Beau Brummell at Bonwit Teller

I’ve been working on a story that includes a secondary character who is an unabashed Regency Dandy. In his mind, appearance is everything.

In writing the character, I wanted to make certain I accurately described his attire, so I turned to my research files on the king of all dandies: Beau Brummell.

Beau Brummell, engraved from a miniature by John Cook.

When I skimmed through my files and the books I have about Beau Brummell, I realized they focused more on the events of his life and his sense of style, but really didn’t contain any actual descriptions of his clothing.

Beau Brummell, by Hubert Cole, from my library of Regency research books.

Also surprising: there’s precious little when it comes to detailed descriptions of Beau Brummell’s clothing on the Internet, either.

But in my online searches I did find something interesting. On The New School’s website, tucked into their online archives, were several photos of Brummell-inspired fashion from the 1950s.

Why were people in the 1950’s so interested in Beau Brummell? Because in 1954 MGM released a movie that was supposed to be about Beau Brummell’s life. The film starred Stewart Granger as The Beau, Peter Ustinov as the Prince of Wales, and Rosemary Harris (mother of Jennifer Ehle, my favorite Lizzy Bennet) as Mrs. Fitzherbert.

A black and white still from a scene in “Beau Brummell” starring (left to right) Elizabeth Taylor, Rosemary Harris, Stewart Granger, and Peter Ustinov.

Also in the film: Elizabeth Taylor as Lady Patricia, a totally fictional character who served only to showcase Elizabeth Taylor’s beauty and give Stewart Granger a heterosexual love interest in the midst of all the ruffles and tight breeches. (That’s the kind of thing they did in the fifties. Don’t ask me why.)

Poster for the 1954 movie, “Beau Brummell.”

The great New York department store Bonwit Teller caught a little of the Beau Brummell bug. They came up with an advertising tie-in to the movie and devoted several of their coveted 5th Avenue window displays to women’s fashion “inspired by” Beau Brummell’s dandyism.

Here’s a photo taken at the time of one of the window displays in 1954 (courtesy of The New School archives):

The female mannequin is dressed in 1950’s style high-waist pants, ruffled shirt, and a waistcoat that mimic the male’s attire. On the floor at their feet is an unraveled reel of film.

The male mannequin is wearing one of the actual costumes from the Beau Brummel movie. Here’s how that costume looked when Stewart Granger wore it in the film:

If you look closely, you can see his round hat tucked under his left arm.

Here’s another of the Bonwit Teller window displays from 1954. In this display the female mannequin is again wearing high-waist pants with a seam detail that mimics the brocade on the male mannequin’s military jacket.

He is is dressed in another costume from the movie. Here’s what Stewart Granger looked like in that same military uniform in the film:

There’s a scene mid-way through the movie when Beau Brummell joins the Prince of Wales on a hunt. Bonwit teller depicted the scene, matching their idea of a modern, 1950s woman in a red dress and heeled shoes with a gentleman’s hunting pink, which consisted of a long red coat, white shirt and pants, and black boots.

Here’s the same costume worn by Stewart Granger in the movie. With him in the scene is Rosemary Harris as Mrs. Fitzherbert and Peter Ustinov as the prince.

I was so glad to find these images, because they helped me realize Beau Brummell was not all about black tailcoats and understated fawn pantaloons.

Stewart Granger as Beau Brummel in the 1954 movie of the same name.

Those articles of clothing have been the mainstays of any Regency romance hero’s wardrobe since Georgette Heyer first described them in Devil’s Cub in 1932. But the movie costumes convinced me I can introduce color, stripes and pattern to my character’s attire and still hold true to the Dandy’s dress code.

With these costumes as a guide, I was able to write some descriptions of ensembles I think my Regency character will enjoy wearing. I even thought up an article of clothing he’ll wear that will end up playing a major role in the story.

I’m looking forward to sharing all of it with you soon!

In the meantime, if you’d like to see more photos of the Bonwit Teller window displays featuring costumes from the movie, click here to be taken to The New School Archive and Special Collections website.


Embroidered or Beaded?

I’m always on the lookout for images to use for inspiration in my writing, especially when it comes to writing descriptions of Regency era clothing.

Not long ago I came found his image on The Met Museum’s website:

This, I thought, is a very nice linen gown, perfect for a warm summer day; and it has some lovely embroidery along the neckline and on the hems of the sleeves and skirt.

The shape of the gown appealed to me, too, because the extra fabric gathered in back reminded me of the “round gown” popular around the year 1800. And the scalloped edges on the hems of the sleeves and skirt were something I couldn’t recall seeing before.

Luckily, The Met had additional photos of the gown’s details, so I took a look at the close-up of the gown’s neckline:

And that’s when I realized I wasn’t looking at embroidery; I was looking at beading.

Lots and lots of beading! Every bit of color on this gown is comprised of tiny colored beads arranged in intricate designs. Here’s a close-up of the beading along the bottom of the skirt:

Each motif is executed perfectly. In fact, from a distance, you would think it was a machine printed fabric.

What’s astonishing to me is how well preserved the gown is; after two-hundred years, every tiny bead is still in its place.

