The Natural Look ~ cosmetic trends in the Regency, by Susan Karsten

If you were a young lady during the late 1960s -1970s, you put up with the domination of the bare-faced aesthetic that ruled our beauty efforts.

To this day, at the beauty shop, I am asked if I am okay with hairspray. Yes, yes, yes — I want that hairdo to last as long as possible. But I know the question is a holdover from the days when natural reigned.

What does this have to do with the Regency Period? In that day, styles moved away from the previous heavy macquillage which included white lead, pasted-on beauty marks, and powdered hair and wigs. The less contrived and more-freeing fashions of our beloved Regency Period, called for a simpler look as far as cosmetics as well.

The simpler Regency make-up’s similarities to the make-up of the 60s-70s is amazing! Think of their colored lip salves (like our lip gloss), a touch of rouge (like our blusher), eyelash tints (like our mascara), and home made beauty aids were popular in both periods as well. Innocence was the look they were going for, and in our 20th century day, we were going for natural.

The move away from heavy facial cosmetics lead to an upsurge in perfumes, lotions, creams, oils, salves, and cures. Freckle creams were big, because those little spots were a major no-no.

So, when you are reading Regency fiction and you are picturing your heroine, your imaginary face should more than likely be without any noticeable make-up — the bare minimum.

Do you remember the period of the 60s-70s? What were your favorite cosmetics? Did you usually go without?

Thanks for reading! from Susan Karsten

The best thing is to look natural, but it takes makeup to look natural.”  {Calvin Klein}

Calling Cards: The Voicemail of Regency England

In the days before mobile phones, text messaging, and emails, people had to rely on face to face encounters and letters for communication. A pivotal part of this communication was the calling card. In many books, calling cards are presented to identify themselves when they go visiting, but calling cards were so much more than that.

Woman's calling card case.
Woman’s calling card case.

Change of Address

Many aristocracy lived in multiple places. When they arrived in town, particularly returning to London or another large city, they would go around and leave calling cards to let friends and acquaintances know they had arrived.

Cards were also dispersed when one was leaving town, with a handwritten indication of their departure.

Sign of Popularity

Sometimes these calling cards would be left out in the hall or drawing room, on display so other people could see what influential and important friends someone had. A large pile of calling cards could be akin to a large friend list on Facebook or an enormous Twitter following

The Polite Snub

Once a calling card had been delivered, it was customary to return to the favor, assuming you wished to further the acquaintance of course. If the person were a friend or someone you wanted a close connection with, a visit was in order. A mere returning of your own card meant you acknowledged the relationship. On the other hand, no reciprocation was a quiet indicator of where you stood on the social ladder.

Leaving a Message

Calling cards contained very little information, many bearing only a name while some included the address of the person. This left plenty of room to write a personal message if appropriate. Just as texting has common abbreviations today, calling cards had a similar shorthand. Turning down particular corners would let the card recipient know certain things, for instance letting them know the card had been delivered in person, indicating a more intimate contact.

Corner turning came to mean more and more as time passed. By the mid-19th century some cards were even being printed with words in the corners indicating common messages (such as visit, felicitations, or adieu). That way the message being left could not be misinterpreted.

Caller ID

The most well-known use of calling cards was in requesting admittance to the house. When visiting someone, a calling card would be presented to the servant at the door. The card would then be delivered to the desired recipient who could then decide if they were at home or not. If the person were not inclined or able to accept visitors at the time, but wanted to maintain the relationship, the denial could be accompanied by one of the mistresses own calling cards. The visit would then be returned within a week.

Image from social calls article on JaneAusten.co.uk. Click to see article.

 

 

The practice of calling cards could be very complicated. As in many matters of etiquette it seems like it would be easy to cause an unintended slight to someone. It isn’t all that surprising that many of the aspects of the calling card are glossed over in historical novels.

What do you think? Should the calling card play a more prominent part in novels or would it be horribly distracting?

