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Friday, February 29, 2008

The Regency Gap

In general, I don't sew. I can make a decent Ren Faire skirt or a pair of bloomers, but that's about it. After that most basic level of sewing, I rapidly find myself out of my depth. As styles got fancier and more finished (historically speaking), it rapidly moves beyond what I'm comfortable doing. I would never attempt to make a Victorian gown - too much fiddly detail there. Plus, I know a lot of folks who put my sewing skill and historical costuming knowledge to utter shame. (Beyond that, there are quite a few who are all too willing to make snarky comments about the quality of the sewing or the historicality of others garments, which makes me even more reticent to wade into those snark-infested waters.)

The skill I do have is being a good shopper and being able to find costumes online or in thrift stores. Beyond that, I'm very willing to team up with someone who defines themselves as being able to sew and do the grunty work of cutting and pinning and ironing while they do the fiddly detail bits that make me want to cry.

So for last year's P&P picnic, I didn't have a Regency day dress. This has long been a gap in my historical wardrobe, so I started shopping online for one, found a few here and there, but after losing out on several eBay auctions in the last few minutes, I borrowed a dress from Cathleen and figured I'd work on getting something in time for the March P&P ball.

So in January, I started searching around online in random idle moments and finding that eBay seemed to be my only option for Regency dresses unless I wanted to make it myself. There are hundreds of Civil War sutlers, and tons of Old West retailers, and lots of Ren Faire and SCA garb stores online, but there is little available for the era of Jane Austen.

But I did not want to make it myself. So I started idly bidding on dresses on eBay figuring that in time, I'd win one. But eBay was being eBay and it seems you can't purchase on eBay unless you go to some extraordinary measures (snipe tools, sitting by the computer as the last seconds count down, etc.). I just wanted to buy a dress at a reasonable price, not become an eBay expert, so I consistently lost out again and again in the final minutes of an auction for usually less than a dollar over my maximum bid. After doing this three times, I was pretty sure that it no longer mattered what my maximum bid was or that no one else was bidding against me. Everything would go just fine, and I would usually be the sole bidder, until the last minute of the auction, and then someone would come in and snag the dress for 49 cents more than my maximum bid. After the third time, I got really frustrated. I bid on one more dress, but knew there was little chance I could win unless I were willing to make my maximum bid something absurd like $500, and that by god, a Regency dress doesn't look like THAT much trouble to sew. So, I tromped off to Hancocks, found the Simplicity pattern, found some blue taffeta on clearance, and figured that even I might be able to throw something together.

Meanwhile, I still had a loaner Georgian dress from Cathleen, and Elizabeth loaned me her dress from Much Ado years ago. But both of those are made for ladies with much more ample fronts than I have, so they didn't fit just right. But having them on hand gave me the courage to attempt the sewing thing without having the pressure of being utterly, hopelessly, inappropriately dressed if I couldn't get it to work. Oh, and of course, I was outbid on eBay two more times.

I made up a muslin. With just some minor tweaking of the original pleating in the back and some guess work about the sash (since I was instructed to cut it out, but the instructions never mention it again), it fit right away. In fact, it wasn't even horribly unflattering. Hmm. Rick said, "Take the win." So I cut out the taffeta and spent the last few evenings up far too late working on assembling it. Last night, I went to bed at 3:40 with a new blue taffeta Regency-like gown hanging in the wardrobe, needing only a hem and some buttons and if I have time, some tweaking on the neckline.

My dress is not exactly period-accurate or beautifully trimmed or an elegant expression of my skills. But it's basic, and I built it, and doing so cost about what I expected to pay for a fairly plain dress off eBay, plus a whole lot of time. I hope to enjoy wearing it tomorrow. And if I never have to bid for such a thing on eBay again, I'll be overjoyed.


  • Your dress was lovely!

    By Blogger Unknown, at 8:05 AM  

  • My suggestion on ebay is to either visit the seller's ebay store and email them with an offer to buy it offline or in a private auction. They often have similar items available. Secondly, do a google search for your item name. It's often available on sites other than eBay.


    By Blogger Unknown, at 5:24 AM  

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