Wardrobe Cheats: The Doily Cap

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when you rely on a simple solution, you will find at the last moment it won’t work. Last weekend, I hosted a Pride and Prejudice marathon for a few friends – the BBC miniseries with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, naturally – and I thought I’d dress up a bit.


Not being the kind of wonder-woman who can whip up a full historical outfit in a day or two (while writing a best-selling self-help book and raising a tankful of orphaned cuttlefish), I decided to wear the Empire-est clothes in my regular wardrobe, and Regencify the accessories.

Being in possession of a bonnet, my thoughts naturally turned first to that – but no sensible Regency woman would wear a bonnet indoors, in her own home. What she would wear, especially if she was a respectable married woman such as myself, is a cap. White, lacy, frilly – you get the idea.

Lodovico Giori Portrait Charlotte Luise Bennecke

Actually, even unmarried ladies of A Certain Age would wear caps – going bareheaded was a sign of being in the market for a husband. And from the Regency point of view, I am a lady of A Certain Age already, having passed the grand old age of twenty-seven. Jane Austen herself took up wearing them at about that age, “and they save me a world of torment as to hairdressing,” she wrote in a letter.

The classic cap-cheat is, of course, to simply plop a large round doily on one’s head. Nothing could be easier! Until one reaches the charity shop and finds there are no large round doilies to be seen. Clearly, there has been a lot of dressing up going on in these parts lately.

Dressed young female Brielle

Desperation drove me to purchase a large rectangular doily, rejecting the genre/gender-bending little-old-lady yarmulke look suggested by the small round doilies on offer. Like Lydia Bennet, I would have to tear it apart when I got home and see if I could make it up any better.

After one or two false starts, I found a simple, suitable solution. The moral of the story: do not be abashed by staring at your reflection with a doily over your head. You look a fool; it will pass.

I pinned the two short ends together and sewed it up into a tube which would fit over my head. Then I realized my mistake and unpicked nearly half the seam.
I then turned it right-way out and ran a ribbon (all right, a shoelace, but I’ve replaced it with a ribbon) through the doily at the end-of-seam line, pulled it tight and tied a bow.
Now I had a sort of lace beanie with an enormous frill hanging off the top – a frill nearly as large as the cap itself.
This I arranged over the cap, and voila! a lacy cap with two rows of scalloped edging, and a bit of ribbon dripping down the back.

Portrait of Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen
Jane Austen is not impressed.

It’s so soft and comfortable I find I keep putting it on – as Jane Austen noted in her letter, it’s just the thing for a bad hair day.

What are your secrets for wardrobe short-cuts? Please share!
And remember: dressing up is not just for fancy dress parties, Hallowe’en, or cosplaying at ComicCon. Dressing up is for eccentrics.

Quote: Regency Refashion

Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg 001

“Look here, I have bought this bonnet. I do not think it is very pretty; but I thought I might as well buy it as not. I shall pull it to pieces as soon as I get home, and see if I can make it up any better… there were two or three much uglier in the shop; and when I have bought some prettier-coloured satin to trim it with fresh, I think it will be very tolerable.”
Lydia Bennet, from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The Awkward Conversations of Great Literature

Warning: potential spoilers lie ahead!

We can probably all remember Awkward Conversations we’ve been part of, but what about the ones we weren’t even there for? Conversations that technically never even happened, because they are fictional, but can make us squirm with sympathetic embarrassment nonetheless.

Mr Collins’ proposal to Miss Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, for example. We, like Miss Elizabeth, want to get the unpleasant necessity over with as quickly as possible, but he drones on and on, pontificating about his two favourite subjects, viz. Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mr Collins.


A word of advice to any young lady readers: if you are proposed to by a man who mentions another woman more often during his proposal than he mentions you, refuse him. We know he doesn’t stand a chance with Lizzy, but he’s so certain of his own desirability he doesn’t even need her answer to start congratulating himself.
Full credit to David Bamber for truly conveying the depths of awfulness in this Pilbeam among parsons.

Agatha Christie’s Lady Bundle Brent, on receiving a similar proposal in The Seven Dials Mystery, opts to leg it out the window herself, not being burdened with a mother who will insist on her seeing it through. If anyone knows of a book in which the pompous proposer is defenestrated, please do let me know.

I’m currently half-way through Anna Karenina – for the first time – and I have already grimaced through some very awkward conversations. This one’s a prize-winner, though: Oblonsky comes to ask his brother-in-law (in town on business) to dinner.

Piotr Petrovich Karataev by I Turgenev Illustration by P Sokolov
It goes something like this:

Oblonsky: Come to dinner!
Karenin: I can’t.
Oblonsky: Why not?
Karenin: Because I am about to sever the ties between us by divorcing your sister, my wife.
Oblonsky: Oh! Well, come to dinner anyway…

What are your favourite Awkward Conversations? Tell all! Unless they’re in the second half of Anna Karenina, in which case please wait a few weeks before commenting…
Awkward silences also welcomed, although please include the context as well as the silence 🙂