I just love this gown because it’s so deceptively simple with its plain linen fabric, but after spending some time looking at the exquisite bead-work, I have to wonder if this wasn’t a very expensive gown to purchase.

Even more, I wonder about the talented woman (or women) responsible for creating such a lovely gown. Their skills are a lost art!

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

For the past few weeks we’ve been in a deep-freeze in Colorado. Before going outside I have to bundle up in multiple layers of clothing, before I don my warmest coat, gloves, and hat.

I may not look very stylish; but under the circumstances, I’m much more interested in being warm than fashionable.

Not so for the gentlemen pictured in this post. They’re dressed to meet the winter elements while still maintaining a strong sense of Regency style.

Their coats appear to be made of different types of wools, while their coat collars are fashioned from velvets and furs.

In our modern times people don’t wear fur. We have the technology to create fabrics and garments that insulate us from cold, so we don’t need to rely on animal hides for warmth; that wasn’t the case for people who lived through in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

William Willoughby Cole (1807-1886), 3rd Earl of Enniskillen; by william Robinson

What I like about these images is that I can sense the weight of the garments these gentlemen are wearing. They look pretty substantial—like they might have some weight to them.

I also think the luxurious fabrics and furs serve as a visual reminder of each gentleman’s wealth and stature; not everyone could afford to wear fine furs.

John Arthur Douglas Bloomfield, 2nd Baron Bloomfield, 1819.

These images are part of my collection of men’s wear illustrations; I refer to them when I want to generally describe a gentleman dressed for a cold winter’s day in England . . . . which, I’m beginning to suspect, feel very similar to a cold day in Colorado!

It’s Holiday Dress-Up Time!

I don’t often get the chance to dress up for an evening out, but when I do, I quite enjoy it.

I have a Christmas party to attend next week that’s one of those evenings out. A special dress, my best shoes, a sparkling necklace and some dangling earrings—I’ve already planned what I’m going to wear.

It’s on special occasions like the Christmas party, though, that I wish I had long hair. I love the look of an elegant up-do, and if my hair were longer, I’d definitely try to wear it up.

Of course, I’m very partial to the beautiful hair styles women wore during the English Regency period.

Some ladies wore their hair in relatively simple fashions, swept up into a bun, with curls framing their face:

The Ainslie Sisters, by Thomas Stewardson, 1808.

While others, who had fuller, thicker hair to work with, created hair styles that were much more intricate and complicated.

The Artist’s Wife by Carl Joseph Begas, 1828

I know that if I had long hair, I would be tempted to try styling my hair in the Regency mode, because it looks so perfect for a special night out.

Here’s a video that shows how to do it! It gives step-by-step instructions for creating a classic Grecian hairstyle so popular in Jane Austen’s day; and I have to say, it looks simple enough to do.

Readers, if your hair is longer than shoulder length, I’d love to know if you’ve ever given a Regency hairstyle a try. How did it turned out?

“I like a red coat myself.”

There’s something about a man in uniform. At least, that’s what the Bennet women believed. And even though Elizabeth Bennet decried her sisters’ obsessions with men in uniform, there was a time when she liked Mr. Wickham in his regimentals more than any other man of her acquaintance.

Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, in 1815 just before he defeated Napoleon at Waterloo

Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, in 1815 just before he defeated Napoleon at Waterloo

In Pride and Prejudice Mrs. Bennet led the charge when it came to admiring men in uniform:

“I remember the time when I liked a red coat myself very well—and, indeed, so I do still at my heart; and if a smart young colonel, with five or six thousand a year, should want one of my girls I shall not say nay to him; and I thought Colonel Forster looked very becoming the other night at Sir William’s in his regimentals.”

Portrait of Captain Alexander McInnes, 2nd Life Guards, by Ramsay Richard Reinage. 1825 (courtesy of National Army Museum; supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation)

Portrait of Captain Alexander McInnes, 2nd Life Guards, by Ramsay Richard Reinage. 1825 (courtesy of National Army Museum; supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation)

Her youngest daughters joyously followed in her footsteps, chasing after officers and flirting unabashedly with them. Lydia and Kitty Bennet were, in Elizabeth’s judgment:

… ignorant, idle, and vain. While there was an officer in Meryton, they would flirt with him; and while Meryton was within a walk of Longbourn, they would be going there forever.

Lt. General William Stuart, by Henry Raeburn

Lt. General William Stuart, by Henry Raeburn

No wonder, then, that when the Bennet ladies discovered the regiment was removing to Brighton, they were desolate:

The dejection was almost universal. The elder Miss Bennets alone were still able to eat, drink, and sleep, and pursue the usual course of their employments. Very frequently were they reproached for this insensibility by Kitty and Lydia, whose own misery was extreme, and who could not comprehend such hard-heartedness in any of the family.
“Good Heaven! What is to become of us? What are we to do?” would they often exclaim in the bitterness of woe. “How can you be smiling so, Lizzy?”

Their affectionate mother shared all their grief; she remembered what she had herself endured on a similar occasion, five-and-twenty years ago.

“I am sure,” said she, “I cried for two days together when Colonel Miller’s regiment went away. I thought I should have broken my heart.”

