Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Reticule and Ridicule - the often satirized and sometimes political fashion accessories of the Regency era
Reticules frequently featured beading or embroidery and could be quite elaborate. The could be bought from milliners but many ladies made their own, often to match a spencer, parasol, gloves or shoes.
Rectangular and lozenge shaped, they were made of silk and after 1810, increasingly of velvet. During the Napoleonic wars they could be shaped like the military sabretache, each with a tassel from the lowest point. Toward the end of the Regency, they began using clasps as an alternative to the drawstring. They were a source of artistic endeavour, such as those embroidered with floral designs and silver spangles, and even political expression with the silk reticules distributed by the Ladies Society for the Relief of Negro Slaves.
The picture is of the beautiful Madame Recamier using her expensive shawl to add luxury and sensuality to a very simple muslin gown. Fasionable ladies were spoken of as 'well draped' rather than well-dressed. In France Madame Gardel, a performer of the shawl dance would give instructions in the graces of the shawl. The shawls provided warmth for the evening where spencers were unsuitable.
As gowns grew narrower, muffs grew in size. They were of fur or sealskin and white swansdown for the evening. Muffs allowed the wearer to carry billets-doux and other personal items easily concealed.
Dujring the Regency era, the large picture hats disappeared. Hair became simple, close to the head and often cropped in little curls decorated with a fillet or bandeau, or for the evening, a simple spray of ostrich plumes. English straw bonnets, tied with a pretty ribbon or scarf under the chin, became popular for morning or informal wear replacing the Italian leghorn straw that had become embargoed during the wars with France. Smarter afternoon and promenade hats were of fabrics: silks, velvet, muslin, lawn, shaped with wire, and evening styles were silk. In 1810 the bonnet brim grew exponentially and the ladies who wore them were satirized as 'invisibles'. Feathers, fruit, flowers, ribbons and bows adorned the bonnets and ladies not in the first flush of youth wore caps indoors.
The exotic parasol was also very practical to preserve delicate complexions. Often silk and sometimes fringed, they came in pretty pastel shades to compliment an outfit.
Gloves were worn for evening, church and the theatre but a lady never ate dinner with her gloves on. Elbow length and white for balls tied with ribbons or a diamond buckle, gauntlet and short for riding and walking, Made from kid or cotton they came in a variety of pretty colors.
The fan was the essential evening accessory, as well as being pretty, they were also practical at assemblies where it was often crowded, hot and airless. Clever use of the fan could draw attention to a lady's eyes whilst concealing her smile. They depicted classical, romantic or fashionable scenes whilst conveying something of the woman's innate taste and sophistication. Political fans played their part in the French Revolution, spreading propaganda or concealing hidden messages of aristocratic support. It is believed that Charlotte Coray carried a fan in one hand as she plunged the knife into Marat. Cockade fans that opened up into a full circle became popular from 1808, some including a spy glass in the centre, with crepe fans embroidered with silver and spangles leading the fashion in 1812. Others were of paper or silk with neo-Classical motifs. The art of "fluttering", (fanning one's self in a graceful, and at times, meaningful way) was said to take three months to master, and many girls doubtlessly spent hours practicing.
Jewelry was less ostentatious during the Regency period, it ranged from garnets, amethyst and topaz, gold chains and bangles, a string of pearls, cameos and painted brooches, to a parure of diamonds -- tiara, bracelets, earrings and necklace, or other precious stones. Paste copies of diamonds proved a popular way to fool highwaymen and were extremely well done.
From Fashion in the time of Jane Austen by Sarah Jane Downing