“To be fond of dancing is a certain step to falling in love.”- Pride and Prejudice
I can’t believe I’ve gone so long without writing about one of my favorite aspects of the Regency era: dancing! As all Austenites know, balls and dancing are central to all of Jane’s novels. Mr. Darcy and Lizzie meet at a ball, Mr. Knightley and Emma share a beautiful moment, even Mr. Collins tries to woo Lizzie through dance. There were many opportunities to dance during the Regency: public assembly balls, private balls or even intimate dinner parties where the chairs would be pushed to the periphery and an impromptu dance would take place. Balls were the height of socializing; it was one of the few places where young women could meet dashing young gentlemen.
The Netherfield Ball is one of my favorite scenes in all of literature. It serves to drive the plot of Pride and Prejudice in the most dramatic and exciting way. Elizabeth believes that Mr. Wickham will be at the ball, so she puts a lot of care and effort into making sure she looks her best. But instead, she finds out that Mr. Wickham is not there and she is forced to dance with doltish Mr. Collins. And after she and Mr. Darcy share their dance, her family is put on display. Mrs. Bennet is telling everyone that Jane and Mr. Bingley are almost engaged (oh, I don’t know what I would do if I was in this position! Yikes!), Lydia and Kitty are their normal exhibitionist selves and Mary is treating the assembly with her off-key singing. Whew! Poor Lizzie! At least Jane and Bingley are adorably falling more and more in love.
Balls were also a venue to showcase Regency fashion. Your dressing was an indicator of your social status, and wearing the latest fashion was crucial (not much has changed since then, right?). Just as the 21st century woman needs a glamorous dress, sexy heels, trendy bag and statement jewelry for her night out, the Regency lady also had to have all of her necessary accoutrements. This included pastel muslin gowns, greek-inspired updos with bandeaux or feathers, long or short white gloves and simple slippers.
Today’s DIY is a fun and wearable way to add a little regency to your life. We’re going to add a few classically period embellishments to a pair of ballet flats that you already have. In addition to the beautiful ankle strap, we’re going to make “shoe roses” – a staple of regency accessorizing. They are small fabric flower rosettes that are pinned to the top of your dancing shoes. Do you remember how desperately the Bennett sisters needed them for the Netherfield ball? “[…] the very shoe-roses for Netherfield were got by proxy.” You can be as creative as you want here. Your local craft store is stocked with so many different kinds of ribbon, in various colors, patterns, and material, the possibilities are almost endless. I chose a delicate blue satin ribbon to add to my black flats. Feel free to experiment with lace ribbon, metallic ribbon, and maybe even polka dots for a modern twist.
- Flats (H&M has great flats for around $15)
- Ribbon (I have two different widths: 5/8 inch and 1 ½ inches)
- Velcro dots
- Clip on earring backs
- E6000 glue
1. Glue down Velcro dots (the softer surface) to the inside of the top of the shoes. Two dots per shoe, one on each side. Make sure the dots on each shoe are symmetrical. Then let them dry.
2. Cut 4 pieces of the thinner ribbon about 30 inches long.
3. To stop the edges from fraying, run the cut edge of the ribbon across the flame of the lighter about 2-3 times. Be careful and make sure your ribbon doesn’t catch fire.
4. Glue down one Velcro dot (the scratchy surface) to one end of each piece of ribbon. Let them dry.
Now we’re going to make our rosettes!
1. Cut about 20 inches of your wider ribbon.
2. Fold one corner down, leaving about a 1 inch tail (this is what you will hold on to while making your flower).
3. Fold the fold you just made in half longways.
4. This is a little tricky: Your right hand is holding your tail and your left hand is going to twist the long end once. Then roll your “bud” inward.
5. Continue to twist the long end, then roll the bud.
6. Add glue sporadically to the back of the flower so your ribbon stays in place as you build your flower.
7. Keep going (twist the long end, roll the bud) until you’ve reach the end. Glue the end to the back of the flower.
8. Cut off your tail and glue one clip-on earring back to the center of the rosette.
6. Let everything dry overnight.
7. Assemble your new shoes: add on the straps and your new shoe-roses.
A little inspiration: Rock your new shoes this spring! You can wear them with the straps and flowers or just one of the two. The detachabilty makes these perfect for any outfit and you can modify how “Regency” you want to go that day. These flats are perfect to wear with cropped skinny jeans or dresses. For the full immersion into the era, learn how to regency dance! There are several videos online teaching you how do master your favorite steps (be patient, though, some of them are a little complicated). One of my favorite dances is “Ginny’s Market”, the one Emma and Knightley dance in the 2009 BBC production (here is a video!). It’s a stunningly romantic dance, but is still simple enough to learn. So grab your best girlfriend, or your significant other if you can coerce them, slip on your new dancing shoes and go to town!