It’s 1819 and in my newest Regency, The Bricklayer’s Helper, Sarah must give up her masquerade as a man after thirteen years. Which leaves her in the unenviable position of trying to become a lady. What would she wear? How would she adapt to her role as a woman facing the cream of nineteenth century society?
It wouldn’t be easy, that’s for sure.
When you’re writing a historical novel, the question of clothing is a complex one. You want to be as accurate as possible, and yet not confuse readers. Heck, I’ve been confused, myself, at terms like “girdle” which didn’t always mean that tight, elastic thing you wear under your dresses to try to look a little thinner. It used to be an article of clothing worn around the waist, over your dress. Sort of like a belt. And pockets were little bags of fabric hanging from a ribbon you tied around your waist, under your dress. There were slits in the skirts that allowed ladies to slip their hands through so they could extract something from their pocket or put something inside. Some pockets were elaborately embroidered and quite lovely.
And linens weren’t sheets, they were those items of clothing like a man’s shirt that were made out of linen. So it can be quite confusing when using words that over time have changed meaning. Most authors, however, resolve this simply by describing the item of clothing as a character puts it on.
So what would my heroine, Sarah, wear?
First, she'd probably browse through an issue of La Belle Assemblée which was the Vogue of the day.