Gowns, Gowns, and More Gowns, and how often Regency Ladies Changed Clothes

Morning Dress Ackermann’s Repository 1812

  Getting dressed during the Regency occupied much of a lady’s time, mostly because she had to do it so frequently every day. When a lady arose, she usually threw on a dressing gown over her shift or her nightgown (also referred to as a night rail), whichever she preferred for sleeping.

  After breaking her fast with a light meal which often included chocolate (hot, usually no cream or sugar), fruit and/or some kind of bread such as a croissant that her maid brought to her on a tray, she would then perform her morning toilette routine, have her maid do her hair and so forth. After that, she dressed in a morning gown. This was also known as undress. The term “undress” does not mean one is not wearing clothes, simply that one is not dressed to go out. Dishabille is another term for undress. Morning gowns were generally made of simpler fabrics and more loose-fitting styles. Ladies might wear morning gowns all day since they were appropriate for a day at home up until dinner. 

              Walking Dress, 1815

  She then went downstairs for breakfast with the family, which was served buffet style. She might while away the morning painting or doing needlework or some kind of craft such as gluing shells on lamps or picture frames, or gluing feathers or flowers on hats. If she were the lady of the home, she might meet with the head housekeeper, make plans, catch up on her correspondence.

  If a fashionable lady went for a “brisk constitutional” she donned a walking gown, also known as a redingote or a pelisse. This protected the delicate fabrics and pastel colors of her gown and also could provide warmth if necessary. Sturdy walking shoes which were often nankeen half boots went along with the ensemble. 

                Riding Habit

  For going horseback riding (a lady always rode aside–side-saddle–unless she wanted to cause a scandal or admit she was an inept horsewoman), ladies changed into a riding habit. The riding habit included a long train to aid in keeping her legs covered. It was also fashionable and proclaimed her wealth and status. This ensemble always included a hat, riding gloves, and riding boots as well as a riding crop. Incidentally, the most fashionable riding habits were made by a tailor, rather than a dressmaker. Some ladies reportedly wore riding breeches underneath their riding habits. Whether this was for additional preservation of modesty or for comfort against chaffing, I do not know.  

                    Carriage Dress

A trip required a different costume. When a lady took a journey via carriage, she often changed into carriage dress which included a practical gown (practical being a relative term during the Regency upper class) and a pelisse to protect her clothing from the dust and dirt of carriage travel. 

  For those afternoon visits when a lady planned to call upon nearby friends and neighbors and perhaps enjoy some tea or go strolling in the park a during the fashionable hour, she would change into a “half dress” or an afternoon gown, also known as Promenade dress. Depending on the weather, she would wear a shawl or a spencer or a pelisse as well as a hat, gloves, and slippers. 

                  Evening Gown 1819

Evening required another change. To dinner, one wore an evening gown, whether eating home with family or with friends. Dinner among the nobility was always a formal affair with best dress, more elaborate coiffures, and best manners. If one were unwell and unable to join the family for dinner, one might take a tray in one’s room. A trip to the Opera would be done in an evening gown. In today’s terms, it would be considered Black Tie or semi-formal. Ladies might wear understated jewelry, usually diamonds or pearls.

  A ball or soiree called for a full formal dress, what today would be known as “white tie” affair. Gowns appropriate for Full Dress  frequently came with trains, although I cannot imagine any lady wore a gown with a train to a ball–one could not be expected to perform those vigorous Regency dances with a train on one’s gown. If one expected to dance during the course of the evening, a lady brought along dancing slippers which had such thin soles that they were too delicate to wear anywhere but the ballroom. Jewels such as tiaras, necklaces, earrings, bracelets etc. were more likely to be displaced during formal dress occasions than any other.

 Court dress, the required clothing for taking bows to the queen, had its own set of standards, including the number of feathers required and, in the early part of the 19th century, even a hoop skirt, which, with the empire waistline, was a fashion disaster. When designing a court dress, one had to check the requirements for any given year as they seemed to change frequently.

                           Ballgown

Of course, each change of clothing required a change of accessories including shoes, gloves, and hat. Evening wear also demanded a change of hairstyle to something more formal and intricate.

Can you imagine changing your clothes that many times every day? No wonder they needed a lady’s maid to assist with all of fuss!

