 1810) still working. They happened to be weaving a curtain fabric on that loom at the time, and I found the moving cards, the flying shuttle and the 'clacking' noise absolutely fascinating!
There is one other source of costume information which rarely gets a mention on these pages (or in any conversation about regency fashion) probably because it's concerned far more with the working man than the gentleman.But it is a fact that rise of Romanticism, and the fashion for wild and wooly nature over contrived elegance, coupled with a new interest in travel and scenery led to a great number of books being published about 'trade' and 'regional ' clothing. Now some of these are decidedly of the "ain't that cute" style, and probably just as suspect as the designs in "La Belle Assemblée", but others, like George Walker's "Costumes of Yorkshire" published in 1814 seem to be a genuine attempt to depict costume variations in a realistic manner.
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