Even the Prince of Wales and future King George IV wore a red coat from time to time. An 1815 painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Even the Prince of Wales and future King George IV wore a red coat from time to time, as in this 1815 painting by Sir Thomas Lawrence

With that kind of encouragement ringing in her ears, Lydia was more determined than ever to capture the heart of an officer. And when Lydia was invited to travel to Brighton with the regiment, she had a picture in her mind of what would happen once she got there:

In Lydia’s imagination, a visit to Brighton comprised every possibility of earthly happiness. She saw, with the creative eye of fancy, the streets of that gay bathing-place covered with officers. She saw herself the object of attention, to tens and to scores of them at present unknown. She saw all the glories of the camp—its tents stretched forth in beauteous uniformity of lines, crowded with the young and the gay, and dazzling with scarlet; and, to complete the view, she saw herself seated beneath a tent, tenderly flirting with at least six officers at once.

Cavalry Officer by Antoine-Jean Gros

Cavalry Officer by Antoine-Jean Gros

It’s always been interesting to me how much the officers—and the Bennet family’s involvement with them—drove the story of Pride and Prejudice. In a way, the story’s climax (Lydia’s elopement with Wickham) never would have happened had Jane Austen not set the stage by introducing Lydia’s and Mrs. Bennet’s infatuation with officers early in the story and then built on it throughout the novel.

Lieutenant Alexander Graham Spiers by Henry Raeburn, 1814 (courtesy The Keep Military Museum; supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation)

Lieutenant Alexander Graham Spiers by Henry Raeburn, 1814 (courtesy The Keep Military Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation)

So decided to see for myself what the attraction was for a man in a red coat. I’ve collected some portraits and illustrations of British officers from about the 1790s to 1820s. They’re displayed on my new Pinterest board, which you can view here. I hope you enjoy it!

Regency Bonnets and Caps

January 17 is Wear a Hat Day. Hats are not much in vogue in our modern times, but in Regency England, a stylish bonnet was an essential part of any lady’s ensemble when she stepped out of doors. Married women and ladies of a certain age (late twenties and older) wore caps indoors. Shopping for hats and caps and keeping up with the latest style of trims and colors was de rigeur for ladies.

William Henry Margetson

William Henry Margetson

In Northanger Abbey, Isabella Thorpe told Catherine Morland, “I saw the prettiest hat you can imagine in a shop window in Milsom-Street just now—very like yours, only with coquelicot ribbons instead of green; I quite longed for it.”

Perhaps Miss Thorpe passed a shop that looked like the one represented in Alonso Perez’s painting, The Milliner’s Shop:

Ladies at the Milliners by Alonso Perez

Ladies at the Milliners by Alonso Perez

In the first ten years of the 19th Century, the poke-bonnet gained popularity. In an 1801 letter, Jane Austen wrote that she had a new bonnet, trimmed with white ribbon:

“I find my straw bonnet looking very much like other people’s, and quite as smart.”

Alfred Glendening

Alfred Glendening

Leghorn hats were also popular, featuring a large brim in front, and turned up behind in a soft roll in the French style, such as this bonnet:

Annie Henniker

Annie Henniker

Here are examples of different Regency-era bonnets, as depicted by various artists:

Carl Thomsen

Carl Thomsen

A. R. Kemplen

A. R. Kemplen

F. Sydney Muschamp

F. Sydney Muschamp

Carlton Alfred Smith

Carlton Alfred Smith

In Emma, Mrs. Elton hinted at the importance of wearing just the right hat for the occasion when she accepted Mr. Knightley’s invitation to pick strawberries at Donwell:

“It is to be a morning scheme, you know, Knightley; quite a simple thing. I shall wear a large bonnet, and bring one of my little baskets hanging on my arm. Here, —probably this basket with pink ribbon. Nothing can be more simple, you see.”

Edmund Blair Leighton

Edmund Blair Leighton

In her letters, Jane Austen wrote about re-trimming a cap:

I shall venture to retain the narrow silver round it, put twice round without any bow, and instead of the black military feather shall put in the coquelicot one, as being smarter.

By 1810 the plain cottage bonnet became more elaborate. Hats became higher and were decorated with more than fabric and ribbon. Hats sported flowers, puffed gauze, feathers, and gathered or plaited fabric.

This hat bears the fashionable poppy-red color Isabella Thorpe called “coquelicot” in Northanger Abbey:

Edmund Blair Leighton

Edmund Blair Leighton

In Mansfield Park, Miss Crawford explained to Edmund how easy it was to tell whether a woman is out in society based on her bonnet:

“Till now, I could not have supposed it possible to be mistaken as to a girl’s being out or not. A girl not out has always the same sort of dress: a close bonnet, for instance.”

Frederik Hendrik Kaemmerer

Frederik Hendrik Kaemmerer

George Sheridan Knowles

George Sheridan Knowles

From examples throughout Jane Austen’s books, we can see that a lady’s bonnet was not just a means for keeping the sun out of her eyes. Instead, it was a declaration of her station in life, her level of wealth and, perhaps, even her marital status.