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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Today's Special -- Mia Marlowe

Today, it is our pleasure to welcome Mia Marlowe to The Romance Dish. Before becoming a historical romance author, Mia Marlowe shared her love of fictional characters through her performances as an opera singer, sharing the stage with many performers, including Placido Domingo. Mia's novella, A Knack for Trouble, can be found in the just released anthology IMPROPER GENTLEMAN. Please give a warm welcome to Mia Marlowe as she talks to us about ...

Improper Fashions


We've all heard that clothes make the man. Turns out, they made the woman too. In the fashion conscious late Regency period, the cut of a woman's gown could spell the difference between being acclaimed "an Original" or relegated to the ranks of the wallflowers. My novella in IMPROPER GENTLEMEN (available now from Kensington) is set mostly in 1830--the heart of the Romantic era. This little slice of history is jammed between the popular Regency period and the reign of Queen Victoria. Like the world around them, the fashions of the time are in a state of transition.




One of the first things I like to do when I start on a new story is fill my character's closets. I think this lovely plum gown and capelet works well for my heroine Rosalinde's evening wear. (For an excerpt from a time when she's wearing it, visit MiaMarlowe.com!)

As you can see, waistlines were back in fashion--no more girlish empire styles. A woman's figure was on display, which meant a return of the corset, a whalebone reinforced body shaper. Young ladies from 17 to 21 aspired to a waist size that matched their age. The corset was worn over a chemise (a slip like garment) with no bloomers, knickers or undies of any sort. Later, slit crotch drawers would be added and still later in the Victorian era, an all-in-one would replace the chemise and drawers.

The skirts were wider than during the Regency, but hadn't reached the ridiculous circumference of the Victorians yet. There was no need for a wire crinoline. A few petticoats would give the fullness needed. The bottoms of the skirts were often embellished with flounces and excessive laces.

Necklines were cut off the shoulder in order to make the shoulders appear wider and the waistlines correspondingly narrower. The gigot, or leg-of-mutton sleeves were very popular.

Shoes of the period were flat and plain, rather like ballet slippers. The most popular hairstyle featured a neat center part with curls around the sides of the face.

Fashion often demonstrates how women are viewed. After the relative freedom of the Regency, society began to put more strictures on women's behavior. Fashion began shaping their figures with a vengeance. Later in the Victorian period, sleeves were cut to restrict arm movement and for a brief time, undergarments limited women to a six inch gait. It demonstrated female frailty and dependence on the men in their lives. In the Romantic period, we hadn't gotten to those extremes yet, but a woman's level of freedom was definitely changing. For the worse.

I use my heroine's wardrobe to show how she feels about herself, her world and her place in it. What do you think? Do the fashions in a story matter to you?



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For more about Mia and her upcoming books, visit MiaMarlowe.com. While you're there, be sure to enter her contest and visit her very active blog. Mia loves to connect with readers, so you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter!
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53 comments:

  1. I enjoyed your post, Mia, along with the pictures. The plum dress is quite pretty and feminine. I do like to have some details of the women's fashions described in stories. It helps to envision what dress the heroine may be wearing to a ball or for a walk in the park.

    How do you go about filling your heroine's closet? Do you sketch pictures or find pictures on the internet?

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  2. Clothes can definitely make the woman. I guess I mean to say by that, that it says a lot about her: if she has money or not. If she cares about her appearance or not. If she considders herself a woman or a girl, or if she feels old and past her bloom...

    I like to have some description as it is a way of getting a better picture of her in my head, but it's not so important that it needs to take over the story, and turn into a fashion show.

    Character/soul is the most important thing and seeing her grow and fall in love, find happiness. That's what I like the best. So the clothes are great but just a detail.

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  3. Love the sketches & I enjoyed reading about the period clothing. I wonder if the Gentlemen were aware that the Ladies were panty-less.

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  4. I love the fashion details, in some eras I have to look up what something is to picture it though. A corset would have been the death of me, I am afraid I would have been on a fainting couch most of my time.

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  6. Deb--I'm not clever enough to sketch my heroine's wardrobe, but there are plenty of fashion plates online. I like to visit the Costumers Manifesto site.

