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Chertsey Museum Fashion Collection - Spencer jackets

Updated: Feb 25, 2023

"The spencer– a close-fitting, tight sleeved, waist length jacket modelled on a gentleman’s riding coat, but without the 18th Century was quietly taking its last breath...the spencer and pelisse were making their debut...Spencer's fit tightly to the body, hugging it as closely as a bodice. Spencer's could be worn either open or buttoned tightly over the bosom. They were often in a darker, contrasting colour to the dress beneath...modelled on a gentleman’s riding coat, but without tails...[the spencer is said to have been]...the invention of one Lord Spencer. While references agree that Lord Spencer inadvertently engendered the style through a mishap; what exactly the mishap was, however, is not generally agreed upon. It seems the gentleman in question either had the tails torn from his riding coat when he fell from his horse or had them singed off after he backed too close to the fire while warming himself. Either way, Lord Spencer apparently found the tail-less riding coat to his liking and instructed his tailor to make him several more in the same style. It wasn’t long before the fair sex took up the style (note 1) — the bottom of the jacket raised to match the high waists of the current fashion– and a Regency classic was born. "

Spencer 1 1815 - Image copyright The Olive Matthews Collection, Chertsey Museum. Photo by John Chase Photography

Spencer's were worn indoors and outdoors, as day and eveningwear. They were short sleeved as well as long-sleeved depending on the season. An indoor evening Spencer was called a canezou. Short Spencer's stayed particularly fashion for the first 20 years of the 19th century, whilst waistlines remained high. When the waistline of dresses slowly began to drop so did the waist of the Spencer.

This piece shows beautifully how areas of Spencer's, back and front, were often decorated with braids and cording reflecting the general popularity of military styling in women's fashion.

Though a change of angle has resulted in some of the following images seeming to suggest the Spencer is slightly more beige than its actual pink colour they are included to show off the detailing including the wonderful Rouleaux trim.

For instructions as to how to make Rouleaux trim please see:

Whilst the hand stitching on the front of such pieces is always minute and beautiful it's interesting to look at the backs and insides of garments from this period. Fashion trends changed so fast and pieces might need to be turned around quickly for a single event therefore by necessity stitching that wouldn't be on show wasn't always quite so neat.

The padding/wadding here is modern and purely added to aid support for the garment.

Blucher spencer and bonnet June 1814 - Ackerman plate showing similar Van Dyke points for more examples please see:

Spencer 2 1818-1820

The stunning buttons are made of looped metal wire

It's quite amazing what was being done with fine metal wire in the early Nineteenth century.

To see this stunning example of metal wire used to make fashion accessories, please see this round spun steel bag held at The Museum of Fine Arts Boston :

1 Comment

Mar 11, 2020

OMG! A woman after my own heart- I LOVE the closeups, I have spent time at the V&A and the Fashion Museum in Bath taking photos myself and being in awe of the wonderful garments preserved for us to drool over. Thank you! As a 19th reenactor, these photos are invaluable in the quest of true historical authenticity.

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