Without a Summer: Jane’s work dress

Jane's Without a Summer workdress

One of the interesting things about the Regency was that, even in the new middle class, people changed clothes several times a day. One would not wear a day dress to dinner, or a morning dress when going out to make calls. In Jane’s role as a professional glamourist, she have specific clothes that she would wear while working that would be easy to clean and not show dirt.

This dress is actually cotton, but very much of the cut that I imagine Jane wearing to work. The long full sleeves are appropriate for a day dress, but would not restrict her movement as  a glamourist. The low bust would allow her to, frankly, sweat more freely with the rigors of the work. In the book itself, I made the dress wool, because she’s wearing it in winter and it could get darn cold, even for a glamourist at work.

Here’s how it first appears in Without a Summer.

The walk in front of Stratton House had, thankfully, been swept clear of the ice and snow, but Jane still had to hold up the hem of her dress to keep it from dragging on the damp pavement as they went inside. Even the stout brown wool of her work dress would show this amount of dirt.

Now there’s a couple of other interesting things going on in that paragraph. First, you’ll note that I said the walk had been “swept” clear of snow. There were no snow shovels for dealing with snow on a city street. Instead, the servants would go out with a stiff broom and sweep the snow away. I gave that a try this winter to see how tricky it was. To my surprise I found that it got the sidewalk clearer of snow than a shovel did. It’s not as fast on a big area, but now, as a matter of course, I sweep the steps clear of snow rather than shoveling.

The other thing worth noting is the last part about “dirt.” In the Regency, dirt meant “mud.” So when you see a book that talks about how dirty the roads are after a rain, what they really mean is that everything is muddy.

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5 thoughts on “Without a Summer: Jane’s work dress”

  1. What fascinating knowledge! Coming from “up north” (I live in Minnesota) I knew about sweeping snow, but I didn’t stop to think that there were no shovels in the Regency time frame. It makes sense… but having it actually pointed out is wonderful. And all the other bits of knowledge makes the era come a little bit more alive for me. Thanks, Mary!

  2. Jennifer Baughman

    When I was a kid and lived in snowy climes, I usually used the push-broom if it was at all possible. (2-3″, or very dry.) Shovels were reserved for the heavy wet stuff.

  3. I usually use a broom if the snowfall is light (3 inches or less). If it’s very wet snow, or significantly deeper than 6 inches, I have found that a broom no longer works well, and a shovel is required.

  4. Your neighbours will thank you for using a broom rather than a shovel… the broom will get all that trace snow a shovel will leave – which then turns to slippery ice at night…

    And, no, I don’t think I’d actually use “stout wool” for something I mostly intended to wear in well-heated spaces… somebody’s big banquet hall in her era before the servants had made up the fire would be quite drafty, but a bookstore or hotel conference room? You’d be “sweat(ing) more freely,” for sure…

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