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  7. Jo's Daughter--Second hand clothing was a big business in London during the Regency period. Ladies' maids considered it a perk to be able to inherit their mistresses' cast offs, which they could wear or sell and pocket a bit of money over and above their meager pay. Another way servants supplimented their income was with tips from houseguests. Some in service sought different positions if their employers didn't entertain often enought to provide the needed tips.

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  8. Marybelle--I'd bet the bank on it.

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  9. hrdwrked mom--Actually a well fitting corset was as comfortable as a modern bra. Women didn't always lace so tightly they couldn't breathe. It was reserved for special occasions like balls or Royal presentations.

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  10. Thanks for the illustrations. I can't figure out why they didn't wear undies...

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  11. Hey Mia! Thanks for spending the day with us at The Romance Dish.

    While reading a historical romance, I enjoy imagining the clothes the heroine is wearing but I always wonder if the clothes were very comfortable.

    Later in the Victorian period, sleeves were cut to restrict arm movement and for a brief time, undergarments limited women to a six inch gait. It demonstrated female frailty and dependence on the men in their lives

    That doesn't sound very comfortable at all!! :-)

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  12. morning mia.
    i just love Victorian dresses even the mens fashion are quite stunning.
    Love the purple dress purple being one of my favorite colors
    What is you favorite Color ? Have you ever gon to a full costume Victorian party? It is something i think i would enjoy.

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  13. I enjoyed the info and pics Mia. It's amazing to me how they thought to control women through their wardrobes. :) But they did it didn't they ? :)
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

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  14. Hi, Mia! We're being Improper all over the Internet today, aren't we? ;)

    The fashions are precisely why I stop writing in the early 1820s and don't venture forth to the Victorian age. I just cannot imagine myself wearing such clothing, and don't want to subject my heroines to them either, LOL. Wide shoulders? Um, no thanks.

    But I love the illustrations you've used here. I have a book from the V & A, 400 Years of Fashion, that I love to look through when I have time.

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  15. Great post, Mia! I like reading about fashion in books because they can tell so much about a character. And I like reading descriptions on clothes, because I'm terrible at writing them. lol

    The most difficult part for me to figure out was the order in which they came off lol

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  16. I loved the fashions on the Regency era. The ladies looked like flowers.
    I love to read detailed descriptions when I read a book . It really helps transport me into what ever I am reading.

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  17. Hi, Mia, and welcome to the blog! These pictures are great as I love to "see" what ladies wear in historical romance. That's one reason why I love to look at the fashions over at Candice Hern's site and look through my book, English Women's Clothing in the Nineteenth Century by Cunnington. Fascinating stuff!

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  18. Hi, Mia! Welcome to The Romance Dish.

    I love reading about the fashion descriptions in historical romance---I can just imagine what they look like. When it comes to corsets, I can also imagine the heroine's relief when she can take that off. ;-)

    Totally off subject, how fascinating that you were an opera singer and shared the stage with Placido Domingo!

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  19. Some description of the characters fashion can be fun. And sometimes it helps build a picture of their personality. And it's always fun if the heroine astounds the hero in some way due to their clothes.
    I can't imagine wearing those fashions myself - at least not every day - once in a while might be fun.
    sallans d at yahoo dot com

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  20. I like a simple description of the clothes style and color. I'm not familiar with designers. I'm not a clothes shopper.

    One of my favorite songs is a duet Perhaps Love with Placido Domingo and John Denver. My daughter had it in her wedding. Beautiful!

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  21. Hi Mia! I really enjoyed your blog.

    First of all, I must say that I am a HUGE opera fan! In fact, for my hs graduation present, my cousin took me to see Carmen at the Met, which was an incredible experience. :)

    As to the question at hand, I like to have an idea of the fashion and what the people are wearing. I find that oftentimes, a person's wardrobe (particularly the heroine's) gives a lot of clues to who they are, what they're about, and their personality. As a What Not to Wear fan, I have come to believe that fashion and style is a way to communicate who you are and how you feel about yourself to the world, so fashion/style is important!

