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'Mary Whitby's turn is actually come to be grown up & have a fine complexion & wear great square muslin shawls.'
During the late 18th century, there was a mania for anything vaguely Oriental. This lead to the popularity of turbans, shawls and exotic jewelry. Few of these creations lasted more than a few seasons, with the exception of shawls which served a practical purpose (The Empress Josephine had between 300-400 shawls in her wardrobe!*). Imported from India or the East, the best shawls were made of such luxurious materials as cashmere or silk, but the English manufacturers soon produced cheap copies in serge, wool, cotton, lace, and even rabbit fur. Popular shapes included the rectangle, square (folded in half) and the triangle.
Equally useful at home or in public, shawls could be as plain or extravagant as the wearer liked (and could afford). Many included fringe or beading along the edges. It was also during this time that paisley became popular. Based on designs from India and the far east, it is also known as a "Persian Pickle" pattern.
A variation of the shawl, the fichu, served another purpose as well. With fashionable necklines becoming lower, the fichu, a small triangle of fabric (usually lawn or lace) could be tucked around the neck and down into the bodice of the gown for both warmth and modesty. The fichu was usually white, though women in mourning used black as well.
*"The Empress had more than two hundred white muslin dresses. This was only a fraction of her extensive wardrobe. She changed clothes four and five times a day. It is not remarkable, then, that she owned several hundred dresses, 558 pairs of white silk stockings, 520 pairs of shoes (she never wore a pair but once), 500 lace trimmed chemises, 252 hats, and 400 shawls. She spent 3,000 francs a year for rouge and thousands more for perfumes, but she had only two flannel petticoats and two pairs of drawers!"
"Dressing the Part", Fairfax Proudfit Walkup; 1938 F.S. Crofts & Co. (page 255)
Instructions for making a lace shawl can be found in Josefina's Craft book.
Nature's Intent now carries a wide variety of imported shawls, perfect for use with your Regency gown. Check them out here!
For a list of resources and suppliers, check my Boutique.
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