I was recently invited to party in honor of a fellow Regency Girl’s Birthday. The party was touted as a Regency Gambling Party and instructed that costumes were required. The invitation was issued through the events feature on Facebook, which got me thinking about how this wonderful little world of 19th century reenactors are embracing modern technology to help promote and support the events that they adore so much.
I was looking forward to this party because it provided me the opportunity to wear a hat I made several years ago, but never had the right place to wear it. Most Regency era events I attend are either evening balls where headwear leans towards turbans, ribbons and feathers, or outdoor day functions such as picnics, where a bonnet is called for. I thought that sitting around card tables would be perfect for my little lace cap complete with lappets, and so it finally made its official debut. While on the topic of hats, I was gifted one at the party by a fantastic lady who I had done a small favor for. She made me wonderful straw bonnet as a thank you gesture, and I was thrilled with it.
While driving over to the party I had another clash of eras. Me, dressed in a regency dress and spencer with my little lace cap pinned on my head, car windows rolled down, lappets blowing in the breeze while singing along to XTC’s “Generals and Majors” on the radio. I may have been in my own little world, but the entire spectacle was quite visible to other motorists, which I noticed giving me strange looks about half way to my destination while stopped at a red light. All I could do is laugh, and continue on to the party.
When I arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find that almost all of the guests were in regency finery. For some of the guests, this was their first exposure to a reenactment event, but almost everyone made an effort to dress the part, and the atmosphere was all the better for it. Some of the ladies borrowed dresses from the gracious hostess, one lady sewed herself a dress by looking at pictures of gowns from Jane Austen films on Pinterest, and one of the fellows in attendance shaved off his beard to craft himself a fine set of mutton chops. Each and every gentleman in attendance was fitted with a cravat, and a good deal of the evening was spent discussing how wonderful we all looked.
The food was one of the finest regency spreads I have ever seen. The table was dominated by two Croquembouche, towers of small cream puffs held together by caramelized sugar. Around 9pm the food was set out. Platters of roast duck, salmon, and ham. Chicken in aspic, welsh rarebit, devilled eggs, nuts and sweetmeats. As a cook, I fully understood the cost and the time a table like this took to prepare, and I was beyond impressed.
There was even a pot of 18th century warm spiced wine called Negus on offer, and I admit I had more than a few servings of it, so delicious, and the perfect lubricant for conversation. There were literary and pop culture quotes flying fast and furious over the course of the evening, from Austen and Bronte to Harry Potter and Star Trek, brought on by the Negus, as opposed to ‘The Negas’, leader of the Ferengi Alliance. Again I noted that folks were standing around in 19th century attire, sipping an 18th century beverage and discussing Star Trek. In my mind it doesn’t get any better than that.
I spent most of the evening in the parlour chatting with friends, and never did make it to the card tables where games of Whist and Faro were being played. The hostess handmade the gambling chips for the Faro table, which added to the overall ambiance of the event. I am not sure if any fortunes were made or lost at the tables, but I saw no tears so assume all went well.
At one point during the evening, I was sitting in the parlour with a cup of Negus, taking in everybody’s costumes and I found myself thinking of a line from Austen’s Pride and Prejudice where Elizabeth observes “Perhaps by and bye I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones”. I shared the thought with the person I was sitting beside and we discussed it. There were differences between this private function in comparison to public events. The intimacy, the attention to detail, being surrounded by familiar faces, having some quiet spaces to sit and catch up with what was happening with people. I hope to see more of these smaller, private functions in the future, and am appreciative that I was a part of this one.