 

The Parasol, a Necessary Regency Accessory, by Susan Karsten

Parasols were introduced to England from China. The earliest ones were silk and often shaped like a pagoda.

pagoda parasol

This elegant accessory was mainly to shade a lady’s delicate, fair complexion.  Jaunts through warehouses for accessories would have included buying parasols to match particular outfits.

matchy matchy

The frames were bamboo, cane, or steel. Funny for us 20th-21st century ladies to realize that suntans were extremely unfashionable until the 1920s, when Coco Chanel helped to popularize the suntan. Prior to that, only women who had to labor outdoors were tan. After the 20s, chic, wealthy women were outdoors because they alone had the leisure time for outdoor games like tennis and golf.

Bam!

Wear your sunscreen, ladies!

Fainting in the Regency, by Susan Karsten

Of great benefit to women during the Regency was the great relative comfort of the clothing of the day. Compared to the preceding Georgian period, the Regency provided a measure of relief from physical constraints. Gone were the painfully heavy panniers and voluminous skirts, but most ladies still wore stays. We don’t experience many swoons these days, but the wearing of stays and corsets assured the occurrence of many a fainting spell.

            Fainting was a likely event in the lives of Regency ladies. The sensitive Regency lady would carry her own smelling-salts. These were usually an infusion of ammonium carbonate and alcohol, scented with lavender or lemon oil. The container in which the salts were carried was called a vinaigrette; a small box or bottle with a perforated top.  Sal volatile is another term for this mixture, and both it and spirit of hartshorn (water and ammonia) could be drunk as well as sniffed. Hungary water was another popular perfumed herbal restorative and could be dabbed on the temples or wiped on the hands and face of someone suffering from nerves or headache.

The preparations mentioned were kept handy for fainting, attacks of nerves, and whenever an unpleasant odor came one’s way.  Today, we throw a wallet, comb, sunscreen, and lipstick into our purses and head out to face the world. The reticules (purses) of Regency ladies carried a bit of money, a handkerchief, and their vinaigrette of smelling salts.What about you? Do you prefer a large or small purse? Floppy or stiff? Long or short strap?

The Shawl: A Regency Fashion Essential, by Susan Karsten

Either utilitarian or elegant, the shawl joins the pelisse and spencer as a main regency outerwear option. Over an evening dress, draped artistically, the shawl appeared as an ornament. At home or when not on display, however, they would be used to cover the shoulders and upper body to provide warmth.

Shawl worn with an evening dress

The shawls came either rectangular or square and some were over six feet long.
Cashmere shawls imported from Kashmir in the Himalayas were warm, beautiful and popular. Also popular was the English Norwich silk shawl which cost 60 pounds and was one yard square. It’s clear the shawl was a fashion essential during the regency, particularly as the dresses tended to be scanty.

A wide array of shawls

The Regency Red Carpet

Welcome to March – our month dedicated to what else? Spring fashion!

Here in the States, the fashion world is still abuzz over one of the top events of the year – the 85th annual Academy Awards ceremony this past Sunday.  Arguably second only to Paris Fashion Week in its world-wide influence on the art of dressing well, the Oscars red carpet is rolled out each year and the world tunes in to see which star will win the title of… Best Dressed!

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Whether it’s a celebrity rocking a wicked-long train or donning a small fortune in Harry Winston jewels, the world’s fashionistas take to the internet to find the most sought-after trends as showcased by their favorite stars on this one night. What colors are in for the season? What fabric is a must-have for the fashion world’s elite? Is there a new cut making waves in dress design? When you think on our world of social media and instant Twitter feeds from the red carpet, it isn’t a wonder that we all have an opinion on what’s fabulous for the new season. But in the Regency Era – without our social media and the endless stream of celebrities to guide the rest of us down the spring runway – what would have been seen on their “red carpet” of the day?