Mother’s Day Giveaway

Mothers

Mothers are the best! Despite heroines in my Regency historical romance novels who seldom seem to have a mother nearby to help them, I adore mothers. My mother is the closest thing to a saint I’ve ever known. She taught me to love books, poems, and stories by reading to me every night when I was little. She listened as I read to her when I grew old enough. All this reading inspired in me to tell stories of my own, even as a child.

My mother taught me to appreciate music by playing good music in the home, taking me with her to church choir rehearsals, teaching me to play the ukulele, taking me to symphony orchestra performances and annual visits to the ballet to enjoy the Nutcracker during the Christmas Season. This led to my years of singing in choirs, performing as a soloist for local and church events, and playing the guitar (briefly–but I won the 7th grade talent show doing it) and years of playing and teaching the harp .

Mom patiently listened to my woes, didn’t roll her eyes (visibly) at all my drama, helped me memorize my times tables, taught me to cook, tried to teach me to sew (my fault–not hers–that I didn’t learn it well!), kissed skinned knees and elbows, and always greeted me in the morning with a hug and a smile. She even tried to teach me gardening, a skill I didn’t appreciate or try to cultivate until I had a home and garden space of my own.

As a mother of my own six children, I often reflect on Mom’s example and try to emulate her. No, I don’t sew clothes for my children like she did for me, but I consider how she would handle any given situation that I face with my children.

Mother’s Day was invented over a hundred years ago, and I’m so happy for the opportunity to help us each to remember our mothers and make a special effort to express appreciation for she who gave me life, but more importantly, who raised me, nurtured me, taught me, and loved me.

Shari’s Berries Mother’s Day Selection

Since Mother’s Day is coming up, I’d like to give a gift to a special mother. If you are a mother, or if you have an amazing mother (who lives within the United States) or an influential surrogate mom or a wife who is a fantastic mother to your children, you can enter to win a dozen fancy Mother’s Day berries to give to her from Shari’s Berries.

In addition, the winner will also receive one paperback or digital (your choice) of any of my books or novellas. You can view the selection on my bookshelf. Keep in mind that some of them are only available in digital format.

*****CONTEST CLOSED*****

The winner of the random drawing for the chocolate-cover strawberries and one of my book titles of her choice. And the winner is…..

Julie Langevin!

Congratulations, Julie! You have won With every Heartbeat, per your request, and Shari’s Berries Mother’s Day strawberries. How awesome is that?

Thank you so much to everyone who stopped by and left such wonderful, meaningful comments.

Enter:

*****CONTEST CLOSED*****

To win the berries and the book, simply tell me in the comments below:

1. One thing you love about this wonderful mother, or one thing you love about being a mother

2. Which book you’d like to win

3. Your complete email address so I can notify you if your name is chosen.

That’s it! This random drawing will take place and be announced on ***CHANGE!!! May 11, 2017 at noon Pacific Time*** in order to ensure delivery before Mother’s Day.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there!

 

Rules:

Open to US mailing addresses only. I still love my international readers, but mailing overseas won’t work in this situation.

One entry per person, please. This means you can enter your mother or yourself but not both. This also means you can ask your husband or children to nominate you 😉 .

Winner (meaning the mother) must be at least 18 years old.

Void where prohibited.

*****CONTEST CLOSED*****

Leading Strings

I love looking at photos and portraits of people who lived long ago. We can gleam so much information by the way they dressed and posed. I often wonder about them, their lives, their thoughts. One detail in pictures that involve small children that I sometimes see is the presence of a belt or rope attached to the child’s garments right under the arm. These fabric belt is called Leading strings, sometimes also called Leading Reins.

Leading strings seemed to have served two purposes: to aid the child while learning to walk, and to keep the child from straying too far away.

By Pieter de Hooch (1629–after 1684) – http://www.mdbk.de/sammlungen/detailseiten/pieter-de-hooch/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40616518

As a mother of six children, I spent a lot of time leaning over, with my fingers extended, so my babies could hold onto them to keep them steady as they learned to walk. A leading string might have saved a lot of time with a tired back. And in a busy public place, keeping track of a toddler can be a challenge. I always had the fear that the second I looked away, they would run off after some new fascinating diversion or be spirited away by a stranger.

Translation: “A young governess helps a very small child to walk. He wears a little sailor suit and carries a (rattle?), and still wears leading strings.”

 I sometimes wonder why we stopped this practice of sewing leading strings into children’s clothing, don’t you?

