A collection of Regency garments belonging to Stephanie Selmayr & Past Pleasures

Updated: May 1, 2019

#art #fashion #history #vintage #paper #regency

The review that follows is written by the author Gaye Wilson-Smart who made the trip along with Stephanie Smart and a number of volunteers from The Regency Town House, Brighton & Hove to see Regency garments kindly shown to us by Stephanie Selmayr, Director of Past Pleasures. The pieces we saw, detailed below, come from Stephanie's private collection and the collection owned by Past Pleasures who "...hold Europe's largest contract for daily live interpretation for Historic Royal Palaces...are consultants for national and international sites and institutions, as well as for TV, stage and screen.." and who "...research, design and period clothing and accessories, from any period".

"So it was that today, 12th March 2019, we paid a visit to the studios and workshops of Stephanie Selmayr.

"Stephanie has a BA as pattern-cutter, draper and modelist from the Ecole Superieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode (founded in 1841 in Paris by the riding habit maker of the Empress Eugenie), and a certificate in the same from Mueller und Sohn in her native Munich.

This followed studying Art/Costume History at degree level at the University of California and a year long costume internship, resulting in several seasons making costumes for the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco...Steph provides bespoke reproduction period costume for a wide variety of clients; these include the Historic Royal Palaces, English Heritage sites, as well as museums, London's theatres (including the Globe) and opera houses, the media and film industries and local authorities throughout the UK...Steph continues to collect original ladies' clothing spanning 280 years, some of which was recently hired for copying by the costume designer of the film 'Lincoln'."

We were there to have a look at original garments from the Regency Period, to help in the research for The Regency Wardrobe Collection.

We discussed how trend setters, celebrities and members of the royal courts, of the late 17th century adopted styles that simplified, minimised and changed those of earlier decades; as the momentous European gowns of the 15th - early 18th centuries softened inspired by a pastoral image. This included adoption of mameluke sleeves with their puffed and gathered appearance.

- a Mamaluke sleeve is a long full sleeve partitioned into several sections with each section being drawn in to fit around the arm.

The Empress Josephine’s influence certainly also altered the look of ladies wear including around the introduction of notes of Grecian and Egyptian design.

Stephanie showed us some tiny pocket books and we ended up talking about dance cards, whether they were around at the time and could be reproduced to accompany the ball gown planned as part of The Regency Wardrobe Collection. They had with them beautiful, tiny pens and tassels. One similarly style leather case turned out in fact to be a sewing kit, one an illustrated miniature printed book and one a notebook.

We noted the particularly thick hem on this beautiful blue pelisse, from 1816, made in a satin like fabric. Its intricately woven metal thread buttons being one of its most appealing decorative features. they also appear to have held their original colour better than the fabric. But this piece also had a lovely gathered back and reams of piping. We all agreed that it's a shame no one would have the time or the trouble to do this sort of work now. We measured it's length, 53 inches from nape to floor, and anticipated that its wearer must have been about 5 foot 2.

This day-dress is shorter, perhaps having been made for a Regency lady of about 5 ft 2.

A black, green and white dress allowed us to see, in detail, the intricacies of Regency fastening, ties and eyelets. The whole of this and many dresses untied entirely at the front. Ties, pins, little button loops, hooks and eyes were common whilst pockets were still often strapped around the waist as they had been during the previous century when they'd been often heavily embroidered.

This English printed cotton dress showed us an example of the printed fabrics of the late 18th, early 19th century. Fantastic cottons were being printed in this country during the trade wars with France.

This piece with its 18th century elbow length sleeves, that end in a point at the back showed us evidence of having been altered over time. Historic garments held in many private and public collections demonstrate their later use as fancy dress costumes and alterations that would have been made to allow them to be worn by those who would inherit them.

We also looked at two of the sample books of Marie Antoinette's dressmaker Mademoiselle Bertin.

We spoke of the impact of the Spittallfields weaver. For more information see:

Then talk turned to fashion dolls, that were made and exported to show miniature versions of actual fashion trends in a time when photography was yet to be invented. Stephanie told us she had made a replica outfit for a fashion doll recently and got it out for us to see.

We looked at a ladies fitted riding habit waistcoat and undershirt marvelling as ever at the minute stitching.

The embroidered initials were sewn in stitches so tiny that the whole of the pair of letters was smaller than a fingernail.

Then we looked at shoes...

some examples that come from the late 1700's

Stephanie Smart said she had seen a pair of shoes last year, in the National Trust's Killerton House collection, whose owner had written the name of the woman she wanted to inherit the pair inside the one of the shoes. And so we all asked if these pairs showed anything similar... "oh yes it has a name but I cant read it..." we said at once "...Miss...???"

Finally we moved onto bonnets and were able to handle a soft cream highly decorated one and a black solid velvet example."