A commentary on the complete Regency woman’s ensemble would certainly take more than one post (or perhaps a hundred posts), but we’ll give you enough here to get you started on your own Regency fashion journey through the month of March…

A good foray into the art of Regency dress might begin with the always popular element of color. You may be surprised to learn that in the Regency Era, the influence of color was just as fierce as it is today. While soft pastels and bold jewel tones reigned on the Hollywood red carpet this year, the Regency Era had some similar shades (with lesser known names) that ranked quite high on the list of desirables. A Regency lady might wish to be found in varying hues of:

– Canary (a bright sunshine yellow),

– Coquelicot (a brilliant poppy red),

– Jonquil (a rich golden-yellow),

– Pomona (a light gray-green, one of many popular shades new as of 1812),

– Primrose (a sweet butter-yellow), or

– Puce (a deep brownish-purple).

 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

And alas – there were also the more lackluster colors of straw (an unimpressive corn yellow) and the ever-popular Drab (a dull -) that a Regency lady may find mixed somewhere in her wardrobe. (Color Links: Regency color swatches, The Jane Austen Centre, Bath – 2011) And though not an actual color (but a value), the elegance of white was exceedingly popular if your red carpet rolled out all the way to such a stylish affair as the ball at Netherfield Park.Despite the color choice for your gown, if you’d walked the red carpet during the Regency Era there would have been no doubt about the style of dress. An Empire waist was the preferred silhouette – with a typically square or wide-rounded neckline and bodice that ended just below the bust (giving the illusion of a high waist). The skirts were gathered and tapered (rather than being heavily draped with petticoats and layers of bustled fabric, as was popular until the turn of the 19th century). And though you may have had the proper cut and color selection down, that’s not where the fashion story ends. Depending upon the day and hour of your walk down the red carpet, there was likely a proper dress to accompany the occasion. (Here’s a stunning commentary on half-dress, court dress, and every little thing in-between: Click here.)

Let’s not forget some of our favorite red carpet delicacies – the accessories! Hollywood starlets of today still fancy high heels, though the sky-high styles of today aren’t nearly as towering as the heights that Regency Era women rose to while wearing pattens.  (Click here to read our own Mary Moore’s  January, 2013 post about pattens. It is a must read!) And though a selection of well-placed jewels around the neck and in the earlobes are still in fashion, you likely won’t find a single Hollywood star sporting the ever-popular Regency fan, reticule (small, drawstring handbag),  parasol or feather plumes of ostrich, goose, peacock or emu to complete her ensemble.  (Though artfully placed hair extensions, evening gloves, shawls and capes still make the occasional appearance.)

The one thing that is decidedly missing from our modern-day red carpet is the endless stream of bonnet-clad ladies that we’d have had waltzing past two hundred years ago. These Regency head pieces were must-have items often made of straw or sturdy fabric (such as velvet or muslin) with lace, fabric, and satin ribbon trimmings in popular colors. Bonnets might also sport an artful array of artificial decoration, including: birds, fruit, flowers, feathers, jewelry (such as a brooch or pin) and beads. And despite the fact that our current culture prizes the bronzed look, no Regency Era woman would have fancied venturing out in the sun without her bonnet, lest she tan or freckle unnecessarily! (For a complete tutorial on the art of the Regency head-piece, click here.)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

If you were playing the part of the Regency Era personal assistant, you’d probably have considered all of these items for the perfect Regency red carpet look. So now that you’ve got it all together, it’s time to take a stroll past the long line of paparazzi (uh, we mean artists with paint and easels ready) and have your fashion plate captured for that next edition of the popular Regency magazines. (For some great fashion plate images, click here to visit Linore Rose Burkard’s post from April, 2012.)

So… With all of this red carpet talk, who was on my best dressed list for this year? My vote for Best Dressed at the Oscars goes to… Click here. Who won your vote?

Welcome fashion, welcome spring, and welcome to all of you readers who have a heart for the same God that reigns today as He did more than two hundred years ago.

In His Love,

~ Kristy