 

Regency Easter Customs

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org
/w/index.php?curid=50313

By the Regency Era, Easter had evolved from its pagan origins to a much more religious, and family-friendly tradition. Normally Parliament did not begin its first session of the year until after Easter and activities were curtailed between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, and especially during the 40 days of Lent when people were expected to refrain from “indulgence foods” like cakes or pastries, dairy foods, and fats Monday through Saturday, and from meat on Friday. (Sunday is not part of Lent) Even during years when Parliament resumed early, the official London Season with all its parties, balls, and routs did not fully begin until after Easter Sunday.

The day before Lent began was Shrove Tuesday, a day to confess sins to one’s priest (or to get “shriven”). According to Regency researcher and author, Regina Scott, it was also a day they referred to as “pancake Tuesday,” the last opportunity to eat all the foods forbidden during Lent. The custom might have begun as a way to use up any of these foods one had in the house so they wouldn’t spoil. Other cultures used their last day of anything goes to create events such as Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday.

In England, a host of games accompanied Pancake Tuesday, including pancake races (flipping a pancake in a frying pan while running) and Street Foot Ball, or Hurling, which is a cross between soccer and American football. You can read more about those games here.

Then Lent, a time of fasting and abstinence began. Behavior was also curtailed during Lent.

According to noted Regency researcher, Nancy Mayer:

Though the theatres were open during most of Lent, they presented more oratorios and  benefits than   dramas. The theatres were usually closed during Holy  week– the week between  Palm Sunday and Easter.

Easter was a pivotal date on the calendar. Though  it wasn’t and isn’t  a fixed date, many  events depended on  the date of Easter. Schools, universities  and  courts had Easter terms. Several events occurred  a week or so after  Easter.

Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday were  government holidays.

Many of the fashionable set  went to London in February when Parliament resumed and the Queen’s birthday was celebrated. The official  celebration of royal birthdays, often had no connection to  the actual date of birth. The  celebration of the Queen’s birthday  usually took place in the first week of Feb.  before Lent.  Those  in town  before Easter  seem to have  had more dinners and routs  than balls– according  to those newspapers I have read. Balls were not considered proper during Lent.

Even the royalty had a custom for Easter called “the Maundy,” usually the Thursday before Easter Sunday. On this day, the ruling monarch gave food and tunics to the poor who lined up for help following the example the Savior who helped the poor. In old times, there was even a foot washing ceremony representative of when Jesus washed the feet of his apostles during the Last Supper (a ceremony still practiced in some churches). A version of the Maundy continues even today.

Many families also colored hard boiled eggs using natural sources for dyes to give as Easter gifts. Pasche Eggs, which were also called Pace Eggs, were dyed and recipient’s name and age carefully scratched out with a blade so that the white of the shell showed through the color.  Others decorated eggs by using tallow to draw a design on the egg then dying it, then removing the tallow to reveal the design. People also decorated eggs by painting pictures on them using colored dyes. Children participated in egg rolls where they rolled eggs down hills or other angled surfaces in a race to the finish line, or even to see how far the eggs rolled.

True believers viewed Easter and Holy Week, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, as even more important than Christmas due to its reminder of the Resurrection. Multiple church services occurred during the week complete with choirs singing. On Easters Sunday, worship included choirs singing, incense burning, chanting, kneeling, making the sign of the cross, and lighting candles during personal prayers. Some churches today, especially larger cathedrals, still practice these traditional forms of worship. A common practice includes draping the statues in black and stripping the altar on Good Friday symbolic of mourning the Savior’s death, then on Easter morning, remove the black and dress the altar as a celebration of His Resurrection.

According to Gaelen Foley, new gowns and Easter bonnets were a must for all gently-bred Regency ladies.

Easter dinner was an important part of the day, usually including ham or lamb, and, of course, hot cross buns–a tradition that continues today.

In my family, we balance the fun of Easter with the Christian religious aspect, normally reserving the celebratory customs of decorating, egg hunts, and parties for Saturday. This leaves Easter Sunday open for church service and more reverent observances. (However, the Easter Bunny does leave a few small gifts and candy in my children’s Easter baskets, which await them on the breakfast table Easter morning.) We also have a nice ham dinner that evening upon our return from church.

What are your favorite Easter customs?

