1810s Capsule Wardrobe · 1810s Redingote · Regency Era

The Regency Redingote Project: Research – Fabrics and Colors

*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*

This post was originally written about a year and a half ago, so my updates about the project regarding the inaccuracy of my fabric are included at the end of the post. To reference my previous post about How to Research Historic Costume for Beginners, this is an excellent example of my own mistakes supporting the points in the post:

  • How historic costuming is always a journey, never done.
  • How as an inexperienced researcher, I made mistakes that render my project really historically inaccurate.
  • How instead of hiding my mistake of fabric choice, I can use it as a teaching tool.
  • How textual research complements visual research.
  • How those at academic institutions can have an advantage because of the resources available to them.
  • Obviously I wasn’t doing a very good job of keeping track of my information sources because I made no bibliography/reference section for this post. I’ll bet some of those sources I was originally using are not reliable/credible!

The research is never ending! Now that I had some general ideas I needed to narrow down my fibers, fabrics and colors. Wools, linen, cotton and silk were all available during the 1810s – synthetic fabrics are still about a century away. Trying to work within the fabric already in my stash, I dove in to the boxes in my sewing room’s closet.

My top choice was a fabulous purple linen/rayon blend that I once tried to make a sideless surcoat from before realizing that medieval was not really a time period of interest to me. Of course, the rayon, a synthetic made from wood pulp, is not historically accurate, but it doesn’t terribly affect the impression of its being linen, so it was in the running. My other option was a wool herringbone in off-white and brown. It isn’t a fabric I would have bought for myself, nor normally wear, but I figured if the lapels and collar were in contrast it could work.

Laughing Moon #137

With the main body fabric chosen, I used a trip I was taking down to New York City to pick up some plum colored cotton velveteen for the accent fabric. Purples were achievable at this time, but susceptible to fading and not very colorfast so I think it is best used on a garment that won’t be washed.

I ran with the herringbone idea for about two months before realizing I hadn’t noticed any patterned fabrics in the fashion plates or extant garments I had been examining. Or perhaps I had noticed it earlier but was subconsciouly choosing to quell my instincts that it wasn’t the right choice! Finally though, I googled away and confirmed my worst suspicions – while herringbone had existed before this time, the general consensus is that it wasn’t used in clothing of the Regency period in England.

I still wanted to use the plum velvet, so it was back to the stash in the hopes of not spending money. This yielded several wools that were too modern or that I wanted to save for other projects. There was an easter egg blue wool twill, but it was the exact color of my only regency gown. Maybe some regency ladies were into #dresslikeacrayon, but me? Not so much. At the very bottom of my “historical-ish/vintage-ish?” fabrics box I uncovered a long yardage of tweedy wool, in a color described during the regency as “light puce”. “Puke” is a bit more appropriate, I think. Here is a piece of it cut out for the collar:

Image by Author

Like the herringbone, this was another fabric that had passed into my hands from someone’s destashing. It was unlikely to be used for anything else (the best I had previously planned for it was as a test project for a 1940s suit) and perhaps there would be sufficient yardage for a pelisse instead of just a spencer. With the purple it might even look less barf-colored. But was it an accurate choice?

More googling, as I’ve had trouble finding physical text sources about the history of fabrics (please, if you have any, tell me!) other than as pertaining to quilts… It seems that tweed is the closest the English get to an “indigenous fabric” as it originally was worn by the lower classes but then appropriated by the upper classes for hunting camouflage when they began to buy country estates in the mid-1800s. It reflects the natural landscapes of England, so it is essentially their version of camouflage for shooting and other similar rustic outdoor pursuits. Its heavier weight resists the snag of brambles and branches. While I’ve not found direct references to tweed fabric in fashion plates or found extant garments made of it, it was at least available in 1810 and being worn for clothing by some persons.

Picturing myself as a person living in 1810, I think I would translate to an educated, but not materially wealthy person. I live on the edge of a city-I would probably work at a girl’s school-but visit my relatives in the country and love rambling about in nature (like many of Jane Austen’s characters). It would be perfect for a country walking pelisse as walking clothes, riding habits and outerwear for travel by now were often one and the same, with the exception of a train for the riding habit to cover the legs once seated. Perhaps an imaginative concept in terms of historical accuracy, but not unreasonable. I could probably have purchased the tweed inexpensively and the brownish grey wool is practical as a long-term investment for a pelisse as it does not show dirt easily.

