As promised, here’s a post about researching clothing for my Nelson’s Tea series! Woot!
Clothing is something most of us take for granted, unless you are a fashion maven, right? (Or my oldest daughter who graduated with a Fashion Design major.) Most people get up every morning, throw on a robe, take a shower and, depending upon the day job, a wardrobe is selected for the day with little or no thought. All anyone really has to do is match color, comfort, and style. Well, unless little fashion sense has been inherited. Stay-at-home writers, on the other hand, have it easy. Pajamas, sweat pants, and comfy tops keep a writer happy. And if a pirate crew desires expertise, anything goes.
I ask you, aren’t pirates the bomb?
“I do tend to cause that reaction in the ladies.”
“Jack, darling, back away. This post isn’t about you.”
“Isn’t it?” Jack winks before lifting a dram of rum to his grinning lips. “Do go on.”
To continue without interruption. Ahem…
What about being a writer? Imaginary friends don’t care what you look like. Only that you entertain them with the styles they’re accustomed to. But how do you do that when anything goes? A great thing about being a writer of historical romance is getting to research styles and norms of the day while not having to worry about social exclusion. I can dress however I want, when I want and my characters won’t say a word. (And the choir chorus, which tends to act as my internal editor, sings, Hallelujah!)
So let’s take a look at the eras behind us, shall we?
Medieval clothing, rich in color and design, served many purposes, mainly to protect the body and keep it warm. Georgian fashion exhibited tremendous innovation of line, using squared shapes and tall wigs to achieve an air of sophistication. But complexions were powdered, and wigs were popular, in some instances to conceal small pox scars. Victorian styles, with bustles and modernized corsets, flaunted a woman’s physical form to perfection even though society had grown more severe. Both eras showcase women as beauties but it was that tiny snippet of time in between, the Regency era, which stands out in my mind.
During the Regency, fashions tempered the far-out shapes of the Georgian era and became the precursor for Victorian models. Via empire waistlines, straight skirts leaving little to the imagination, and a gentle sense of delicacy in bodices which dipped low, the silent extravagance sculpted a focus upon the woman, rather than the style.
It was a time of elegance, quiet beauty magnified by subtle hues of the purest white. Satins, silks, gauze, linens and cotton framed a woman’s form. Embroidery, Irish lace, detailed shawls, the finest kid gloves and boots, intricate fans, and beautifully arranged ribbons on garments and hats accentuated the simplicity of style but drew attention to a woman’s face. Beautiful gowns were trimmed and dainty kid gloves and satin slippers completed the ensemble. Chemises, corsets, pelisses, and Spencers, and hats of every persuasion, shape, and form were created. Fans that spoke a language of love, gossip, and promiscuity were fluttered at every social affair. Hair combs were carved from ivory and wood. Satins, linen, silk, and gauze, were cherished additions to a woman’s trousseau, though silk was difficult to wash and therefore rare.
Men paid attention to detail too. Even before Beau Brummell, men employed servants to help them with their daily garments. Stocks, cravats, wrist cuffs, properly fitted frock coats, breeches and stockings seemed simple enough. But it took a skilled man to tie his cravat in such a way to exhibit the style and fashion sense appropriate to advertise a gentleman’s brilliance. Even Almack’s refused to allow men within the premises if they weren’t properly attired. Hand carved canes, great coats, top hats, quizzing glasses, pocket watches, snuff boxes and pipes were a gentleman’s accoutrements. And if a man had a well-dressed woman from a proper family on his arm— all the better.
Keeping this in mind, I had to do a lot of research to write my books in the Nelson’s Tea series. Not only did I need to discover what a Regency woman wore, and how she behaved, I had to investigate titled gentlemen, pirates, house servants and ship mates, as well as Nelson’s navy and naval uniforms. Correctly sculpting a character means keeping a reader invested in the story. But it also means more than that.
Think of Christopher Reeve in Somewhere in Time. The character had to cast away everything modern thing in order for his mind to take him back to the year 1912, the Edwardian era. He succeeded in going back in time, only to discover a 1979 penny in his pocket, which reeled him back to the present. This exemplifies what happens to a reader when they read any historical book, only to discover an element is out of place.
“Bilge rats! It’s like trying to get this compass to point to what I want most,” Jack decries.
I wink. “By George, I think you’ve got it.”
Calgon take me away!
So, my dearests, my advice on researching historical novels is, first, create the best characters who are bound and determined to find their HEA, even if they have to buy a 1912 ensemble and will themselves there! Wake up, stroll into the kitchen for that crisp aroma of coffee or steaming cup of hot tea and approach writing in comfort. Second, make sure your characters arrive properly attired and prepared not to draw the reader, or you, back to the present. If you can do these two things, you’ll be a great success in historical romance.
What do you find to be the hardest part of research? Time? Finding the right source?
And, if you could live in the Georgian, Regency or Victorian era, which one would you choose?