*Please note that the original title of this project was “The Regency Spencer Project”, and that post titles have been updated with the name “The Regency Redingote Project” to reflect the evolution of the project*
The first step in starting a new project is research, research and more research. When I teach design I explain that even if you completely stray from the research it is important to not design from ignorance. One can intelligently decide the level of historical accuracy and add subtle depth to the design when one understands a time period.
Although my research in real time has been rather scattered, I am breaking it down into several distinct parts here on the blog:
- Phase I – General primary source research – Riding habits and the styles they have inspired
- Phase II – Fabrics, Colors and Materials
- Phase III – Tailoring and Stitches
For experimental archaeology, re-enactment sewing and projects such as this one, the goal is to be as historically accurate as possible, so I set about for clues as to whether or not my idea of a spencer with contrast velvet lapels a la hunting pinks (the red jackets worn in traditional fox hunts) was something that made sense.
Jennie Chancey of Sense & Sensibility Patterns wrote that her spencer pattern (the one I am using) was based on originals, I wrote to see if she had any documentation of that. While she kindly wrote back that she no longer had images of the extant garments on which she based the physical pattern, she sent me some of her inspiration research for the design.
The last image was of particular interest as we see a contrast collar and the caption confirms they are of velvet. However, I had yet to come across a spencer! It is important to note that these references fall earlier in the timeline by about ten years (my wardrobe project is set for roughly 1810). Realistically speaking, it is possible that a woman living in 1810 would keep an item of outerwear until it wore out, and re-working it to match the current style…but I was still curious about whether or not ait could be styled after a riding habit. All these plates were of actual riding habits.My own research pulled up the following images…This is the only one yet I have found that is not a fashion plate denoting it as specifically for a riding costume. The split sleeve with velvet border is a nice detail. It is unfortunate there is no front view.
This one reveals another clue that I was hoping to find – not just the collar in velvet but the lapel facing in velvet as well. This open view shows that the front facing wasn’t split into a contrast lapel and a muslin lining but that the whole piece is of the contrast fabric. The black fabric here looks like it might be a fur – perhaps Persian lamb? – with its curly texture rather than a velvet.
Red, green and blue show up regularly in fashion plates for riding habits at this time (these are all 1798-99). Why do searches for regency riding habits tend to come up with plates only earlier in the period? Did riding habit styles fall out of fashion for the non-equestrienne?
According to an essay by Janet Arnold, women’s riding habits took after men’s fashion beginning in the 17th century although there were hints of this in upper class women’s choice of riding clothes as early as the 16th century. Whether this styling was done for the sake of fashion or for the practicality of riding and hunting in rough terrain is unclear, but riding habits for women were made by tailors rather than dressmakers. She notes that around the end of the 18th century the riding habit was still styled after menswear, but followed the silhouette of women’s fashion as the waist rose and the skirts slimmed. “Hunting pinks”, the now traditional red jacket with black velvet accents worn for fox hunting in England developed as the standard for riding clothes in the 19th century. (1)
Arnold specifically notes:
“By the time Jane Austen wrote the words, ‘Her habit therefore was thrown off with all possible haste’ in Northanger Abbey in 1798, the word ‘habit’ had become synonymous with ‘riding habit,’ and was used for travelling and walking as well as riding. Catherine Morland travelled first in General Tilney’s chaise and four, and then in Henry Tilney’s curricle, from Bath to Northanger Abbey wearing a habit with a new straw bonnet. On arrival, ‘having given a good shake to her habit’ to remove the moisture from ‘a thick mizzling rain…she was ready to be shewn [sic] into the common drawing-room.'” (1)
(1) Arnold, Janet. “Dashing Amazons: The Development of Women’s Riding Dress, c. 1500-1900.” Defining Dress: Dress as Object, Meaning and Identity, edited by Amy de la Haye and Elizabeth Wilson, Manchester University Press, 1999, pp. 10–29.
(2) Cunnington, Phillis, and Alan Mansfield. English Costume for Sports and Outdoor Recreation: From the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1969