Friday, June 26, 2009

Regency Era Excess

My regency gown went together pretty fast, but the underwear is taking forever with lots of ironing and hand sewing. While working I think about all the women who spent so much time sewing in the past. I'm doing much of the work by machine. They did it all by hand. Sewing dresses must have been a full time occupation for the middle and upper class. Even if they hired out much of the work, they must have spent large amounts of time planning clothing and getting it fitted.
Regency era women's dress is noted for being less restrictive than in the periods before and after. And when the filmy cotton gowns first came out, they were quite racy. It looked to contemporaries as if the women were dressed in underwear.
I am amazed though how many layers of cotton the women were swathed in. Under the dress a lady wore a petticoat, stays, chemise, pantalettes, and stockings. A chemise takes three yards of fabric, a petticoat five, a gown maybe seven. All dressed up a lady would be wearing twenty years of fabric. A modern woman can be clothed with only three yards. I think that maybe women of the regency/empire era probably had fewer items of clothing than we do, less fabric overall, but they wore more fabric all at once. Gentlemen of wore two waistcoats along with coat, shirt, cravat and probably undershirt.
I think about how all this cotton was grown with slave labor. Well not all of it. Much of the cotton was coming from China, and I don’t know what their labor practices were at the time.
I read about how one of the Louis kings put out an edict that no woman could appear in court more than once in same gown. This was to support the French textile industry, with no concern for the slaves. He also blocked up palace fireplaces following the theory that cold people would buy more clothing. This seems to have been his economic stimulus plan.
Maybe this is why men and women of this period wore so much clothing.
His plan seems tremendously short sighted to me. Okay, they had a glut of textile workers. They should have shifted the worker into doing something useful. I look around and see oversized US automobiles and think not much has changed. We still seem to think excess is our patriotic duty.

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