Sources:

The Historical Royal Palace Blog

Lesley-Anne McLeod, Regency author blog, an article written by Regina Scott

Nancy Mayer, Regency Researcher

Gaelen Foley

 

The Matchmaking Game, an Excerpt

 


On Tour with Prism Book Tours.

The Matchmaking Game
By Donna Hatch

I’m absolutely trilled to announce the blog tour of my newest Regency Romance, The Matchmaking Game, coming April 18, 2017 and available now for pre-order HERE

For your reading pleasure, here is the first excerpt, the beginning of chapter one…

Excerpt

Chapter One, Part 1
England 1814

Rowena Emerson studied her longtime friend, Evan Barnes, and tried to judge by his expression if he’d be game for a new scheme. It was hard to tell; he had come home from the war a mysterious stranger, with only glimpses of his former playful self who had always been ready for a new lark.

Of course, two family deaths in as many years, not to mention all he’d suffered during war, would subdue even the liveliest spirit. Still, perhaps Evan’s old personality could be coaxed into returning. A diverting new mission might be just the thing to draw him out. Besides, if this plan worked, their parents would find happiness. her Silent and rigid as a soldier, Evan made no move, except his eyes while other members of the dinner party laughed and conversed in the drawing room. Was he glad he’d come home or did he long to return to aid his countrymen in the ongoing war against Napoleon?

Rowena nudged Evan with her elbow. “I have an idea.”

Evan groaned under his breath. “The last time you had an idea, I nearly broke my neck.”

“Oh, pish. You only fell a short distance, and it was worth it. Besides, I concocted several diverting ideas while you were gone, and no one fell to his death.” She leaned forward and peered into his face. Are you still there? she longed to ask.

Without turning his head, he slid his gaze to her. His eyes remained that same intriguing mixture of brown and green, yet somehow different—wary, cautious. “That’s because no one else is foolish enough to go along with your madcap plots.”

She grinned. “Only you, which is partly why I missed you so much. I need a courageous friend for this idea.”

Follow the rest of the tour to continue reading excerpts from chapter one and reviews of the book…(or pre-order your copy here)

The Matchmaking Game
(Timeless Romance Single)
Donna Hatch
Adult Historical Romance
ebook, 126 pages
April 18th 2017 by Mirror Press

From the publisher of the USA TODAY bestselling & #1 Amazon bestselling Timeless Romance Anthology series in Clean & Wholesome Romance, comes the Timeless Romance Singles line.

THE MATCHMAKING GAME: A brand new historical romance novella from bestselling author Donna Hatch.

Rowena’s childhood friend, Evan, has returned home from war a handsome, but mysterious stranger. In an effort to bring happiness to her father, not to mention uncover the Evan she remembers from their youth, Rowena seeks to unite their parents. Who better to match a lonely widow and widower together than their adoring children? Her matchmaking game could help their parents find happiness and draw out her childhood friend buried beneath Evan’s new reserve … or it could break more than one heart.

GoodreadsAmazon

Tour Schedule

April 6th: Rockin’ Book Reviews Hearts & Scribbles
April 7th: Bookworm Nation & Zerina Blossom’s Books
April 9th: Hardcover Feedback & The Silver Dagger Scriptorium
April 10th: Christy’s Cozy Corners & Katie’s Clean Book Collection
April 11th: Reading Is My SuperPower & Heidi Reads…
April 12th: Rainy Day Reviews & deal sharing aunt
April 13th: Mel’s Shelves & Getting Your Read On
April 14th: Bookworm Lisa & Singing Librarian Books
April 16th: Celticlady’s Reviews & Booklove
April 17th: Falling Leaves & Nicole’s Book Musings
April 18th: Grand Finale

Tour Giveaway

1 winner will receive a print copy of Heart Strings by Donna Hatch (US only)
 1 winner will receive an ebook of Heart Strings by Donna Hatch (open internationally)
– Ends April 22nd

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Kitchens in Regency and Georgian England

I’m having my kitchen remodeled, a daunting and messy project that is not yet complete. Naturally, this event sparked the question in my historically-minded imagination about Regency kitchens.  This, of course, led to research. But first, I thought I’d share photos of my unimpressive kitchen.

The homebuilder originally installed two lower cabinets, two and a half uppers, and a drawer bank which is next to the sink and dishwasher on the island. No doubt someone from a hundred years ago would have found it luxurious, but as a spoiled modern-day woman, I found it wholly inadequate with nowhere near enough counter space–so did the previous owners, apparently because they installed a set of ugly but utilitarian cabinets in the far left corner. Still, the kitchen does not have enough counter space. If any dishes are left on the sink, a frequent occurrence in our house full of children, there is little to no space for food preparation.

