Is it socially acceptable to talk about your Halloween costume three days after Halloween? Who knows, but I’m going to talk about my dress because I’m still excited.
My friends know that I enjoy dressing up for Austenland parties and period drama marathons. I usually wear a pink Regency dress that my mom sewed when I was in high school, but I wanted a new, historically accurate one for this year with a lighter fabric and lacing that actually stayed tied. I was going to buy a white printed muslin or some kind of gauzy cotton, but then I found two beautiful fabrics that seemed period-appropriate. I couldn’t decide, so I bought both.
If you, too, would like to make your very own historically accurate Regency gown, here are some links to the patterns we used. We made the shift/chemise and short stays from the undergarments pattern, adapted the Simplicity version of the Sense and Sensibility Regency Gown pattern to make a bodiced petticoat, and then used the gray/green fabric for the drawstring dress from the S&S Elegant Lady’s Closet pattern. Here’s a link to a discussion of Regency fabric and 19th century fabric printing, and another one to some reviews of different patterns for historical dress.
Jane Austen has been a gateway into a love of historical fashion for me. My four historical fashion Pinterest boards reflect my specific interest in 19th century fashion. You might wonder why I thought it was necessary to make three layers of underwear just to go under a silly dress, but they’re actually necessary to get the right silhouette. The chemise is like a short slip that covers your armpits (ie catches sweat), the stays are a type of short corset, and the petticoat provides a barrier between a possibly sheer dress and your legs. We can’t have any ankles showing! The idea is that unless you spill salsa or something on your dress, you’ll only need to wash the undergarments.
To legitimize myself as a somewhat cool person at the Halloween party I attended, I became Jane Bennet the zombie slayer. I jokingly told my friends, “If I’m going to be a Bennet, I might as well be the pretty one,” but I promise you that my costume decisions were not completely that shallow. I wrote about my love for Jane in one of my very first blog posts back in June. The eldest Miss Bennet may be the prettiest girl in town, but she also has heart of gold. While Elizabeth and Mrs. Bennet may enjoy ragging on Mr. Darcy, Jane constantly tries to give him the benefit of the doubt. She can be a bit naïve in her views about the world, but she learns over time that people can be unkind. She gains wisdom, yet remains kind and forgiving.
Jane has an incredibly good heart, but she’s also an expert zombie slayer in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I have mixed feelings on the movie adaptation (see this post on P&P&Z for around two thoughts on it), but I still think the idea of Jane killing zombies while wearing a ballgown is a great one. Thus, I tied on two plastic daggers (in the book, the daggers are on the sisters’ ankles, but there’s no way a ribbon’s going to be able to keep them from falling off my lower calves), put on an old tiara from Claire’s, and pretended to stab a friend dressed as a Jedi at a party. Of course, she did recover from my (fake) stab pretty quickly, so my zombie killing skills probably need a little work.
In retrospect, perhaps buying thin cotton so I can sympathize with Mrs. Allen and Mr. Tilney’s Northanger Abbey conversations about the way muslin tears was a bad idea. If you want to sew a dress using super thin cotton, I would suggest lining the bodice and using interfacing so the seams don’t rip apart. I think I’m going to redo the bodice back soon so I can wear the dress without worrying about damaging it when I lift my arms. I might also make a normal skirt petticoat. These will be perfect for my upcoming Austenland parties and the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies movie when it comes out next year.
Until next week!
*Update/Note (February 23, 2016)- I did indeed wear this dress the first time I saw P&P&Z in the theatre, but because it’s based on the time period rather than the zombie movie, it should not be confused as a reproduction of any costume actually in the movie. In the movie, the girls wear empire waist dresses that basically have a waist/thigh high side slit for fighting and riding astride a horse. Underneath, we see them wearing ruffled bloomers (a few decades early, though necessary with their immodest skirts), long stays, stockings, and garters. They are wearing neither chemise nor petticoat, which might make the dressing scenes look sexier, but mainly make me think about how often they would have to wash sweat out of their dresses. Really, I think the director and costume designer tried to make sexy Regency gowns, which is why Elizabeth’s dress is so low-cut in her fight with Darcy. During the daytime, a woman would have worn a bit of fabric in the neckline so you wouldn’t see her cleavage. Her chemise would have also kept her from falling out from the stays/dress. With the right undergarments, her silhouette would have looked quite differently.
If you want to copy one of the movie costumes, you’ll need thigh-high slits in your skirts and some ruffled bloomers. Stays/corsets are more “correct,” but I personally think the actresses wore modern bras during most of their scenes. Alternatively, you can just wear leggings, a wide belt, and an altered long coat, and you’ll have a “zombie battle” costume.