Friday, March 8, 2013

Playing Jane: Getting Ready for Our Regency-Era Tea Party

You've probably heard about it on the news--if you didn't know already.  This year is the 200th anniversary of the first publishing of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice."  News programs all over the country are giving a little attention to one of England's most popular early female authors, and each one of these news spots seems to include a few seconds of imagery of some delightfully-dressed Regency dancers all looking very impressive as they spin around the floor together.

And I'm sure some people out there are wondering:  "Where are these Jane Austen Parties?  How do I play along?"  Or at least some of us at Clermont were thinking that.  That's the good thing about being a museum, we are perfectly placed to make your dreams of becoming Elizabeth Bennet for an afternoon come true.  This was part of how we hatched the idea to work with our good friends at Columbia County Historical Society to create the Formally Invited Tea Party on March 16th (2013).

  Our other inspiration was this painting from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  It depicts and evening tea part in 1824, and it just looked like too much fun to pass up.  Fabulously-attired guests are crowded around, possibly dancing in the next room, sampling delicious dainty treats.  Yes please!

Thankfully for us, Columbia County Historic Society has the Vanderpoel House of History in Kinderhook, NY.  A fabulous early 19th century mansion, it even has a perfect arched doorway between its front and back parlors like the one in this picture.  The formal rooms at Vanderpoel were recently restored, with gorgeous plasterwork, and you just can't help but love the exquisite turning staircase in its center hall (see below).

With the exhibits currently cleared out of the first floor, it is an open space, just waiting for well-dressed guests to come fill it up with dancing and chatter.

You say you don't know how to dance?  The historic band Salmagundi (in costumes and everything) will be playing music of the period and instructing our guests in how to dance like a Jane Austen movie.  English Country Dancing, popular with high society at the time, is not difficult to learn, and I guarantee you that you will be spinning around the dance floor with minimal collisions if you just give it a try.  If you find that you're hopelessly cursed with two left feet, you can still watch the dancing from the sidelines.  Since the staff and some of the guests will be in historic dress, it should be quite a pretty spectacle.

You say you don't have anything to wear?  Some ladies (like me) have made historic dresses, just wishing we'd get a chance to wear them some day.  We even have had reservations from a number of members of the New York chapters of the Jane Austen Society who are dusting off their favorite gowns.  But most of the word doesn't.  While costumes are welcome, they are not required.  If making a complete gown in a week is more than you are up for, why not try to just add some Regency flavor to your regular attire for the night?

Try this video's great technique for dressing your hair in an historic-style turban like those seen at left in a 1799 fashion plate featured on Dames a la Mode.  Turbans are a great way to dress short hair for early 19th century events because all you need are a few curls sticking out the front and back for it to work.  If you have long hair, and you want to get fancy, try this gorgeous updo on YouTube

Or wear a high-waisted dress and a carry a long shawl like the 1808 image at right.  Indian motifs were the most popular, but solid bright colors and even white were not uncommon.

Or you can carry a tiny purse called a reticule.  You can even carry a folding paper fan.  If you've ever picked on up at Chinese shop and wondered what on earth you would ever use it for, now's your chance.  There are lots of ways to put some early 19th century flavor into your clothes so don't let "I have nothing to wear!" be your excuse for missing this great event.

So while the volunteers and staff for Clermont and the Historical Society are doing our preparations (I'm making strawberry ices and stacking pyramids of tiny cookies), it won't take you long to give yourself a festive look for the occasion. 

If you have been harboring a long-standing love of Jane Austen, this might be your best chance to get out and try some of the things that flavored life of the early 19th century.  Or even if you haven't read "Pride and Prejudice," maybe you can find out what all of the fuss is about!

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