Pre-demolition kitchen


view 2 of pre-demolition kitchen

 

 

 

 

Packing cabinets. It felt like moving.

Removing old cabinets. Their new home will be the garage.

Last week, we tore out everything.  

Sink cabinet

First we packed, as modeled by my youngest son to the right.  We did the demolition ourselves to save money. My oldest son and daughter-in-law were visiting at the time, and they had so much fun helping. I had more fun caring for my granddaughter and keeping her away from the mess. Thanks to their help, it was kinda fun, but certainly very messy. Here are the demolition photos:

Pipes where my kitchen sink used to be

When the kitchen is finished, I’ll post completed photos. But for now, let’s move on to the historical tie-in.

Most of my characters are wealthy enough not to spend much time in a kitchen and certainly never need to cook for themselves–a far cry from my reality. They probably wouldn’t know how to cook over a hearth use an oven.

Still, what were kitchens like in Regency England?

Years of soot

Food and kitchens, like clothing, education, and social issues, underwent great change in the late Regency/early Victorian Era. Before that time, food in England was more primitive than that found in France and Germany, and other European countries. Ovens were inefficient and produced a great deal of smoke. Notice the soot in this photo to the right above the tourists’ heads.

Cooking over a spit

Oven at Hampton Court

Cooking was done over the hearth on spit or in posts hanging over the fire. Baking occurred in large ovens.

As far as storing food and cooking implements, they had some cupboards, but most seemed to have used shelves or a larder. Food stayed cold in a bultery, or buttery.

During the Georgian and Regency Eras, great food had become an integral part of family and social life. Many kitchens were updated from hearths, to either the Rumford fireplace, which allowed for better air circulation and therefore more effective cooking, or to even more modern cooking ranges. )Unfortunately, I have yet to find a photo of this “new fangled” range. If you have one that you are willing to share, please let me know.) 

The most innovated houses now boasted plumbing for both hot and cold water. New kitchen designs and even took advantage of light, minimized odors and regulated temperature. 

These three photos, courtesy Shannon Arthur, are from One Royal Crescent in Bath.  The house is restored to the Georgian era circa 1770s with some items as late as 1832 added. Apparently, they occasionally used 1800s  reproductions of the 1770s stuff that had been sold off.

 

 

 
Note: that’s not a real fire like in the Hampton Court pictures.

I found this photo to the left on Wickimedia Commons, but I cannot identify if this is a colonial or English kitchen, nor if this is during the early or late 1800’s. Still, it gives a good feel for what kitchens must have been like. Countertops did not exist for centuries. Instead,  servants used large tables to do all their food preparation. Eventually, marble or other stone slabs appeared on these tabletops, as pictured in this photo to the right, which probably made the entire process easier and cleaner. 

Here is a stove, circa late 1800s. It features a very modern-looking stove, but the table does not look authentic to me. Still, it shows a butter churn, and gives a fun historical feel overall.

Compared to these photos, my old kitchen was pretty posh, but I can’t wait to get my new kitchen, complete with new drawers, cupboards, and a nice, big island. Oh, and running water. Yeah, that will be great!

 

 

Mounting a Horse in Regency England

The Countess of Coningsby in the Costume of the Charlton Hunt     circa 1760

RIDING on Horseback is, confessedly, one of the most graceful, agreeable, and salutary of feminine recreations. No attitude, perhaps, can be regarded as more elegant than that of a lady in the modern side-saddle; nor can any exercise be deemed capable of affording more rational and innocent delight, than that of the female equestrian.

From a Young Lady’s Equestrian Manual, published 1838.

With few exception, most of my female characters are accomplished horsewomen. I cannot claim to be accomplished, but I do love to ride. Still, sidesaddle, or aside, is a bit different. When writing my soon-to-be released novella, The Matchmaking Game, I needed to fine tune the details about how a lady mounted a horse. To this end, I turned to the aforementioned manual, and found the details that I wanted. Here they are:

The horse being thus left to the lady’s government, it is proper, that, in passing her hand through the reins she should not have suffered them to become so loose as to prevent her, when her hand is on the crutch, from having a light, but steady bearing on the bit, and thus keeping the horse to his position during the process of mounting.

