A year or two ago, I missed bidding on a Regency era women's night jacket on ebay, and was so mad with myself. Anyway, last week I managed to win one, which was extremely similar to the other one. It came in the post a few days ago, so here it is:
I have popped it over one of my linen chemises. These were, I think, worn in bed, for a bit of extra warmth, or for sitting up and reading in before taking off and snuggling down, and maybe for early morning tea.
I was flicking through Frances Grimble's 'The Lady's Stratagem' (articles from the 1820s, first published in France) a few days ago, and came across these instructions about how a lady might care for her nigh-time attire:
'' Fold the night jacket in quarters, with the sleeves folded upon themselves, and the night shift in the same way; then the night-cap...is placed upon the night jacket.''
This next section is also interesting:
''If the weather, habit, or some indisposition makes you wear a double fichu of muslin over your night jacket or night shift, the fichu must be folded in a square and placed in front of the caps.It is better to take the trouble of folding and unfolding it night and morning, than to leave it in the diagonal fold, because a continual fold will before long produce a worn streak, and the streak will tear.''
The next paragraph goes on to explain about wiping one's foot with a square of linen cloth before getting into bed, which ''is above all indispensable for persons whose feet perspire. This foot cloth should be renewed often'' (I should think it would need it!!).
There is a lot in this fabulous book about nightclothes, and night jackets. There is a section 'Morning Clothing', which describes how to dress for early morning. After ''putting on half-stays or a morning belt,... when it is very hot then you may wear a white petticoat and a similar night jacket.'' If you hair is in good order, you may remove your night-cap. Then it goes on to explain about having ''a dressing gown with sleeves, but even though you are only wearing a long shift underneath, do not leave off your half stays.''
So presumably a night jacket such as this would have been worn as 'early morning' or 'undress' attire, when one would possibly write letters and instruct servants, and maybe see only members of their own family. In a later section in the book, there are directions on patterns and how to sew a night jacket. It states that there will be flounces on a night jacket, and ''To draw in the back, sew a broad linen tape, at a suitable height, over the selvages on the wrong side, through which you pass the strings.''
My night jacket here is voluptuous, there is no tape inside to create shape. It is very simply made. The falling collar is made from a rectangle of fabric, and one end has been pieced together. The flounces of the collar and the sleeves are made from very fine linen, and the cuffs are made with a firmer linen. The rest of the jacket is a light cotton. There are 2 tucks at the very bottom of the flounces on the cuffs, and there are tabs for buttons which you can see below, but sadly no buttons. To fasten at the neck there is simply one set of ties.
There are no under arm gores, and the body of the jacket looks like rectangular pieces of fabric which are gathered at the neckline, very little if any shaping.
So, what are my plans for the night jacket? Well, the state of it is this: there are many holes, mostly small, which shall of course, be left. There are a fair few iron mould stains. Now if left, over time, these will form holes, as the fabric is eaten away. Some of these are already half stain, half hole. I will therefore remove these, and then the jacket will need to be very carefully washed. I will wash it on my conserver's mesh, of course. And I also hope to replace the buttons with appropriate Dorset buttons, in the Blandford style. Any remaining stains (there is a bright pink patch, sadly) will have to be left.
I am really busy up until Christmas, so I am not sure when all this will happen, but will be back sometime with new images of a freshened up and somewhat restored night jacket.