Fashion is always more than it seems on the surface. Take this charming Regency morning dress from Ackermann’s Repository (April, 1812), for example. Its detailed description in the magazine demonstrates how many historic influences shaped this romantic costume. The lady who wore these garments as a total ensemble would have known about its medieval, Elizabethan and Jacobean associations.
Morning or Domestic Costume: A superfine Scotch or French cambric over a cambric slip, with full long sleeve, and ruff a la Mary Queen of Scots. A neck-chain and sight set in gold; bracelets and necklace of white or red cornelian. A Flora cap, composed of white satin and lace. A capuchin or French cloack of blossom satin, or Pomona green, trimmed with thread lace. Slippers of pale pink or green; and gloves of tan or Limerick kid.
Cambric material, also called batiste and made of bleached linen or cotton, was widely used in the 19th century for handkerchiefs, shirts, bed and table linens, and as fabric for lace. Scotch cambric was actually a fabric made in India. French cambrics were hard to come by after the British banned imports from France during the war.
The Mary Queen of Scots ruff indicates the influence of the Elizabethan era in fashion and architecture. At this time, British fashion began to diverge from French fashion because of the Napoleonic wars, which effectively blocked normal communication and travel between the two countries. By 1811, fashion designers, who were influenced by the Romantic sensibilities of British poets and philosophers, looked to the Tudors and the Gothic eras for new fashion statements. Ruffles and slashed sleeves began to appear, and gowns began to veer from the elegant simplicity of Grecian designs to more embellished dresses.
I found almost no references to the flora cap, which hugs the skull. In this instance, a lace brim frames the face and hair. Historically, Flora McDonald was immortalized through her association with Bonnie Prince Charlie, and in the early 19th century, Sir Walter Scott symbolized her as the embodiment of romanticized Scottish Jacobitism. One portrait of Flora shows her wearing a lace cap. Interestingly, today’s baseball and American hunting caps pop up when one Googles either Flora cap or Jacobean hats.
Cornelian, primarily found in India, was a popular semi-precious stone used in jewelry. The rust red is more prevalent over the white. Think of the colors of a cameo and you will have an idea of what bracelets and necklaces made of cornelian might look like. In this instance, the fashion plate depicts a white carnelian necklace.
Capuchin cloaks were loose hooded cloaks whose design origins dated back to the medieval period. Capuchin monks, a 16th century off shoot of the Franciscan monks, wore distinctive pointed hooded cloaks, whose popularity remained strong through the 18th and 19th centuries.
I found this Victorian reference to Limerick kid gloves highly fascinating:
the best foreign glove is not better in any respect than the best Irish glove,—because the best London-made kid glove is rarely imported, or, if imported, cannot be sold as cheap as the best Dublin, Cork, or Limerick kid,—because the majority of imported gloves are made by frame, instead of by hand, and that the stitching by hand is much surer and firmer than sewing by machine; as, if one stitch give in a hand-made glove, that stitch alone goes, while if a stitch give in a machine-made glove, the whole finger is apt to go—and, lastly, because the article that is generally sold, is made of what, in the trade, is called “seconds,” the raw material being what is technically termed ” slink lamb,” and not kid; the difference of which may be better understood when I state that “seconds,” or “slink lamb,” can be bought by the manufacturer at from 1s. 3d. to 2s. per dozen, while kids range from 8s. 6d. to 14s. per dozen. What is usually called French kid, is, in reality, Italian lamb. So that my advice is—stick to the Irish kid, which will give good wear, and look charmingly on the hand.” – The industrial movement in Ireland, as illustrated by the National exhibition of 1852 (Google eBook), John Francis McGuire, 1853, p. 87
Although this lady is wearing a household garment meant to be seen only by family and close friends, and which she will keep on until she goes out to shop or visit friends, she is also wearing a cloak and gloves. One of the coldest vacations I ever spent was a week in April in London (the second coldest was a windy weekend in August in San Francisco). I visited a friend who lived in an ill-heated apartment, and I shivered for 7 days during one of the rainiest weeks this Dutch girl ever experienced. I imagine that the domestic outfit portrayed in this fashion plate was well suited to staving off cold drafts and the shivers.
Several years ago I engaged in an online discussion about whether a lady wore gloves indoors. My “opponent” was adamant in her assertions that ladies did NOT wear gloves inside, saying that Regency portraits indicated that they never would. Never say never. I replied that this made no sense. Ladies tried to look their “Sunday” best for expensive portraits destined to be hung in long galleries, which meant showing off their most beautiful clothes and their milk white, unsullied hands. Besides, I found one or two paintings that portrayed a woman wearing gloves inside the house. I imagine that in some instances, a visitor might keep her gloves on if her visit was short and she was offered nothing to eat or drink. (Think of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s imperious visit to the Bennets to confront Elizabeth about her intentions with Mr. Darcy.) The gloves in this print might mean that the woman was sitting in a glassed-in conservatory or in the confines of her private garden.
A lady who lived in a freezing mausoleum of a house would be a fool not to keep her gloves on. This fashion plate shows such a sensible young woman.