Monday, May 7, 2012

Preparing for an 1812 event ... eventually

Ladies Magazine January 1812  London
As far as my living history hobby goes, my main focus is the 1750s to 1770s. However, like many of my reenacting friends, I am beginning to take a more serious interest in the early 19th century. Specifically the years 1800 to about 1820. Myself and a group of friends are working to create a new unit representing the 1st Battalion of 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot with the goal of attending the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo to be held in Belgium in 2015.
With the bicentennial of the War of 1812 being commemorated in New York, New England, and Canada over the next couple of years there will be many opportunities to attend related events. My first War of 1812 event will be in August at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

So what exactly does that mean for me? Well, a whole new wardrobe! Which excites me and fills me with dread all at the same time. It's exciting because I love the research involved in planning a new outfit, fabric shopping, and sewing. However, I dread this task because it does mean lots of research and sewing. I'm not as familiar with the 1812 era as I am with that of the 18th century. And when I say "a whole new wardrobe", I mean exactly that. There are few items of clothing that I use for 18th century events that will work for 1812. This is because the fashions of the 18teens change drastically from those of the 1750s to 1770s.

Fashions of 1740 compared to those of 1807. Engraving by Charles Williams
Fashion plate of English and French costumes for 1815
So what will I be able to use from my 18th century clothing? The same shift - at least for now. The same stockings and handkerchiefs and that's really about it. My bonnet, mitts, and cloak are "close enough" it get me through my first events.

What will I need that's new? A shift (eventually), stays, under petticoat, gown, cap, chemisette, spencer or pelisse for cooler events, and shoes. That's a lot of sewing!

Silk damask pelisse, c.1815-20, Vintage Textiles
There are several commercial patterns available for gowns, stays, etc. Like those of any historic period, some patterns seem to be better than others. I would like to avoid purchasing new patterns so I think my plan for now will be to draft my own. I'll most likely use one of the gowns in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion I. I would like to make a bib front gown as I think it will be easy to put on without assistance, although I do like the look of the gowns that close in the back. Below is a nice example of a bib front gown from Vintage Textiles.

Silk faille, bib-front dress, c.1800-1810, Vintage Textiles
Silk faille, bib-front dress, c.1800-1810
Stays will still be an issue but I've pretty much mastered the art of putting on a pair of back lacing stays by myself in a tent. :) I plan to use the pattern for stays provided by Katherine on her blog The Fashionable Past. These are closer to 1820 then 1812 but I think they be a good make do pair to get me started. Of course all this sewing will have to wait until I finish a few other projects.

For those of you who have already created 1812 era clothing I have a few questions:
-What patterns did you use (or create yourself) to make your clothing and what did you like or dislike about those patterns?
-Which type of gown do you find easier to make and/or wear (bib front or back closing)?
-What is your favorite thing about the Regency time period?


  1. I've only made ca. 1800 clothes, but I figure that's close enough. I pretty much draped the dress, since it was an unfitted lining and the cotton was fitted with pleats and drawstrings, but it was based on an extant dress and I've since taken the pattern of a very, very similar one if you'd like to see that. I prefer front-closing as back-fastenings are somewhat impossible for me to do, especially with a corset, but by 1812 back-fastening gowns were much more common than front-closing. (Haven't tried bib-front closures myself, but I think they're cool.)

    My favorite thing about the fashion of this time period is the amount of variation. Trims, layering, sleeve styles - it's pretty impressive.

  2. Hi Cassidy,
    Thanks for your feedback. Yes, I would love to see the pattern for your gown! Do you have any images on your blog?
    That's interesting to know about fastening gowns becoming less common. See, I do have lots of research to do! :)

  3. I've been lazy and haven't posted any photos of my thesis project apart from the stays, unfortunately. I'll email you a couple and my pattern when I can scan it!

    The fastening change seems to go along with the whole Neoclassical->Romantic transition. Basically, the style that came in ca. 1805 with the puffed short sleeves required an unbroken front, so it switched to the buttoning back, but up until it became necessary the dress paradigm was that it always closed in the front (like the sacque, anglaise, etc.). It's harder to date extant bib-front gowns, since they don't fit into that, but I don't think I've ever seen one that had to be later than 1810 - none have short puffed sleeves or padded hems. (Now that I've said this I'll probably find one immediately.)


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