She next places her left foot firmly in the right hand of the groom, or gentleman, in attendance who stoops to receive it. The lady then puts her left hand on his right shoulder; and, straightening her left knee, bears her weight on the assistant’s hand; which he gradually raises (rising, himself, at the same time) until she is seated on the saddle. During her elevation, she steadies, and even, if necessary, partly assists herself towards the saddle by her hands; one of which, it will be recollected, is placed on the crutch, and the other on her assistant’s shoulder. It is important that she should keep her foot firm and her knee straight.

Armed with this knowledge, here is how I wrote my scene in The Matchmaking Game, when the hero and heroine, childhood friends, first realize there may be more between them than friendship:

How kind of you to notice,” she said dryly. “Give your major a leg up?”

With a smile at her reference to the honorary rank he’d given her at the ball, Evan dismounted. He laced his fingers together so she could mount her horse. A pert smile came his way before she placed her left foot in his cupped hands. She put one hand on his shoulder to steady herself as he boosted her up. Her soft body brushed his arm and chest. Her scent, something soft and feminine he could not name, tingled his senses. Mere inches away, her smooth cheek and moist lips taunted him. His chest squeezed and his knees wobbled. Awareness of her, of the desirable woman she had become, rendered him immobile. She glanced at him, one brow raised, and a half smile curving those luscious lips. A burning energy formed in the middle of his stomach and shot outward like sunbursts.

She parted those lips and spoke. “Am I too heavy for a big, strong man like you?”

“Er, no. Of course not.” He cleared his throat again and boosted her up with a bit too much force.

Despite his aggressive boost, she placed her right leg over the leg rest of the side saddle and found her balance. She settled the long, heavy skirts of her riding habit around her while he helped position her left foot in the stirrup.

With the reins in one hand and her riding crop in the other, she eyed him with an expectant lift to her brows. “Shall we?”

The Matchmaking Game will be released April 18, 2017 and is available now for pre-order here

 

 

 

Riding Sidesaddle in Regency England

Riding sidesaddle was the epitome of genteel upbringing for the Regency lady. It provided a convenient form of transportation, a good method of obtaining fresh air and exercise, and a great way to socialize–especially with gentlemen 😉 . Riding sidesaddle also effectively proclaimed one’s wealth and status. Sometime during the 17th Century, ladies started riding sidesaddle, also known as aside. Prior to that they rode astride or sat in an awkward riding seat and hung on for dear life.

In order for a lady to be a good rider in Regency England, she had to have both time and money. She must take riding lessons, have time to practice the art of riding, and be wealthy enough to afford a horse trained as a lady’s mount. Work horses could simply graze; riding horses called for more expenses–a stable, feed, grooms, tack, farrier fees, etc. A lady competently riding aside, combined with a stylish riding habit, spoke louder than words of her social standing.

Riding habits were usually made by tailors, although some sources cite ladies dressmakers, or modistes, making riding habits, too. Riding habits included a fitted bodice with long sleeves, or sometimes a spencer, that fit well through the torso and shoulders. A long, full train covered the legs while riding. Regency ladies’ riding habits did not include a split skirt–those didn’t appear until the late Victorian Era. They seem to have come in a variety of fabrics, depending on weather, velvet being very popular.

Little girls were taught to ride astride on a pony or donkey. Then, as they grew in competence and size, they learned to a sidesaddle and usually graduated to a horse. This was a sign of skill and distinction. In urban areas, riding donkeys seemed to be pretty common, but riding in London seemed to require a beautiful horse, since in London, appearances became crucial.

Very few grown ladies rode astride in the city or country; not only was it unladylike and downright scandalous, it could be viewed as a declaration of one’s incompetence at riding side saddle.

Jane Austen herself didn’t learn to ride until nearly at the end of her life. Historians believe Jane had a fear of riding. If this is true, it may be due to a dear friend of the Austen family being killed while riding. Jane’s personal records cite this loss. It’s also possible that Jane didn’t ride in her youth because her family simply didn’t have the money for such a luxury. Most of her novels suggest a certain disapproval of ladies riding, and in a few cases, a touch of envy.

