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09 May 2007

Riversdale "House Party" Follow-up


I promised to follow-up on my "Regency Ladies' Weekend" at Riversdale House, so here goes! First off, I had a wonderful time--even while forced to suffer the indignity of sleeping on the floor. In addition to fellow romance authors Sally MacKenzie and Janet Mullany (that's Janet, Sally, and me in the photo below), the other ladies in attendance included aspiring authors, period reenactors, costumers, and food 'interpreters'.


The food we ate all weekend was, for the most part, period food prepared over an open hearth. And it was delicious! Particularly delightful was a sweet potato pie with a particularly unusual taste, which turned out to be rosewater! Accompaniments often included pickled vegetables, olives, almonds, and cheese. Also delicious was a brandy/champagne punch served during our night of dancing/entertainments.


One activity I especially enjoyed was period games. We learned some card games--Sept (or "Seven") and Faro--and the dice games Newmarket and Hazard (an early version of modern-day Craps). Both Faro and Hazard are betting games, and the instructor passed around several period ladies' gaming pieces--what ladies would have used for 'betting chips.' Every lady would come to a party with her own, and some were very elaborate--discs of ivory or mother-of-pearl, some intricately carved with either a design or perhaps the lady's monogram.

But what struck me the most about the weekend--thanks to wearing period clothing and underclothes--was how "restrictive" it was to be a lady. For starters, it was impossible to dress or undress without assistance. Even with my stays loosely laced, the wooden busk up the front enforced good posture at all times, even while eating. At one point during the weekend, I donned my chemise, stays, stockings, and gown before putting on my slippers. BIG mistake! It was nearly impossible to put on my shoes once I was dressed. If I were to drop something to the floor, the only way to retrieve it was to bend at the knees rather than at the waist. Also, during one activity, I was asked to read aloud from a period novel (Jane Austen's NORTHANGER ABBEY). Between my stays and the very long passages, I nearly found myself gasping for air between sentences. By the end of one afternoon, I found myself feeling claustrophic in my stays--even though they were fairly loose--and had to have a friend quickly unlace me. It was definitely something that would take some getting used to wearing.


Still, it was a wonderful experience, and one I hope to revisit next year.

6 Comments:

Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Thanks for the update! I have a hard time getting across to people how it feels to wear the clothes, and that lots of stuff that you don't give a second thought to doing as a modern woman in jeans are just not possible in stays (like climbing a tree!).

8:50 AM  
Blogger Kristina Cook said...

So true, Kalen. It's really going to make me think hard about what activities I have my heroines engage in from now on. I'm not sure one can truly understand the limitations unless they actually wear the clothing and try to do day-to-day activities. It's really quite surprising how limited you are. It also made me realize what kind of concessions would have to be made to achieve independence--special front-lacing stays, for instance, and a gown that could be pulled over the head.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

It sounds like a very successful research adventure. I will bear in mind your experience with the clothes and never let my heroines slouch!

11:10 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Or you can let her pull the busk out and toss it aside (they were removable) so that she can slump down in a dejected pose . . . in private, of course. LOL!

11:22 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I've worn period-accurate garments, and corsets for many years, doing plays from several historical eras, and you can actually get quite used to them if you wear them for hours and days at a time. Especially when you're performing, the longer corset styles support the diaphragm and you breathe against the restrictive wall of the corset and boy, it strengthens your pipes, especially if you're performing outdoors without a microphone!

For me, the most difficult part of being a Regency-era lady for a solid week would be acclimating myself to the way women of the age were treated -- like "children of a larger growth," as wives of the era were legally termed. To be restricted to discussing needlework (which I happen to do and love), children (don't have those), and the weather (bo-ring!) and not to be expected to have opinions about politics or current events -- that would take some getting used to.

It makes you remember how courageous women like Mary Wollstonecraft were!

1:18 PM  
Blogger Gretchen Craig said...

I didn't know about the busks in the front of those dresses. Not appealing!

12:20 PM  

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