Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on September 27, 2011
This week the Jane Austen Festival was held in Bath, England with all the festivities this occasion calls for - a costumed promenade in Regency dress and numerous dances and balls! Since it has been over two years since my own participation in this costumed ritual, I wanted to write about my favorite memories of this remarkable Regency event.
After years of admiring all the lovely Regency costumes from Jane Austen films, I had a once-in-a-lifetime trip to England for a historical costume tour back in 2009. Studying the breathtaking gowns in numerous museum collections that dated back to the 1600s was absolutely unbelievable, and walking down the historic streets of London was just thrilling. But one of the hightlights of the trip for me was actually getting to dress up in period costume for the Jane Austen Festival in Bath! It wasn’t that this was my first opportunity to sew a Regency dress (my closet was already stuffed with historical reproductions), but it was a rare time when an event not only allowed for, but actually required that you wear an entire outfit from the early 1800s!
When I began planning for the trip nearly a year prior to our departure date, I was sure I would have oodles of newly made dresses to take over on the historical costume tour. But as the trip drew closer, I didn’t even have my fabric cut out until about two weeks before my flight! There was little doubt as to which Jane Austen film costume I wanted to reproduce – ever since I had watched the 1995 “Pride & Prejudice”, I knew that someday I just had to sew Elizabeth Bennet’s green spencer jacket!
Unlike most Spencers of the Regency era, this jacket scoops low in the back just as their dress necklines did, and it had the most gorgeous puffed sleeves with three separate layers – long sleeves first, then short puffed sleeves, and finally a pointed cap sleeve over that. And the front of the jacket is just gorgeous with that rounded neckline, fitted band at the bottom, and full gathers under the empire waistline.
So when I began designing this jacket I mainly used pattern pieces from Sense & Sensibility’s Regency Patterns, mixing and matching various sleeves and drafting a few pieces myself. I cut out the bodice using Regency dress bodice pieces, and simply cutting them a size larger than I normally wear since I would need room for the dress underneath.
The pattern came together quickly, and I self-lined the jacket bodice front and back. I covered my own buttons for this Spencer, which was such a fun project! And for the sleeves I used the long sleeves and short sleeves from the S&S patterns, drafting a cap sleeve with those triangular points just like the film costume version. After I came back from England, I had a chance to watch “Pride & Prejudice” again where I noticed that I should have gathered the top of the sleeve cap to make it more puffy. So if I wear it again someday I will just rip out the top of the sleeve seam, gather the cap sleeve, and sew it back into the armsceye. But considering that I only had a few days to make it, I was so happy with the way it turned out!
For the rest of my Elizabeth Bennet costume, I sewed a simple Regency day dress in ivory cotton just like Lizzie wore in the opening scene. I used the gathered bodice option from the “Elegant Lady’s Closet Pattern“, with a straight front skirt from the Regency dress pattern since most of Elizabeth’s dresses had straight front skirts as well. (Besides the fact that I tend to get lost in too much fabric!)
Last of all, I was determined to make a Regency bonnet that looked just like the Jane Austen film costume! With the kind help of www.hatsupply.com , I was able to find a lovely straw “poke bonnet” style that was just perfect for my Regency reproduction! The 1995 version of Pride & Prejudice has Elizabeth wearing a simple straw bonnet with wide ribbon ties that match the color of her Spencer jacket. The ribbons are attached on the outside of her bonnet and are covered with a fan-shaped ribbon decoration which I attempted to recreate. Traveling with a bonnet was so tricky, because when you had to stuff it “under the seat in front of you” on the plane, it always ended up a bit more misshapen than it was before. It reminds me of when Lydia Bennet told Kitty that she was “squashing her bonnet“!
As for the Jane Austen Festival promenade itself, it was simply delightful! Over four hundred of us from all parts of the globe were decked out in authentic Regency costumes, and we even set the world record for “most people in Regency costume at one time”!
We strolled through the streets of Bath, with its winding paths leading around the ancient granite buildings and into the monumental Royal Crescent where the entire group of promenade participants lined up for one massive photo shoot. When at last we reached out destination of the Assembly Rooms, I felt like I had just walked into a Jane Austen film! In the most elegant of ballrooms all four hundred of us crowded into the historic room where so many dances must have taken place back in Jane Austen’s day. In fact, Jane even mentioned this very location when one of her novel’s heroines attended a ball. A talented group of youngsters performed English country dances until the “town crier” announced that we had made it into the Guiness Book of World Records for “most people in Regency costume in one place at one time“. You can watch a video of the announcement here.
For the rest of the day, the S&S Historical Costume Tour group went to tea at the Jane Austen Center and explored the rest of this delightful town. I was surprised by how many Bath residents wondered, “May I ask why there are so many of you in those funny costumes today?” But I suppose if you live there, you wouldn’t automatically associate your hometown with a historcal figure from two centuries before. And there were some people who loved the costumes – one older man told me, “If I had a hat I would take it off to you!”
When the day had ended and it was time to return to the twenty-first century, I was a little sad to go back to wearing modern day clothes. But as I headed home from the trip, I knew that with the plethora of wonderful memories and a camera filled with five hundred pictures, this costume tour would never be forgotten!