In my gap year before starting university in South Australia I studied costume making at the London School of Fashion.
It was an exciting year as I juggled studying with waitressing at Smiles Café in Picadilly Circus. Dressing up as Smiles, the Party Bear taught me how to entertain a crowd while my pattern-cutting course taught me how to construct crinolines and bustles.
Fast forward twenty years and I was looking for novel ways to publicise my eight historical romances while supplementing my income stream.
The result was my History Through Costume talks: From Georgian Extravagance to Regency Simplicity, which have proved popular with libraries and community groups.
The idea of making a complete costume with all its layers had been prompted by the discovery of a pair of russet silk curtains I found in an op shop. I knew I’d need many metres of material for the petticoats (the name given to the skirt that’s revealed by the drawn-back dress, as opposed to the underwear we call a petticoat, today). Suddenly my sumptuous gown was affordable.
I then used a polonaise pattern from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion: 1660-1860 – to create the full ensemble. My writing work in progress at the time – The Reluctant Bride, now just published by Choc Lit – was set between the French Revolution and the Battle of Waterloo, so a polonaise seemed ideal. It represented a popular and ornate precursor to a Regency gown though it was, nevertheless, based on simple working attire and replicated the look created when women hitched their skirts into their waistbands to get down to dirty work. It’s attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette and the fluffed-up effect of the skirts is achieved when cords are drawn through small rings sewn into the material, pulling up the fabric.
In my talks I discuss the social and political upheavals of the Georgian and Regency periods and how events could influence fashion. During extensive research of the French Revolution and Robespierre’s Reign of Terror in 1792 (the backstory for the events of The Reluctant Bride which opens in 1811) I’d come across a wealth of fascinating information about how and why people dressed for particular events, and their cleanliness routines. This then brought in perfumes, cosmetics and hair. The changes in attitudes with regard to clothing and cosmetics between 1780 and 1810 were radical and I’ll be discussing this in future blogs. (Refer to my website).
The talks, which have been aired on radio, are the ideal format as audiences have so many questions.
It’s been a great way to introduce my books to people who’d not necessarily come to an author talk. The best part, though, is that I love doing the costuming and researching the history almost as much as I love weaving the intrigue of the times into my stories.
And so now for the picture show….
On the left I’m wearing the polonaise. First I would put on a chemise or shift, then, over the top, back-lacing stays (later referred to as the corset), panniers or hoops, bum roll, petticoat and finally gown. The stays were designed to produce a barrel-shaped torso, pushing up the breasts to form what was called ‘rising moons’. This is the sort of gown I’d wear for making afternoon calls.
Twenty to twenty-five years later, my daughter would wear the Regency gown on the right for the same occasions but her dressing routine would be simpler. She’d still wear a chemise or shift, made probably of hardwearing linen as it would be regularly laundered. (As the garment closest to the skin, it would absorb the body’s natural oils during a time when daily bathing was not usual.) She would probably wear stays which often had a wooden busk (like a ruler) inserted down the middle to improve posture). The stays pushed the breasts up and apart. She’d probably also wear a simple sleeveless petticoat which tied at the back like a long, sleeveless sweater, and it’s unlikely she’d wear drawers. Although drawers made their appearance in about 1806 they were considered highly daring on account of their resemblance to men’s trousers. For warmth she’d wear a spencer or pelisse or a shawl, depending on the occasion.
The Reluctant Bride, which won Choc Lit’s Search for an Australia Star competition late last year, is a Regency espionage romance set between the French Revolution and the Battle of Waterloo. It has just come out in ebook with the paperback edition due for release on September 15.
It’s about a beautiful French spy who places her daughters – by various French revolutionaries – into different foster homes. The story begins 20 years later when the girls have been brought up with different allegiances.
Emily Micklen has no option after the death of her loving fiancé, Jack, but to marry the scarred, taciturn, soldier who represents her only escape from destitution.
Major Angus McCartney is tormented by the reproachful slate-grey eyes of two strikingly similar women: Jessamine, his dead mistress, and Emily, the unobtainable beauty who is now his reluctant bride.
Emily’s loyalty to Jack’s memory is matched only by Angus’s determination to atone for the past and win his wife with honour and action. As Napoleon cuts a swathe across Europe, Angus is sent to France on a mission of national security, forcing Emily to confront both her allegiance to Jack and her traitorous half-French family.
Angus and Emily may find love, but will the secrets they uncover divide them forever?
The Reluctant Bride available on Kindle, Kobo and Apple!
Can honour and action banish the shadows of old sins? ‘The Napoleonic War, spying, betrayal and intrigue form the core to this romantic tale.’ The Bookseller – Sept Paperback Preview, May 2013.
Read the first two chapters here.
Beverley Eikli is the author of eight historical romances published by Pan Macmillan Momentum, Robert Hale, Ellora’s Cave and Total-e-Bound. Recently she won UK Women’s Fiction publisher Choc-Lit’s Search for an Australian Star competition with her suspenseful, spy-based Regency Romance The Reluctant Bride.
She’s been shortlisted twice for a Romance Readers of Australia Award in the Favourite Historical category — in 2011 for A Little Deception, and in 2012 for her racy Regency Romp, Rake’s Honour, written under her Beverley Oakley pseudonym.
Beverley wrote her first romance when she was seventeen. However, drowning the heroine on the last page was, she discovered, not in the spirit of the genre so her romance-writing career ground to a halt and she became a journalist.
After throwing in her job on South Australia’s metropolitan daily The Advertiser to manage a luxury safari lodge in the Okavango Delta, in Botswana, Beverley discovered a new world of romance and adventure in a thatched cottage in the middle of a mopane forest with the handsome Norwegian bush pilot she met around a camp fire.
Eighteen years later, after exploring the world in the back of Cessna 404s and CASA 212s as an airborne geophysical survey operator during low-level sorties over the French Guyanese jungle and Greenland’s ice cap, Beverley is back in Australia teaching in the Department of Professional Writing & Editing at Victoria University, as well as teaching Short Courses for the Centre of Adult Education and Macedon Ranges Further Education.
She writes Regency Historical Intrigue as Beverley Eikli and erotic historicals as Beverley Oakley.