Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dress like a Janeite

"Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim." - Northanger Abbey

It may be a frivolous distinction but the regency had a very specific style and the ladies of Improvised Jane Austen do what we can to bring regency style to our modern day funny business. While costumes are not necessarily a requisite piece of an improv show, many narrative-based improv shows use the themes of clothing in the period to influence their wardrobe choices.

As should you Janeite! Keep the spirits of Elinor Dashwod and Lizzie Bennett alive in your every day life.

Rakehell has a great blog breaking down the different types of dresses that women would wear on a day-to-day basis (up to five costume changes a day! I'm lucky if I make it out of yoga pants).

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The most common element of dresses in this era is the empire silhouette.
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A throwback to the Grecco-Roman era tunics that were oh-so-trendy due to their breathability (a fashion "Do" back in the 3rd century A.D.)

The high-waisted style was reintroduced in late 18th century France before crossing the channel to England. As you may remember from World History Class, England and France were on the outs around this period, but a flattering cut and opportunity for fun accessories waits for no short man with a Napoleon complex (except Marc Jacobs).

As with any trend - This style started with wealthy and aristocracy and slowly became more accessible to the gentry and lower classes. As Rakehell mentions, morning dresses (the regency equivalent of your high school basketball sweats) were often made out of old, lower-waisted pieces.

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Similar to their Grecco-Roman ancestors, these dresses were often white or light-colored made of cotton muslin (or wool, if you planned on being outside, or silk/satin/taffeta, if you were trying to party).

Sleeve length and necklines varied slightly but no lady would have ever let her bosoms out during the day. Your Lydia Bennetts needed to stay covered up until the sun went down.

Beyond the pieces of lace or thin fabric that kept things rated G, women would wear short coats, or long coats, because every girl needs a few options.

Throw something on your head (bonnet) and feet (boots or slippers), and you're the picture of regency fashion (accessories including coats and hats to be covered in a future blog).
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When the Gwenyth Paltrow version of Emma came out, the empire waist trend exploded. Do you remember what you wore in 1996? It was so high-waisted. Trust me.

Since then, waist lines have gone down overall but the empire silhouette is still a classic style that occasionally makes a jaw dropping reappearance. This stunning Indian Bridal outfit has all the pieces of a regency-style ensemble fit for an actual queen including the high waist, the contrasting cropped brocade top (reminiscent of a Spencer coat) and the juxtaposition of intricate detail and fabric simplicity.
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Oscar De La Renta's Spring 2013 collection had a few pieces with higher-than-usual waistlines. While not quite empire waisted, the basic pattern and simple cut of this dress is pretty much exactly what Emma Woodhouse would have worn had she been around today.

And for all of us there are gorgeous dresses (that cost slightly less than gowns from Oscar De La Renta's ready-to-wear) that celebrate this time period. The ladies of Improvised Jane Austen tend to gravitate towards shorter dresses as they allow for the dark pants/boots combo we wear in the spirit of all the regency men we play.
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Most empire-waisted dresses are found in the maternity or bridesmaid section these days. But there are occasionally options to be found for those of us not currently with-child or with-demanding best friend.

I've included a dress that hark back even further to the original Grecco-Roman style, still a perfect homage to the era.

Many have a deep v-neck that wasn't quite regency (the preferred styles were much more shallow, both in rounded and v-neck) and a few with lower waist lines, but nearly spot-on fabric and necklines.

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Any of these dresses with a short sweater to cover the shoulders and the occasional sash (which should often be traded out for a sash of a bold and different color, especially if you are trying to attract the eye of a handsome suitor) and the spirit of Jane will be with you.

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Click on the caption of any of these dresses to be lead directly to a purchasing website. Or put on some slippers and cover your head and go forth to town to find the perfect morning or afternoon gown.

It should have on or more of the following:
  • empire silhouette
  • A deep scooped neckline (v-neck, rounded or sweetheart)
  • cap sleeves 
  • ankle length (if you don't anticipate you might play a man at any point during the day)
  • sash
  • white/light colored cottons with simple patterns or embroidery
And remember, no ensemble is complete without a rye smile and sharp remark. 

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Thank you to all who contributed to our Indie Go-Go campaign. With a portion of the funds so graciously donated, the ladies of Improvised Jane Austen will be able ensure that we all have the appropriate costumes for future shows. And even though we've met our goal, donations are still graciously accepted.

If you've already found the perfect dress, do join us for tea on Sunday, March 24 at 2 PM.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Demographics of a Jane-ite... who are you?

It’s no big surprise.  If you are reading this… you are a fan of Improvised Jane Austen and most likely a fan of the author herself, Jane Austen.  That’s a given.  But have you ever wondered what being a Jane Austen fan says about you?

Well first and foremost – let’s get the terminology right.  You my friend, are a Jane-ite.

