A Regency gown fit for Lizzy Bennet

Happy new year! Let’s cast our minds back to October and my much preferred holiday, Halloween. My friends and I planned to have a quiet morning tea* wearing costumes, which naturally I wanted to make myself. I was quite pleased with the end result, so prepare for lots of pictures!

Siobhan, a young white woman, stands in a garden archway. She wears a white, empire-waist Regency gown with gathered bodice and full skirt, with puff sleeves gathered to a cuff. She has short purple lacey gloves, a fan, and a straw and fabric bonnet.
Spoiler alert: this is what I made.

I considered a few options: the classic Morticia, a black cat (the makeup would have been fun!), even Frank-N-Furter from Rocky Horror! But finally settled on a costume I’d wanted to make ever since I started sewing: a Pride & Prejudice inspired Regency gown. After all, who doesn’t want to be Lizzy Bennet?

Frank-N-Furter, from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, poses in black corset, stockings, heels, drag makeup and silver cape.
Next time.
The Bennet sisters from BBC's Pride and Prejudice adaptation sit on a lawn wearing delicate Regency gowns.
Lots of lovely gown inspiration from the ONLY TRUE Pride & Prejudice adaptation.

First step was finding a pattern. There are plenty out there but I was determined to not spend $20 on something I’d wear for approx. 2 hours. So I used this free diagram from JaneAusten.co.uk.

A pattern for a Regency gown.
From JaneAusten.co.uk.

I believe it is from the period itself, as it only comes in one size. As I wasn’t too far off the measurements I just multiplied them by a factor of 1.29, which was the ratio between the given waist measurement and my desired finished waist measurement of the garment.** As I wasn’t making a muslin, I added 1″/2.5cm seam allowances for fitting. I was as surprised as anyone when it worked out fine!

The pattern pieces for a Regency gown bodice and sleeve laid flat on a cutting mat.
How my pattern pieces looked, with 2.5cm SA.

The fabric was easy: sheets, lots of sheets. Some from our linen cupboard (destined to be rags) and some from the op shop. They’re slightly different in colour and drape but…meh. It’s a costume. I’m glad I went down this path as the dress was very fabric hungry. I think I used 3 queen sheets!

 

I had a few hiccups along the way, mostly user error. I lined the bodice and found myself frustrated when the gathered necklines (shell + lining) wouldn’t sew together! The gathers just unraveled themselves after sewing. I’m sure this is a time that calls for an ungathered lining for stability, but I sewed the flat necklines together then fixed the gathers to a ribbon inserted in the seam allowance instead.

 

I also changed out the sleeve pattern for this one from the same website, as it was going to be nearly as big as the bodice! I had to shorten this sleeve a bit but it worked out ok. I didn’t have much room to move, as the back armhole cuts in deeply to the shoulder (historically accurate, apparently) and the sleeve didn’t accommodate for that. Next time I’d probably change the back bodice to a modern scooped armscye or add fabric to the back sleeve.

A sewing pattern for a Regency gown.
My alternative sleeve pattern. From JaneAusten.co.uk.

 

Siobhan, a young white woman, stands in a garden archway. She wears a white, empire-waist Regency gown with gathered bodice and full skirt, with puff sleeves gathered to a cuff. She has a blue pashmina shawl, short purple lacey gloves, a fan, and a straw and fabric bonnet.
As worn on the day, accessorised with an op shop fan, handmade bonnet, my shawl and gloves, and borrowed jewellery. I was going to buy ivory gloves from an op shop but they were $10 due to race season and I was determined to make this outfit as cost-effective as possible.

Something I absolutely didn’t realise before sewing was that the skirt had a train! I’m kinda flabbergasted at myself for not noticing when drafting the skirt, but anyway. It was very elegant but also extremely impractical, and was filthy at the end of the day. No traipsing through the fields to Netherfield for me!

Siobhan, a young white woman, stands in a garden archway. She wears a white, empire-waist Regency gown with gathered bodice and full skirt, with puff sleeves gathered to a cuff. Her back is turned to the camera to show a long train. She wears a straw bonnet with green fabric gathered crown.
I couldn’t really get a good photo of the train as the wind was against me.

This mean that my skirt lining (which isn’t exactly period accurate, but I wasn’t sewing stays and shifts) was its own pattern so it didn’t form a train too. It was a basic A-line skirt, both pieces formed by placing the front skirt pattern 3″ away from the fabric fold. Any a-line skirt pattern would do, and length is easier to add than take away. In fact, I had to take 15cm from the skirt pattern and lining once cut and sewn together!

An illustration of a cutting technique to create a skirt lining. The skirt pattern piece, which is a a-shape, is placed 3
Because I can never read descriptions of techniques and jump straight to the diagram….

 

To finish it off, I added rouleau loops to the waistband for ribbon ties (inserted in the seams themselves), and made a bonnet from an op shopped straw hat (which I’ll write a full post on another time. EDIT: blog post now up!). I wore it with a shawl and gloves of mine, an op-shopped fan and borrowed jewellery. I chose my gold-rimmed glasses as they seemed more authentic than my plastic tortoiseshell ones!

