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Monday 1 September 2014

My Regency dress - made to measure

A Regency promenade

I am very excited to be joining the Jane Austen Festival Grand Regency Costumed Promenade in Bath for the first time this year. We are attempting to break the world record for the most people in Regency costume at one time.

Ticket for the Jane Austen Festival Grand Regency Costumed Promenade
My ticket to promenade
The rules require ladies to wear “full-length dresses with a high waistline, low cut necks and bonnet” with “the necessary accessories to complete the costume, e.g. hat or bonnet, reticule, gloves, Spencer jacket or pelisse or shawl”.

Creating a Regency costume

Acquiring a Regency outfit is not a simple process. You can’t just walk into a clothes shop and buy one off the shelf. So a few months ago, I tweeted asking for advice and several lovely people responded, offering suggestions of who might be able to help. As a result, I was put in contact with Natalie Garbett, who is not only a wonderfully talented historical costumer, but is actually based in my home town of Weymouth.

Rachel having a fitting of her Regency dress
Natalie pinning up the hem of my
Regency dress at my first fitting
So many choices

But finding a dressmaker was only part of the solution. I had to choose a design. Did I want a day dress or an evening dress? Silk or cotton? Long sleeves or short sleeves? From the beginning, middle or end of the Regency period? What colour, style, fastenings, undergarments, accessories…? The choices were somewhat overwhelming, especially as this was a whole new world to me.

Evening dress  from Ackermann's Repository (Dec 1813)
Evening dress
from Ackermann's Repository (Dec 1813)
I went to Regency fashion prints for inspiration. It is always surprising to look through pages of prints and realise that not all of them are in the traditional Regency style, with the high waistline we associate with the Jane Austen era, but I knew this was the shape I needed. I found some prints from 1813 and 1814 showing the sort of style I had in mind.

Walking dress  from Ackermann's Repository  (June 1814)
Walking dress
from Ackermann's Repository
(June 1814)
Natalie was very helpful in refining my ideas. Our aim was to create an outfit which not only looked Regency, but was made of the right sort of fabric and colour for the period. I decided a neutral colour would be the most versatile and so, after much discussion, we decided on cream cotton for the dress with a more brightly-coloured silk Spencer to wear over it. The basic design we chose is similar to the red dress above, with a square neckline and puffed sleeves, but Natalie has cleverly added detachable long sleeves.

We initially looked for a dotted cotton fabric with a bit of texture, but when we failed to find one, we opted for some ivory-coloured vintage floral cotton poplin which I found on the Minerva crafts website.

Getting the dress sleeves right at my first fitting
Getting the dress sleeves right at my first fitting
It is a wonderful feeling to have a dress made to fit you. I think I could get a taste for it! I am looking forward to being fitted for the Spencer this week.

Read about my Spencer in my summer newsletter here.

Is anyone else parading or coming to watch?

All photographs ©


  1. I share you delight - it is how I felt when my dress was made! I can't make it to the opening weekend or I would have been there to watch and would have loved to meet you! I will be there at the end weekend though.

    I hope you enjoy the promenade. It was so much fun last year!

    1. Thanks very much - just praying for sunshine :)

  2. My stepmother used to make clothes for us but to have a period costume made from scratch is a wonderful indulgence!

    1. My sister and I have always loved dressing up. I guess this is the grown-up version. :) I shall have to find lots of excuses to wear it.

  3. I shall be there! Great post. :-) I made a regency dress about ten years ago (which I won't be wearing as it's not 100% accurate) and it's not simple. Totally fell at the spencer hurdle ;-)

    1. Thanks :) It is wonderful having Natalie make my dress for me - there is absolutely no way I could have done it myself! Hope to see you in Bath.

  4. I was lucky to have my very talented mother in law make my gown out of my wedding dress skirt, so wearing it is extra special, and I have worn it at several Jane Austen Society (Kent) Branch events, which has been lovely :-)

    1. What a wonderful way to reuse your wedding dress! Mine is just sitting in a suitcase in the loft. I hope to have lots of occasions in the future to wear my dress again.