And here’s a top 6 list of what being a fan of Jane Austen says about you. *

1) First of all, you are most likely a woman. In fact, 96% of us are females with a median age of 40.  Yay!   

2) And out of the females, 33% of us are 29 years old or younger, 35% of us are somewhere between 30-59, and 32% of us are 50 years young or older.


3) Chances are good that you are a career woman.  75% of us have or had careers, while 16% of us are students while 9% of us are home makers or moms.

Contrary to popular beliefs and assumptions, we are not all Librarians.   
Nor did we major in Literature (71% of us didn’t).   

The top 10 career fields are:

  1. Education, Business Administration (Manager, HR, Secretary)
  2.  Business Services/Worker/Retail
  3. Library/Archivist
  4. Finance
  5. Science/Engineering
  6. Writing/Publishing
  7. Medical
  8. Arts
  9. Law
  10. IT
Among Jane Austen enthusiasts, we have some very interesting careers from Judges, Lobbyists, U.S. Marines, Private Investigators, Zoo Keepers and Puppeteers.  Sure – we all knew there was a consortium of Jane Austen Puppeteer fans, but Lobbyists?  Go figure.

4) As far as education, you are most likely very educated.  81% of us that are at least 20 years old, have 4 year degrees.  Almost half of those have Masters degrees (33%) or Doctorates (12%).  And if you are an older Jane-ite, well then those that have doctorates rises to 25%.  Look at our big brains!

Now, I here is the link from where I got all this wonderful information – much thanks to Jeanne Kiefer for all the research and work she did to produce this 2008 survey and to Susan Allen Ford at JASNA for sharing and letting us borrow and link back to them.  I will close with a few pieces of information that I found particularly fun.
5) Coffee VS Tea - no surprises here unless we are at a Sunday morning Improvised Jane Austen rehearsal - where I think Coffee beats out Tea.


6) When it comes to pets, 66% of us have some sort of pet or animal companion.

6b) And out of those of us with beloved animal companions, Cats come down as the clear Jane-ite favorite at 51%. Dogs hold strong at 43% and well those who have Sugar Gliders or Turtles or Hedge Hogs come in at 6% in the "Other" category.

So there you have it.  And if you want to know more, check out the JASNA Persuasion Article.  Jeanne has a lot more information there with cool facts and tidbits about the rare and fascinating Jane-ite.

*Small Print:  And just so we are clear, this information did not come from make-things-up-off-the-top-of-my-head improviser me – all of this information is actually from a 2008 survey conducted by Jeanne Kiefer and published in a 2008 JASNA online publication called “Persuasion”.  The silly picture charts are all mine.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Parlor Games!

The first order of a Regency ball may be dancing (much to Mary’s woe!), but simply holding a dance does not a great ball make. What do young children do at a ball? What can a wild woman of eight-and-ten years partake in to catch a gentleman? Luckily, dear reader, you will find below instructionals of the most enticing parlor pastimes for your own Jane Austen party!


            A popular game in the wintertime, especially around Christmas, Snap-Dragon is a dangerous game played with flaming brandy! First, place a large shallow bowl in the center of a table. Add a handful of raisins, and then fill the bowl with warm brandy. Set the liquor aflame! Dim the lights, and watch the brandy’s blue flames flicker. Brave guests will plunge their hand into the bowl seeking out raisins (the fire will be warm, but not hot enough to burn). The guest with the most raisins is destined to find true love in the upcoming year.

Tableaux Vivants

            French for “living picture,” Tableaux Vivants originated as a major feature of royal weddings, coronations, and the like. Actors and artist’s models take on the positions of a famous painting, nursery rhyme, or play. They remain frozen, not speaking, on display for the guests. A more casual practice of Tableaux Vivants developed among the wealthy in England where party guests would participate in the scene themselves.

Hot Cockles

            In this game, a blindfolded player kneels and puts their head in another’s lap. The other players take turns striking the blindfolded player who must guess who delivered the blow. This game was very popular in the Victorian Era, but evidence suggests that it had been played over 200 years prior. Whether or not Jane played this game is unclear; however, Hot Cockles was probably not a proper game for a lady.


            A very common activity in the Regency era was making “profile shades.” The French called them silhouettes, which is where we get the word! It is rather simple to do: just hang blank paper on a wall next to a person’s face in profile. Next, place a candle on the other side of their face and trace their shadow. The profile was typically darkened with lampblack or watercolors to more closely resemble shadows.

Pass the Slipper

            This is a child’s game, which Fanny Austen played at a Twelfth Night ball. Children simply sit in a circle, feet drawn, and knees up. One child is outside of the circle, trying to find who currently holds the slipper. The slipper is passed in secret, hand-to-hand underneath the children’s knees. Usually, children pretend to pass the slipper or they taunt the seeker. Once the child on the outside has successfully tapped the child with the slipper, the two will switch places.