On Sabrina’s Dames and Dukes, I’ve been answering readers’ most pressing questions, and one that comes up time and again is about hygiene: How did women shave their legs and underarms? The answer is simple—they didn’t. Until the early twentieth century, having body hair was considered perfectly acceptable in Western cultures. Then sleeveless dresses with higher hemlines came along, and the fashion industry used that to preach that hairless equaled more beautiful . . . mostly so they could sell razors. We’re so used to shaving body hair now that we can’t imagine a woman having her underarm and leg hair intact, but in the Regency, no one thought twice about it! If you want to chat about fun Regency tidbits, join us on Sabrina’s Dames and Dukes.
My heroine in The Risk of Rogues really loves big, elaborate hats. But I’ll tell you a little secret. She wasn’t that out of the norm for the times. In the 1830’s, the hats were outrageous! Some of these concoctions were three times the size of the wearers’ heads. Just go look at my Pinterest page for the novella if you don’t believe me. They’re replete with towering feathers, blossoming turbans that stick out like giant mushrooms atop their heads, and strange mixes of large hat brims atop tiaras with feathers sticking out all over. I think it just depended on who you were and how far you wanted to go. Honestly, Lady Anne would probably have been right in sync with some of society’s fashionistas!
A prominent part of Hart’s story next July is his heroine’s love of hats and the feathers that adorn them. Lady Anne, who had a bit part in The Study of Seduction and wore outrageous hats, is his heroine, and he even gives her a peacock feather. Feathers were an important part of fashion in that period. Any young lady presented at court for her society debut was required to wear one or more towering plumes. Because of the expense, wearing a large ostrich plume showed that you were wealthy. But feathers could be found anywhere and incorporated into the design of hats, capes, reticules, etc. There were even professional feather-sellers called plumassiers, who ply their trade even today. So if you’re a lover of feathers, like me, you would be right at home in the Regency.
An apothecary box features prominently in A Talent for Temptation. Think of it as the Regency version of a home medicine chest. In addition to some of the things you might find there—like pain relievers, antacids, and tongue depressors—you’d find scales for measuring out powders, jars of potions that often included opium or alcohol (or even lead or mercury), and a lot of odd medical implements . . . whatever a doctor or housewife might have needed then. We saw one firsthand when we visited The Georgian House in Edinburgh, but my picture was so blurry, I’m not going to use it. Instead, here’s a link to an article with a great picture that details some “medicines” in the box, which also included an enema syringe (ugh) and a mortar and pestle.
Many country houses had conservatories, but they could be as different as the families who lived there. The one pictured has lots of plants and plenty of space for socializing. Some had only a few plants; some were like inside forests. It was a way of nurturing exotic plants year-round, since essentially conservatories were greenhouses attached (sometimes) to the main houses. We’d probably call them sunrooms now. If you’d like to see a large detached one, check out the pics on my Pinterest page for the one at Syon House. I’ve been there! It was built right around the period of my book.
Boys in the Regency did not dress the way we dress children now. They wore little “frocks” like girls until they were of a certain age (I’ve seen anywhere from 3 to 6 designated). Then they were “breeched” or put into breeches for the first time. In the Regency, this meant they were buttoned into a skeleton suit. And no, it’s not the Halloween costume—these were more like our modern day rompers, but with a coat-like top and trouser-like bottoms that buttoned together.
Even before the Regency, house renovation was becoming quite the thing. Horace Walpole took a nondescript cottage and redid it from the ground up to make it into the Gothic Revival villa Strawberry Hill. Some time after him, the first Duke of Northumberland renovated Syon House, but couldn’t finish because he ran out of money. You’d never be able to tell to look at it (yes, I’ve visited it; it’s lovely).
Letter-writing was a favorite Regency pastime — albeit a pricey one. The recipient bore the cost of delivery, which was calculated by the distance the courier had to travel. Long-winded epistles faced surcharges: the cost doubled for a second sheet of paper. People became quite crafty in using every bit of space a sheet of paper afforded. Some ladies were known to write horizontally, vertically and diagonally across the page. Envelopes didn’t exist, so letters were folded and sealed with a dab of melted wax.