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  22. This is a new topic for me and I really liked reading about it. So many people use fashion whether right or wrong as a sign of status and I can imagine it was even more so significant in the Regency period. I have always like the details of the fashions and how custom-made things were. Aspiring to have a waist size relfective of their age, that's something. I'm not sure I can pull off wearing corsettes, heavy dresses and petticoats but it is very beautiful to look at.

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  23. Hi Mia, Congratulations on the publication of your novella in IMPROPER GENTLEMAN. Diane Whiteside is one of my favorite authors, so I think you are in good company!

    I love the roll that fashion plays not just in Romance, but in all literature. It adds to the ambience of the story and tells a great deal about the characters and the time frame in which they live. I really appreciate all of the research a good author puts into this historical aspect of her writing.

    Now a question or two. We know that fashion is always changing, but why do you think that women's fashions become first more fitted and then deliberately more and more restrictive from the loose and flowing Regency Empire styles through the rest of the 19th Century? What about the changes in men's fashion when looser trowsers and jackets ands ties start to replace the super tight britches, vests,jackets and impessively tied neck cloths?

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  24. Mia, congratulations on your new release! This anthology sounds great! Love the plum dress and all the information about clothes.

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  25. Sheila--It was a holdover from the Georgian era when women wore broad panniers on their hips and no undies under those yards and yards of fabric. In the Regency, pantalets began to be used, but they merely covered the leg with flesh toned fabric and were an open crotch type garment. It was important to remember when mounting stairs, the lady goes up last and down first when accompanied by a gentleman so there's no peeking.

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  26. Buffie--Given the activity level women were allowed, the clothing fit their lifestyles.

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  27. Alba--My favorite color is purple, which you can probably guess if you visit my website. I haven't gone to a Victorian costume party, but I've worn period clothing for stage productions. I know what a corset feels like and how irritating it can be when you have to turn sideways to fit your hips through a doorway!

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  28. Carol--Don't get me started on the intricate rules for mourning fashions. Mourning was worn not only for husbands, but for relatives of every sort. The duration and depth of descent into all black was dependent on the nearness of the relationship. A woman could spend decades in black with a few variations.

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  29. Maggie--I love the Victoria & Albert Museum and would love to go back again. Too stupid not to have bought the book last time I was there. Heavy sigh!

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  30. Antonia--For this time period just remember the chemise goes on first. Bad things happen to skin if you put a corset on without a chemise under it.

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  31. Gigi--I think most of the women must have thought of themselves as flowers too--delicate and fragile.

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  32. Thanks, Andrea! The Romance Dish is a terrific site.

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  33. Gannon--I had a ball singing professionally. It's where I learned the basics of storytelling.

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  34. Di--It is fun when characters step out of their comfort zone and do or wear something outrageous. It would have been all the more remarkable during the Victorian era when conformity was highly prized. Calling a young lady a "pattern" girl was considered high praise.

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  35. Laurie--Placido was always good at stretching his musical boundaries and making opera more accessible by doing so.

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  36. Lisa--Carmen is such a wonderfully juicy role! Even though it's written for a mezzo, lots of sopranos can't resist the urge to tackle it.

    I'm afraid the What Not to Wear people would gut my closet. I live in jogging pants and denim.

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  37. Na--My great grandfather always claimed he could span my great grandmother's waist with his hands when they were first married. Granted, he had hands like Michaelangelo's David, but still.

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  38. fsbuchler--Excellent questions. First remember the inspiration for Regency fashions was the classics. In 1811, a young lady wanted to look like she stepped off a Grecian urn. By the time the Victorian era was in full swing, the world had changed focus. The Industrial Age was beginning and people began looking forward, not back. Like the new inventions, fashion became more intricate, more constructed.

    The big game changer for male fashions was George Brummell of course. His understated colors and clean lines formed the masculine shape of jackets we still recognize today. Can't say I'm sorry. I'd hate to see the DH go to work in a powdered wig with lace at his cuffs.

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  39. Thanks, Claudia. Glad you stopped by!

