by Linore Rose Burkard
Love those elegant scenes of Regency Balls in Pride and Prejudice? What about the glam hair-dos, the sparkling jewels and modish accessories? How did the ladies back then get themselves ready beforehand? How long did it take? Read on, for an excerpt from Before the Season Ends to glimpse one young lady’s preparations for just such a ball, and see for yourself. (Hint: It wasn’t fast, cheap, or easy!)
If you are a woman and attended a High School prom (here in the States), you can easily imagine the sort of feeling a young regency miss would have before her first ball. Perhaps before each and every succeeding one, too!
For the Bennet girls, a ball was especially exciting, for it wasn’t something that took place often in Longbourne. Prior notice of the event was essential so that ladies and gentlemen had enough time to prepare for it. Which brings us back to our question: What sort of preparation was needed?
The answer is that you needed to be ready in two ways:
- With the proper clothing, and,
- With an adequate knowledge of how to do the latest dances.
For this article we will discuss the first concern: Costume, and the ladies “toilette.”
First and foremost would be the question of what to wear. A Ball required full dress, the components of which were as follows:
- A short-sleeved, low-necked gown, usually white or light-colored. The dress would naturally have an empire-waist (right beneath the bust). It could be ornamented, layered, embroidered, frilled with lace, etc.
- A pair of genteel “slippers” for the feet, often made of satin, silk or some other light material
- Implicit beneath it all was proper underclothing, such as a chemise, stays, and perhaps a petticoat, as well as stockings.
- Hair done up in a modish style, ornamented, or braided, or bearing an elegant tiara or headdress or ribbons
- Jewellery was appropriate here, if not actually required. Ladies commonly wore necklaces, bracelets, armlets, “ear-rings,” brooches, tiaras, or, for royals, coronets; Not to mention other jeweled hair ornaments, fans, lorgnettes, or seals. Rings were often worn over the gloves, so they would be seen.
- A pair of ball-room gloves, three-quarter length (past the elbow) should be worn.
Now that we know what a lady needed to wear to a ball, let us move on to watching her at her “toilette.” The following is an excerpt from my regency Inspirational Romance, Before the Season Ends. Ariana Forsythe is getting ready for an evening party at which there will be dancing. In other words, a ball! Here is our upclose look at the rigors of her preparations:
“At length Mrs. Bentley sought out Ariana to direct her remaining hours in preparations for the ball that night. It seemed outlandish, but she insisted Ariana soak in a hot tub, and then quickly into and out of a cold one. She called this “polishing the skin.”
Harrietta, the lady’s maid, then took over, trimming the nails on Ariana’s feet and hands, and supplying her with an enormous array of vials and lotions, perfumes and powders and other solutions. Some were for her face and neck, others for her hands, elbows, and even her feet!
Later Ariana was allowed a small meal, followed by tea. Then, to her surprise, Mrs. Bentley announced it was time to “earnestly prepare for the evening.” Ariana had to wonder what they had been doing all along, if not earnestly preparing for the evening!
They fussed over her hair, her chemise, her stockings, her gown. Mrs. Bentley had insisted upon a small corset, or stays. Only wantons, she declared, did without them. But now she decided it needed to be tightened, and the gown was promptly removed; the stays were tightened, more so than mama had ever insisted upon, and Ariana felt sure she would have to adjust to breathing differently.
Once satisfied, they pulled the gown carefully back over Ariana’s head and arms and smoothed it into place.
By the time the two women had finished pulling, pinching, poking and pressing, Ariana felt more than ready to face the ‘Paragon‘. Her hair was coifed elegantly atop her head, with curled tendrils about her face. (Ariana wished she had jet black hair, but Mama said her lighter tresses matched the light in her eyes, and indeed, this night her words rang true.) Ariana was a picture of sparkling, beauteous youth.
Still, Mrs. Bentley insisted upon loaning her a matching set of jewels consisting of a necklace, earrings, brooch and bracelet. And, as a last dignifying element, a tiara: a delicate, lightly embellished headpiece, which was placed gingerly over her head and fastened into place with pins.
When at last she stood quietly resplendent in a pale pink gown of satin and net, with elegant white gloves that reached past her elbows and pale pink satin slippers upon her feet, even Mrs. Bentley had to smile. “You do me credit, my gel,” she said, almost affectionately. “Even Mornay will be smitten, I daresay, eh, Harrietta?”
“Oh, yes, ma’am!” breathed Harrietta, fully as pleased with the way Ariana had turned out as her mistress. “So tall and strikin’ as miss is, just like a princess!” Ariana’s aunt smiled. “I thought at first you were too tall,” she admitted, “but it turns out that ‘tall’ can be ‘statuesque’ as well!” Ariana was bustled out of the room and downstairs, to wait for Mr. Mornay in the parlour.”
Excerpt taken from, Before the Season Ends, a regency inspirational romance.
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Linore Rose Burkard is the creator of ‘Inspirational Romance for the Jane Austen Soul.’ Her books give readers a sense of traveling back in time to Jane Austen’s regency world, while discovering that happy endings are possible for everyone!
“Preparing for the Ball”