When I first started interpreting 1816, I loved pretty much every aspect of clothing (as I do in many eras) but there was one accessory I shook my head at. I laughed about it. I swore I would never wear it. You’ll see what I mean:
The Ruff. (These are, in order, an 1815 fashion plate from Costume Parisien, an 1815 fashion plate by John Bell and an 1815 sketch by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, one of my favorite portrait painters.)
I thought it was silly. Why would anyone want to make their neck wider? Or look like a disgruntled chicken fluffing her feathers?
But it says something about how fashion works that the longer I’ve been doing Regency, and the more images I look at, the more I like the ruff. It’s frilly and feminine, and it’s one of those details that is so beautifully, distinctly a part of its era. It can really give a period outfit that finishing touch that makes it seem like more than a costume.
And ruffs like these, inspired by Elizabethan fashion, stuck around though the 18-teens and into the ’20s. In 1822, when Ann Croghan wed Thomas Jesup, they were still fashionable in all shapes and sizes:
(Extant dress ca. 1818, 1822 La Belle Assemble Fashion Plate, 1822 Ackermann’s Repository Fashion Plate)
So I set out to make my very own chemisette with attached ruff (a chemisette is a simple garment that fills in the neckline of a low-cut gown in order to make it more modest for use during the day). The nice part about this particular accessory is that when it has done its duty for the wedding, it can go into my regular 1816 wardrobe. I kept the ruff on the small side for 1822 in order to ensure that this is the case.
The basic structure of a chemisette is incredibly simple. The body has three pieces: one back piece and two front pieces (I believe they can also go the other way, with the opening in the back). The real fun and interest of a chemisette comes with the collar: plain, ruffled, lacy, embroidered, or full on ruff. Mine is made of cotton voile, so it is a bit sheer, but not overly so.
The only seams in the body are at the shoulders. Since there’s no lining, I made these french seams, meaning that I sewed a narrow seam with the wrong sides together, then flipped it around with right sides together and sewed a second seam that encased the raw edges. I flipped back the fabric edge for the second photo so you can see both the finished edge and the raw edge it is enclosing.
The collar is tall, so that it can fit plenty of lacy goodness, with overlapping points in the center where it comes together. Like most collars, it is made of two identical pieces sewn together, which makes neat edges all around, and gives a bit of extra stability for attaching those ruffles.
Since the collar needs to fit snugly around my neck, the body of the chemiette had to be gathered into it, which I think adds another level of pretty detail. With the collar attached, the only thing left to do was the lace. I got a pretty simple cotton lace with a pattern of dots for it, since all those layers meant the pattern wouldn’t be very visible anyway. Plus the dots imitate the dotted Swiss dress fabric, which I enjoy.
Now the fun part! (Look at me accidentally taking pictures going every which way)
My chemisette and lace even got to come with me on a trip to my parent’s house in Michigan. (See that blue carpeting? Chicago O’Hare.)
Once the lace was all gathered and attached, I just had to add a couple of strategic hook and eyes and here it is:
I took pictures first without the dress, so you can see how the whole thing works. Next time I do one of these, I’ll get more lace and gather it more so that it really wants to stand out, but I think this is a nice not-too-ostentatious start to my ruff-wearing experience.
The event is coming up quickly (only three weeks!), so it’s good to see things coming together. There’s still a wig and veil to complete, though! Don’t forget to come see it at Locust Grove on July 18th!