Ah yes, the costume. Oh boy. Thank heavens the late 1700's, 1795-1799 specifically, produced some of the simplest women's styles since the ancient Greeks! Of course, those same Ancient Greeks provided the primary inspiration for much of what was worn during those 5 years, plus a few years on the other side of 1800. Sewing and fitting the chemises, stays, and gowns of the Directoire/Empire period isn't too terribly much more difficult than sewing a basic, elastic neckline, peasant top from the 1960's-70's - yeah - pretty easy for the most part. Not as easy as a Greek peplos or chiton, but not too bad.
Fabric was my first challenge. Inspite of having a stash the size of Mt. Rushmore, I really didn't have anything appropriate for this costume. I have a few basic white cottons suitable for chemises and stays, but nothing for a late 18th C. gown. Odds of finding anything locally? Why even bother looking. So I headed for the net, and had a pretty good time at Renaissance Fabrics. Ordered dark green cotton velvet, a dark grayish-green jacquard, a gold/taupe stripe, a white-on-white stripe, and both white and off-white cotton lawn.
Gold/taupe cotton stripe - the light strip is more gold than it appears here.
Off-white cotton lawn
The velvet is lovely, but not for this project. The jacquard is a rather large motif (see picture) and a little stiff, but might work. The stripe is a heavier, stiffer cotton than I wanted, and may not be useable for this at all. Not sure what it will be good for. The white-on-white stripe was the best piece for this project, provided I put a lawn or batiste layer under it, in addition to the chemise. I know the Directoire period gowns were very light and sheer - but not for me!
Then...the pattern. The time constraint was the major factor in choosing which pattern to use. I had several on hand, so did not have to lose time waiting for something to come by mail.
The main differences between the last years of the 18th C. and the first years of the 19th were fabrics and colors (or lack thereof), sleeve fullness, skirt fullness and details like trims. I wanted to aim for the simplest look of that 5 year period, 1795-99, not just because of time but because I prefer the smoother sleeve style of the early part of this look. I did not want to get into the Jane Austen, puffy-sleeve look.
But for now, I'm looking mainly at these images, all 1765-99, as my main reference.
Hoppner, 1795 --------- Boilly, 1803 -------------------- Boilly, 1798
I like the low gathered bodice on the right, or the smooth bodice in the middle. I also like the smooth, non-puffy sleeves. I would like to do the wrapped bodice someday, but not this week.
For patterns, I looked at these three:
The first on the left is the Regency Wardrobe from La Mode Bagatelle. It may be the best Regency pattern available, or not, but it's truly Regency and not as easily adapted to pre-Regency as I needed. The middle image is Sense & Sensibility's Regency Gown pattern. It seemed a more flexible pattern, given my need to make it look pre-Regency, but Simplicity has published their version of the same pattern, under agreement with Sense & Sensibility. I opted to use the Simplicity pattern for the convenience of the pattern tissue so I wouldn't have to take time to trace off pattern pieces. I will use the Sense & Sensibility pattern eventually but not while I'm in a hurry.
I will use the Sense & Sensibility instructions as they are more specific and detailed, and simply make more sense then instructions that Simplicity included. This is even more true and critical if using the Simplicity version of Sense & Sensibility's Regency Underthings pattern. Simplicity gives a vague instruction for seam finished and the best sequence in which to apply them. The S&S instructions are MUCH better.
So, I"ve cut and begun stitching a chemise and stays from Simplicity 4052, and expect to have them finished this evening. The stays look really comfortable! I'm going to make Simplicity 4055, with adjustments for the pre-Regency look that I'm seeking, first in the white-on-white stripe, and then in a color, time permitting.
Since all of this is initially for me to wear at Costume College, I had one more wild idea to squeeze in if time permits. For the Sunday Undies Breakfast, if they have it this year, I thought it might be fun to make up the chemise pattern in a really cute, contemporary print, for a nightgown for myself. The fabric is a ballet-themed print, showing little girls (3-yr-olds maybe?) in their tutus, in various poses, sitting, standing, holding toys. The colors are bright pastels of blue, pink and lavender.
I'll add pictures of fabrics, as well as the project in progress later today.