Siobhan, a young white woman, stands in a garden archway. She wears a white, empire-waist Regency gown with gathered bodice and full skirt, with puff sleeves gathered to a cuff. She has short purple lacey gloves, holds a fan, and wears a straw and fabric bonnet.
How does one hold a fan?
The Bennet sisters from BBC's Pride and Prejudice adaptation stand in a country path, wearing Regency gowns, jackets and bonnets.
Can’t have a Regency gown without a bonnet. I strongly identify with Mary in this picture.

I’m really pleased with how the dress turned out, though next time I probably would just use a commercial pattern to make it easy on myself, and not, you know, finding a surprise train in the skirt! And really, the calculations, drafting and fitting involved was a lot more involved than I could describe in this post. A 60s babydoll pattern would be a perfect place to start and would involve a lot less fitting.

Did you dress up for Halloween? Or have a dream costume you’d like to make/wear? I’m already planning next year’s…

 

Finally, I’ll leave you with pictures, partly because I love this costume, and partly because I hate it when people describe an elaborate outfit they made and have a few distantly shot fashion pictures that totally obscure the details.

Siobhan, a young white woman, stands in a garden archway. She wears a white, empire-waist Regency gown with gathered bodice and full skirt, with puff sleeves gathered to a cuff. She has a blue pashmina shawl, short purple lacey gloves, a fan, and a straw and fabric bonnet.

Siobhan, a young white woman, stands in a garden archway. She wears a white, empire-waist Regency gown with gathered bodice and full skirt, with puff sleeves gathered to a cuff. She has short purple lacey gloves, a fan, and a straw and fabric bonnet. Her back is turned to show the waist ribbon tied at back and the green fabric crown of the bonnet.

Siobhan, a young white woman, stands in a garden archway. She wears a white, empire-waist Regency gown with gathered bodice and full skirt, with puff sleeves gathered to a cuff. She has short purple lacey gloves, a fan, and a straw and fabric bonnet.

Siobhan, a young white woman, stands in a garden archway. She wears a white, empire-waist Regency gown with gathered bodice and full skirt, with puff sleeves gathered to a cuff. The image is close up to show her straw and fabric bonnet that ties with a brown ribbon under the chin.

Siobhan, a young white woman, stands in a garden archway. She wears a white, empire-waist Regency gown with gathered bodice and full skirt, with puff sleeves gathered to a cuff. The image is close up to show her straw and fabric bonnet that ties with a brown ribbon under the chin and has faux flowers on the crown-brim intersection..

Siobhan, a young white woman, stands in a garden archway. She wears a white, empire-waist Regency gown with gathered bodice and full skirt, with puff sleeves gathered to a cuff. Her back is turned to the camera, showcasing the odd angular armscye shape, waist ribbon tied at back, and gathered fabric crown of her bonnet.

Siobhan, a young white woman, stands in a garden archway. She wears a white, empire-waist Regency gown with gathered bodice and full skirt, with puff sleeves gathered to a cuff. She has a blue pashmina shawl, short purple lacey gloves, a fan, and a straw and fabric bonnet.

A white empire-waist Regency gown with gathered bodice, puff sleeves gathered into a cuff and full skirt with train, hangs from a coathanger.

A white empire-waist Regency gown with gathered bodice, puff sleeves gathered into a cuff and full skirt, hangs from a coathanger. The square neck bodice is clearer up close.

A white empire-waist Regency gown with gathered bodice, puff sleeves gathered into a cuff and full skirt with train, hangs from a coathanger. The back view shows the waist tie ribbon.

A white empire-waist Regency gown with gathered bodice, puff sleeves gathered into a cuff and full skirt with train, hangs from a coathanger. The closer back view shows the waist tie ribbon, square back neckline and angular armscye.

The slightly uneven hem of the Regency gown, showcasing the long train at back.

 

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*I’m blessed to have friends who accommodate my very narrow hours of operation.

**I multiplied some areas by a factor of 1.26 as that was the ratio between the given armhole depth and the armhole depth on a well-fitting bodice of mine.

Author: Siobhan S

20 something, living in country Australia. Spoonie profile: ME/CFS, dysautonomia, anxiety. All about sewing, knitting and food. Unapologetic disability advocate.

13 thoughts on “A Regency gown fit for Lizzy Bennet”

  1. So fun! And so pretty! The train surprised me too. I suppose for one who stays around the house? I always wonder how the ladies in period films stay so clean?! Surely it wasn’t like that.

    I used to make Halloween costumes too. My most elaborate was probably Dorothy. I’ve also used sheets to make curtains. 😁 If you buy two sets your sheets or duvet (if you make one) can match your curtains.

    Thank you for sharing the photos! Another stunning creation.🌸

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe the train needed a loop to hold on my finger! I spent most of the day carrying it around anyway 😅I tried deliberately to hem it so it sat above the ground but obviously I couldn’t do that with the train! As I have no idea how those hems stay clean either.

      Sheets are such a good costume material! We had some of them hanging around waiting to become rags so it was a very low-cost project.

      Liked by 1 person

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