So, writing my updates on this a year and a half later, here is what I have discovered as problematic with my project, and how I discovered it:

My big breakthrough came when I happened across the book Tweed by Fiona Anderson in my university’s library, which is part of a series by Bloomsbury called Textiles that Changed the World. This series just happens to be edited by one of my professors at University of Rhode Island’s Master’s program in TMD, who teaches Fashion History, Dr. Linda Welters. In the book, Anderson also dispells and clarifies many myths around tweed, such as its name origins and the idea of it being a “traditional” fabric. There is also a helpful guide, with photographs, to the many types of fabrics that can be considered tweed (I always found this confusing until now). Most of the book is devoted to the history of the development of tweed and its evolution of uses and relationship to gender.

Image by Bloomsbury

As it turns out, tweeds did exist in 1810, but they mainly existed pre-1830s as just plain colored twill fabrics and a pattern known as “Shepherd’s Check”:

“By the late eighteenth century, England had long been renowned for producing fine broadcloths. […] These woolens were woven in the plain weave to ‘about 100 inches wide which was then fulled to about 63 inches.’ They were then raised and cut to give a luxurious smooth finish. In contrast, prior to the 1830s, the woolen industry in Scotland mainly produced coarse gray or blue cloths that were woven in the twill weave from home grown wool.” (Anderson, pg. 24)

Furthermore, my fabric, which is a heather mixture, was not invented until the 1830s, based on the demands of aristocratic sportsmen. Anderson writes:

“In the 1830s, at the suggestions of some of his London-based gentlemen clients, Locke ordered wooleens from Galashiels that were ‘tweels in thin granite colours … in black and white, brown and white running into lighter and darker mixtures.’ Cloths known as ‘mixtures’ include different shades of dyed wool that are blended together before the yarn is spun, which gives attractive variegated color effects. Although this type of yarn was not unique to Scotland, it undoubtedly came to be a characteristic feature of tweeds from that locale. Ponting emphasizes that the Scottish trade developed ‘mixture colors not known before, heather mixtures, for example.’ Although it is made up of variegated shades, the heather mixture design has an overall purple appearance.” (pg. 27)

Photo by Author

“Locke, [one of the earliest merchants of tweeds in urban England in the nineteenth century] recalled in 1863 why these new, more colorful designs of the later 1830s developed:

When first mixtures were enquired for which should resemble the moors and different shooting grounds, by many gentlemen of the rod and gun, we at this time had nothing of the kind, neither was there any in the market. We … wrote to a house in Galashiels … but as we anticipated, they replied they had never heard of such a name of article … we requested them jsut to imitate the side of Buckholm Hill which overshadowed them … A boy was despatched to fetch some … . Now when a handful of this was “squashed” together it had different shades … This proved to be the very thing we wanted and led to the introduction of a variety of colours before unknown. These first obtained the name of heather mixtures.

Locke clearly posits that creating mixtures, whose colors were designed to blend in with the rural Scottish landscape was an entirely new idea. Furthermore, he argues that the impetus for these new designs came directly from sportsmen who wished to be camouflaged in those environments in order to better stalk their prey.” (Anderson, pg. 27)

Besides the fact that my heather mixture tweed fabric not yet invented until the 1830s, after reading the chapters on women’s adoption of tweed, I now have a better understanding of the timeline by which different classes of women in England would have begun to wear it and why. Tweeds were initially a masculine-coded fabric, because of their relationship with outdoor pursuits (spurred on by the Romantic movement and imperialism) and also the heavier weight and drape, which could be dealt with by a tailor making a structured garment, but were much less suitable for women’s clothing until tailored styles were incorporated into women’s fashion in the late nineteenth century.

Anderson tells us, “Researching the female adoption of tweeds reveals the strong masculine coding of these textiles, but also the complexity, ambivalence and change linked to their meanings within women’s dress between 1851 and 1918. It shows that these woolens were associated with activities and social contexts, which were either largely gendered as masculine, or that had shifting relationships with established gender roles and behaviors. These areas included travel, work, education, leisure and sport. Tweeds had a notable presence within women’s attire of the 1870s, but it was not until the following decade that these woolens were more widely worn by females.” (pp. 68-70)

So there you have it! I would have had to have been a very bold, time-traveling feminist to have owned such a garment in 1810. However, until I can make a more HA version, I’ll wear it since it is almost completed and just be transparent about its HA issues. After making a new one, my hope is that I can re-purpose it into either a 1910’s neo-empire coat, or simply as an everyday coat for myself.

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