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  40. Yes, a description of the heroine's clothing is important for setting the scene. And, as clothes have changed so much in the past 200 years, it really helps to have a concrete visualization.

    It took me the longest time to find a copy of a pelisse and a fichu. So, now those items make more sense in the context that they were used.

    And, as an opera singer, I bet you had to wear some costumes that took lots of time to get into and out of.

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  41. Great column and sketches--thanks. I'm looking forward to reading your newest.

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  42. Great post! I will have to say there were some beautiful dresses back then but what they had to go through just to wear them is a different story. Just imagine being laced up in a corcet, the thought hurts me. Then again I am a sweat pant and jean girl myself.

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  43. MiaMarlowe said...
    hrdwrked mom--Actually a well fitting corset was as comfortable as a modern bra. Women didn't always lace so tightly they couldn't breathe. It was reserved for special occasions like balls or Royal presentations.

    LOL,I don't like bras either, just a let it all go kind of gal. I picture myself as one of those heavier ladies that resemble the prow of a large ship plowing through the crowd.

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  44. I enjoy picturing the fashions. It's nice when the dress on the cover is actually mentioned in the book. This doesn't always occur.

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  45. Oh my goodness!! You ladies have been busy today. I just got in from two school open houses (school starts next Monday for my kids).

    Mia, thank you so much for being with us today and sharing some very interesting facts about fashions!

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  46. The fashions matter to me to some extent. I like to know what the heroine is wearing, but I don't need exhaustive descriptions. It's fun to picture the different outfits of the heroine for different occasions, I do enjoy it.

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  47. Mia -
    I'd definately not be the belle of the ball during the time period of the story as I have no bustline to display! My bust is so small that when it was popular to go braless my husband never noticed!

    Oh dear, I've also been on a diet so there's no way my waist could be as big as my age - a 63" waist wouldn't be attractive for a 63 year old who weighs 120 pounds! Hopefully there were different standard for older ladies than those from 17 to 21!

    Maybe the styles of the aging spinster who is a chaperone listening to all the gossip would be more in line for me.

    I love your books and really do appreciate how you always bring us into the era in which they are written. Thanks for all the hours of research that help make your books so wonderful.

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  48. Hi, Mia.
    Thank you for an informative and enjoyable post. One could say, How typical of a woman to go clothes and shoe shopping first thing. It is however rather important. As you have mentioned, the clothes reflect the attitudes of society, plus if you don't know what they are wearing it is difficult to write the scenes accurately. A Regency dress makes it much easier to maneuver in and out of a carriage, pass through a crowded room, or sit on a chair than say an 1860s hoop skirted dress would. Also the number and types of layers need to be accurate for scenes involving dressing and being undressed.
    We all know that how we feel about the way we look has a lot to do with how we behave and how we feel about ourselves. More restrictive fashions prove to limit behavior. Why do we buy into these dictates even today?
    The plum dress is lovely, but some of the other styles are a bit much. Thanks for taking the time to research well and be as accurate in the details as you can.

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  49. Omg I want that plum gown! :D

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  50. Thanks again for a terrific post, Mia, and for answering all our questions.

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  51. Hi, Mia!

    One of the great things I enjoy while reading any historical novel is to imagine what the clothes looked like. So for me, lots of descriptions in a novel is wonderful. Of course, actually living in that time period and wearing these lovely creations is another thing. Many of them had to be very uncomfortable, hot, itchy and, with the lack of deodorant back then, rather "fragrant." Thanks for sharing this, Mia. I totally devoured it.
    Connie Fischer
    conniecape@aol.com

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  52. Hi Mia,

    truly like the post,and the plum dress, i love to imagine the clothes when reading a historical romance, i love to imagine the colors and shapes and fabrics. especially the colors, i like to imagine where the dye come from.

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  53. Thanks so much to the Romance Dish gang and to everyone who left a comment. My randomly drawn winner today is Barbara E. Please contact me through MiaMarlowe.com with your snailmail info and I'll send your book to you right away!

    Hope you'll all join me on the rest of the Improper Blog Tour! Check my itinerary on my Events Page.

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