The Countess of Coningsby in the Costume of the Charlton Hunt, circa 1760

A common misconception about riding sidesaddle is that it was uncomfortable. In truth, it’s actually comfortable. The seat and pommel are both padded. In addition, one does not sit twisted, but rather with one’s back straight. It’s a lot like sitting in a chair with the right leg crossed over the left. I often sit sideways on the sofa with one knee propped up higher than the other. This is not much different than riding sidesaddle.

Others claim that riding aside is difficult. However, many women today who learn sidesaddle prefer it to astride. Both ways of riding are more about balance. When I ride astride, especially if the horse is large, I get sore in the soft tissue in my inner legs. Riding more frequently would help, I am sure, but sidesaddle would at least alleviate discomfort due to the girth of a horse.

Another myth is that it’s hard to get on a horse with a sidesaddle. Actually, one only needs a mounting block to mount a horse. Of course, having a handsome gentlemen nearby to give on a “leg up” is always welcome 🙂 Also, a trained lady’s mount stands very still for mounting or dismounting, they have a smooth gait, a light mouth, and are a pleasure to ride.

Many critics claim that it’s easy to fall off and therefore dangerous to ride aside. This is true of riding in general. Some riders, as my writer friend and horse expert Shannon Donnelly says, could fall off a merry-go-round horse; other riders can stay on anything–even a bucking bronco.  Look at rodeo riders. They don’t rely on strength; they stay on by keeping their center of gravity over the horse. Again, riding is all about balance and skill whether a person rides astride or sidesaddle.

Another common myth about riding aside is that one can’t gallop or jump. Again, this goes to skill–a skilled rider and well-trained horse can jump, gallop and do haute echole (dressage movements)–anything that can be done astride can also be done sidesaddle. There are numerous documented recordings of Georgian and Regency ladies riding side saddle as they “rode to hounds” which required a fast pace and much skill to charge through the country side after a pack of hounds chasing a fox.

Riding sidesaddle is fun! Part of the trick is a well-trained horse. Some horses have a harder time adapting to his rider’s legs both on one side but others pick up on it quickly.

Now, like everything, the side saddle has evolved. However, the Regency side saddle was very similar to today’s side saddle. The main differences are that there was no no leaping horn, and the Regency stirrup is a ‘slipper stirrup’ which is different from today’s.

Some images from the Regency Era show ladies riding with a sort of belt wrapped around them. It’s not clear to me if it’s attached to the saddle or not. It’s possible it was merely a way of keeping a lady’s skirts down flat, since I can’t imagine any woman would have secured herself to the saddle.

Is today’s saddle safer? Probably. But many Regency ladies managed to ride anywhere they wanted, and as fast as they wanted, just fine, thank you very much.

Sources:

Much of this information came through years of research. However, some recent sources are:

Shannon Donnelly on Historical Hussies

Jill Ottman on the Jane Austen Centre of North America

Kathy Blee on Ladies Ride Aside

Regency Gentlemen’s Coats

 In Regency England, the term “coat” does not refer to outerwear. That article of clothing is called a greatcoat or overcoat. Instead, “coat” always referred to a tailcoat which was an indispensable part of every gentleman’s daily wear. Tailcoats were made from fine wool and finished with broadcloth, merino, or kerseymere.

Walking coats

The Morning Coat or Riding Coat. This is the informal coat of a gentleman’s clothing. Its distinguishing characteristics are the front edges which slope to the round-edged tails in back. Generally, the tails of the riding coat were a little shorter than the walking coat but the lines on that distinction seem a bit blurry. A blue morning coat with buff or tan breeches was considered the epitome of fashionable casual wear. Other popular colors included olive, bottle-green, and even plum. Green and brown also show up frequently but those seem to be primarily for country living. Morning coats or riding coats were usually double-breasted, and could be customized with a pocket(s) in the back by the tails. Buttons in silver or brass seemed to be popular, based on the fashion plates I have studied.

Tailcoat and trousers

The dress coat. Similar to day’s “tux and tails,” the dress coat was short through the trunk and cut straight across to allow the waistcoat to peek out below. It had long, square tails in back. This was fashionable and appropriate for formal occasions. Black was the most formal but I often see engravings of gray and blue as well, as shown in the picture to the right. Formal tailcoats were made of very fine wool and given a dress finish called “superfine.” Often the dress coats themselves were called simply “superfine.” Notice this gentleman to the right is wearing trousers would were just starting to emerge in the late Regency. Buttons were usually covered with matching cloth.

