Guest: Mary Gillgannon - Clothes Make the Heroine

When hardened gamester Marcus Revington wins Horngate Manor in a card game, he is delighted to finally own property. Even discovering he must marry the heiress of the estate doesn’t deter him. The heiress, Penny Montgomery, is happy with her life raising horses at Horngate and has no desire to wed anyone. When she learns about her guardian’s Wicked Wager, she schemes to convince Marcus she’s unsuitable as a wife so he’ll forget his plan to marry her. Who will win this battle of wits and wills? Or will they both discover the name of the game is love?

Find Wicked Wager at: 

Clothes Make the Heroine

At the opening of my latest book, Wicked Wager, the heroine, Penny Montgomery, doesn’t care anything about clothes or fashion. She’s too busy raising and training horses on her family estate to even think of how she looks. But when she learns London gamester Marcus Revington has won the estate in a card game and plans to marry her in order to take possession of the property, she discovers that the right clothing can be very useful.
To convince Marcus she would never make a suitable wife, she first presents herself in men’s garments: a shirt, worn trousers and tall boots. Later, as they’re about to set out for London, she appears in a dowdy daydress that even he recognizes as ten years out of fashion and very unflattering. When they arrive in London, Penny comes up with another scheme. She persuades Marcus she needs a new wardrobe, intending to run up an extravagant bill so that Marcus, who is careful with money, will realize having her as a wife will be too expensive to make it worthwhile. Later, when another wager shifts the dynamics between them, and Penny alters her plan from repelling Marcus to seducing him, she asks the modiste (dressmaker) to fashion garments for her that will help her entice her fiance.
Unlike Penny, I really enjoy fashion and clothing, so I had a delightful time writing the scenes at the modiste and imagining the garments that Penny wears throughout the book. Wicked Wager is my fourth romance set in the Regency era, so I had already done quite a bit of research on the fashions of the era.
The first thing that probably springs to mind when we think of women’s clothing for this time period is the raised, or empire, waistline. (My mother-in-law, who took fashion design in college, told me that in fashion, the word is pronounced “um-peer” rather than “em pyre”.) We may also think of low necklines that displayed a significant amount of cleavage. For most women, this was probably a style they only wore to fashionable evening events. Day dresses were normally more modest. But the extremely low-cut style does end up facilitating Penny’s plan of seduction!
The inspiration for much of the clothing of the time was the classical era (think of Greek statues of goddesses) so the clothing was meant to reveal the form of the woman wearing it, and the fabrics were often very light and sheer. Garments for women were often also light in color, too, making them almost transparent. Due to the classical influence, shades of white and pastel colors were most popular, although slightly brighter hues such as jonquil (a sunny yellow), apple green, primrose (a lighter yellow) and puce (a purplish pink) were also used. For daytime, delicate flowered patterns were favored, often of cotton, imported from India and America, which had become the new luxury fabric. Cotton came in many weights and weaves, such lawn, which was nearly transparent, cambric, muslin and calico, which was of a heavier weight and often patterned.
Besides dresses, there were outer garments like the pelisse, which was a kind of combination coat and cloak and often had a collar or hood, and shawls, often of cashmere, known then as Kashmir. On their feet, women wore slippers or ankle-length, laced-up shoes known as half-boots. All this was accessorized with hats of many variations, gloves and silk stockings. Bras as we know them had not yet been invented, and women wore zonas, basically a strip of fabric around the breasts to hold them in place and provide some modesty. Although if modesty wasn’t the goal, women went braless. Undergarments included pantaloons, which was kind of a body stocking, often in a nude hue, covering from neckline to thigh, or pantalettes, which were made up of two leg sections that tied together and covered the area from waist to thigh. When given a choice between pantaloons and pantalettes, Penny chooses latter, which I can imagine was much more convenient for intimate encounters such as in the scene below (which I have abbreviated to keep it PG):

Penny took a deep breath, trying to quell the anxiety building inside her. Revington hadn’t said a word since she’d encountered him in the hallway. Although obviously furious, he quickly regained control. He’d led her back to the ballroom and said goodbye to their host, then escorted her out to the waiting carriage. Now he sat across from her in the vehicle. Although she couldn’t see his expression clearly in the faint light filtering in through the coach windows, his rigid posture suggested he was still beside himself with anger.
She wasn’t certain what she should do, whether she should try to explain or hope his anger would cool. Somehow it didn’t seem right not to make some comment. She didn’t want him to think she’d defied him out of spite. Nor did she want him to believe that anything had happened between her and Lambson. She had to make that clear.
But what could she say? How could she explain things in a way that would ease his anger? She could hardly reveal that she’d hoped to make him jealous. Or could she? Not only was it a logical explanation, but it would indicate to him that she cared what he thought about her.
Clearing her throat she began, “I’m certain you’re angry with me, and I can’t really blame you, but you should know that I—”
She had no chance to finish as Revington leaned across the coach and pressed his mouth to hers in a savage kiss.
Her body seemed to explode with delight, as if to say, Yes! Yes! This was what you were waiting for! This is the man you desire!
She wrapped her arms around his neck, giving in completely. Their lips and tongues mated and danced. Eventually he drew away so they could both catch their breath. He moved to sit beside her and pulled her onto his lap. His lips were warm against her neck, licking and nuzzling, making her shiver and sigh. He tore the pelisse away and…

Wicked Wager is available at: 

Mary Gillgannon is the author of fifteen novels, mostly set in the dark age, medieval and English Regency time periods. She’s married and has two children. Now that they’re grown, she indulges her nurturing tendencies on four very spoiled cats and a moderately spoiled dog. When not writing or working—she’s been employed at the local public library for twenty-five years—she enjoys gardening, reading and travel.

Also, Mary is offering two give-aways:

One is for a gorgeous shamrock solar lantern. Contest ends May 31st.

The other, in conjunction with several other authors, is for a $500 gift certificate and ends June 21st.


vicki batman said...

Lovely post and wonderful excerpt. I was particularly intrigued as I was a clothing and textiles major in college and studied historical costume. Movies don't always get it right, but novelists tend to do so.

Barbara Bettis said...

What an interesting post! I enjoyed reading about the Regency clothing. When we see the paintings of Josephine of France who supposedly influenced the empire style, the gowns always look so divine. I wonder how they actually looked in everyday life :) Enjoyed the excerpt.

Kathy Otten said...

I always thought it was pronounced um-pire. Good to learn it is um-peer. Great post.

Angelina Jameson said...

I haven't come across the article of clothing zona before in my research. I know it is probably just a cloth but do you have an illustration or link I could check out? I collect Regency clothing links. :)

Anonymous said...

Very informative piece. And very teasing excerpt! ;)
Annie (aka Kelly Ann Scott)

Vonda Sinclair said...

Thank you for being our guest today, Mary! I enjoyed your post! :)

Mary Gillgannon said...

Thank you all for stopping by.

Angelina, I'm not sure where I first read about the zona. Some of my notes date back almost fifteen years and although I usually write down my sources,I don't always take note of what came from where. I'll see if I can find out a little more about them.

Anastasia Abboud said...

What an amazing, interesting post! Thank you, Mary and Vonda!

Mary Gillgannon said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Anastasia!