Last week I returned to my home state of South Australia for Clare Writers’ Week. The organisers had worked for 18 months on this successful inaugural week-long event and I was delighted to be part of it, presenting my
‘History Through Costume Talk’ as part of my book launch for The Reluctant Bride.
The Reluctant Bride is a Napoleonic espionage romantic suspense, with a backstory that begins during Robespierre’s Reign of Terror in 1792. It ends just after the Battle of Waterloo, so I made two costumes for a talk entitled: ‘From Georgian Splendour to Regency Simplicity’. The gown I wore was a 1780s polonaise while my sister modelled an 1805 Regency gown, both made using Janet Arnold’s patterns based on deconstructed gowns of the era. (My daughters paraded their 1850s and 1860s dresses for the Victorian segment, but that’s another story.)
As a keen costume-maker, I don’t need many excuses to launch into making another costume. It is true, though, that I feel I can get inside the minds of my characters if I have a better understanding of their physical limitations, and how they actually might have felt wearing the clothes of the day.
I now understand that if a lady wearing a narrow-shouldered 1780s polonaise drops her handkerchief, a gentleman has to pick it up because she simply can’t. During many rushed costume changes for the various talks I’ve done I also know that my heroine must put on her shoes and stockings before her corset. Bending over to put on slippers or boots is simply not possible.
That’s not to say a corset is uncomfortable. I find the 1780s corset, designed to create a barrel-shaped, rather than wasp-waisted torso, to be a very comfortable. It provides support and forces me to adopt good posture, which makes me feel more of a lady.
It’s also interesting to compare a tight embrace with my husband while wearing a full-skirted polonaise with its false rump, multiple petticoats, corset and narrow-shouldered gown, as opposed to when he’s hugging me while I’m wearing a simple muslin Regency gown with no corset. In both costumes I find twining my arms around his neck difficult because of the tight inset sleeve.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both styles. The beautiful French female spy in The Reluctant Bride would have found her polonaise the ideal garment for transporting clandestine objects – especially her pistol and poison – hidden in the enormous pockets within her skirts. Her daughter, sheathed in a simple Empire style gown, had to carry a reticule, so transporting, say, a pistol, wasn’t as easy. Not that innocent Emily ever carried a pistol – until the final cataclysmic pages of the book. The poor girl had absolutely no idea that everything she’d been brought up to believe was a lie.
If you like ‘marriage of convenience’ stories featuring spies, lies, betrayal and grand passion, The Reluctant Bride is FREE on Apple iTunes, Kobo, Google Play and Kindle until December 11. It will also be an audio book in early 2014.