Victorian Frockcoats

The Frockcoat. Often I find the term frockcoat used interchangeably with tailcoat and the term I used in most of my books I have written thus far. Recently, however, I discovered that the frockcoat belonged to the early Georgian Era and though it was re-introduced late in the Regency, didn’t gain popularity until the Victorian Era. The two stylish gentleman to the left are wearing Victorian frockcoats. The one on the far side is also wearing trousers, and the other is wearing breeches and riding boots, showing that transitional phase. By the late Victorian, knee breeches were pretty much only worn as riding attire. But I digress. The frockcoat had a full of skirt the same length all around and no tails. It also had room for pockets in the side. It opened down the front to reveal the waistcoat. This coat, like the morning or riding coat, was also made of very fine wool.

During the Regency, Georgian-style frockcoats were required court attire. They were very ornate, with brocade or heavy-embroidery such as what you see in pictures of George Washington and other Georgian-Era gentlemen. Court costume included trimming such as fur, ribbons, and gold or silver-threaded lace. Court frockcoats were not cut in at the waist but had a more square shape, and they had long elegant tails.

Love and Courtship in Regency England

I admit I’ve been out of the dating scene for (ahem) a few years now. However, from what my single friends tell me, not much has changed since I was dated. In today’s world a man asks out a woman, (or if she’s braver than I ever was, she asks him out). They might meet online, or be introduced by a friend, but eventually they end up on that first date. It might be dinner or drinks or just coffee (in my case, hot cocoa). It might involve a movie or miniature golf or a museum. It might even occasionally include another couple but it never involves parents or chaperones, and no one thinks anything of an adult man and a woman being alone together in a car or a house.

Dating in Regency England was very different. For one thing, it was called courting or wooing. But most importantly, a young lady of good breeding who wished to keep her reputation pristine so she would be a candidate for marriage never, ever put herself alone with a man. (The double standard is, of course, that the man was expected to have “sown his wild oats” and could have a very sullied reputation and still be considered a good match if he were wealthy and well-connected enough.) Therefore, courting was a very public affair.

First, they needed an introduction by a mutual friend before conversing. They often met at balls which were THE places to meet those of similar social backgrounds, but they might also meet at a dinner party, soiree, musicale, or even the opera or the theater.

If the man wished to get better acquainted with the lady he’d met, he might send her flowers the next day (but never gifts or letters), and later pay a visit upon the family during their “at home” hours where her mother or aunt or other chaperone would be present. He might take her for a stroll in one of the walking parks, with a chaperone close at hand. He might even take her riding on horseback or in an open carriage—open being the operative word since riding in a closed carriage could ruin her reputation as quickly as being alone in a house with a man.

Courting could be short or take place over a long period of time. At a ball, if she refused to dance with any other man but him, she basically announced to the world that they were engaged. If she danced with him more than twice in one night, everyone assumed she was either engaged to him or was “fast,” a terrible label for a proper young lady. If he spent a lot of time with her to the point where people began to notice how much they were together, public opinion placed them as engaged. If he failed to make an offer of marriage for her, people said he had failed to come up to scratch and shook their heads and wondered if she were unsuitable or if he were. Either way, the couple’s reputations suffered. At that point, their only option would be to marry or live with tainted reputations. Depending on his status, his reputation would probably recover but hers would likely remain tainted.

Such courting practices may sound rigid and even sterile to the modern-day woman, but I think it leaves so much open. For one thing, they relied on witty conversation rather than getting physical to get to know each other. And since the courting practices were pretty predictable, a man had to use creativity to impress a lady.

Once he felt secure she returned his affections, the gentleman would make an appointment with the girl’s father and formally ask for her hand in marriage. His income would be scrutinized and they would draw up a prenuptial agreement called a marriage settlement which included her pin money, dress allowance, jointure, and other ways he’d provide for her, as well as what dowry would go to the man. With all that settled, the father would break the news to the girl and the wedding preparations would commence.

My goal as Regency romance author is to keep in mind these social customs known as ‘manners and mores’ and yet find unique ways for my hero and heroine to meet and fall in love. I enjoy creating a unique twist on acceptable courting, throwing lots of obstacles in the way of their happily ever after, and revealing the final, happy, triumphant ending.  That doesn’t make me a hopeless romantic, it makes me a hopeful romantic.

My tagline is ‘Believe in happily ever after’ because I do believe in it. Do you believe in happily ever after?