Many of you know that I knit in the evening while my husband watches TV. Sometimes I pick shows! I tend to like period pieces with beautiful, correct costumes. I have watched virtually every adaptation of each Jane Austen novel and love to study the costumes. For some odd reason, I never did any research on fashion from the Regency era (1795-1837) , the time frame in which Jane Austen's novels were set. This week we got a new magazine from Interweave--"Jane Austen Knits 2011." It has some lovely knit patterns, all named for places or characters from Jane Austen's novels--"Mr. Knightley's Vest", "Lydia Bennet Secret Stockings", etc. Included in all the loveliness are several spencers.
Up until this time, I always took spencer to be a name but seeing the "Woodhouse Spencer" , the "Lydia Military Spencer", and the "Evening Spencer" patterns tucked into the Manor, Garden and Town sections of the magazine made me start wondering.
So I did a little research on the web and in some books. The spencer is a type of jacket. It is short, often with military styling, and when worn by women designed to converge with the waistline of empire style dresses. It first came into vogue as a garment for gentlemen. The fascinatingly amusing story is that a Lord Spencer was wearing a tuxedo jacket when he unwittingly stood too close to a fire. The tux tails of the unfortunate lord were engulfed in flames, but he was too thrifty to throw the coat into the ash bin. Instead, the tailless jacket became the style of the day. Sitting down is so much easier when wearing a spencer. There is none of that awkward flipping of the tails. It wasn't long until the spencer style of jacket became fashionable for women as well.
This takes us back to the knit tuxedo pattern with which we started this post--yes, it looked like and was a knit version of a tuxedo jacket. We don't know, at least I couldn't find any evidence, that women ever wore a style of this sort, however, if the tails were removed, it was a perfect spencer jacket which was very popular during the Regency era.
There are no details of Lord Spencer's ordeal but it raises many questions--was stop, drop and roll in place (maybe the servants pushed him over and rolled him across the floor to put out the fire, an inspiration for stop, drop and roll), did he set the carpets or furniture on fire? Maybe some day, there will be additional information on this affair. In the meantime, the "Jane Austen Knits" magazine has some very infomative articles on regency fashion, some delightful projects and some information on the pattern company Sense and Sensibility which features historical fashions.