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How to dress in the Poldark Style

What do you do when you fall in love with books by Jane Austen or Winston Graham? Why you start building a wardrobe so that you can hopefully attend balls or events that feature the authors you love!

I've been in the Jane Austen phase now for over 10 years and have assembled over three dozen outfits for day wear and for attending Grand Balls.....(my husband once asked, "how many do you need?"  My reply?  "As many as I want, it's better than running the streets after all!") haha

Fast forward to the Poldark "era." (June, 2015 to the present)  I cannot say why exactly Poldark has taken a place in my heart, but I would say the story is so compelling and I think Winston Graham's writing is extraordinary (there are 12 novels).  It is after all, don't you think, easier to read a novel written in the 20th century about the 18th century? And of course there's the terrific acting by  Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson that makes it all so real.  Especially so after I visited Cornwall for my birthday in June and seeing all the place names there ie Illogan, Warleggan, Launceston, Bodmin Moor, Truro, Demelza, etc,  it made the world of Poldark so real for me.
Here we are in Demelza! The place that gave Winston Graham the name for his heroine of the novels.

So when I decided to put together a Poldark era ensemble I began to do my research. The books begin in 1783 and progress about two or three years with each successive book.  I settled on 1790 ish and thought a day dress more practical for the first gown. I am very pleased with the results.

I went with a red, white and blue theme.

Where do you start? Find a good pattern company.  In this case I chose the Sense & Sensibility Portrait Pattern (  There are tons of portraits and fashion plates to look at on Pinterest.  Find me, Bonny Wise, and you can look to see what I have "pinned."  You might find appropriate fabric at Joann Fabrics, but I found what I was looking for at Burnley & Trowbridge, a wonderful supplier of fabrics ( that meet the needs of reenactors, ie 100% cotton, linen, silks and wools.  Do not use polyester fabrics please!  I made small adjustments to the pattern. I shortened the bodice a couple inches as I am a short person, and it took some of the fullness out as I am not model thin and I used cartridge pleating around the entire waist to give it the proper fullness.

In the tv series a back lacing gown was used.  It is 1787 and the dress belonged to Grace Poldark, Ross's mother (this was not explained in the tv series and is why Ross was angry that Demelza was wearing it by the way).  Unfortunately, this is totally inaccurate for a period costume of this period... it should have been front laced.....but either Mr. Graham didn't know or didn't care, but it was a plot device!  Demelza needed Ross to notice her and she wanted him to seduce her so she would not have to go back to her father and step mother in Illogan! Needless to say it worked and what a beautiful scene that was.....I have to rant a bit here as several news outlets keep referring to "raunchy" when describing certain scenes in Poldark.  There is nothing raunchy in Poldark!   end of rant.

 Here's the youtube link: if you want to watch the scene again (and again!) "Then Let it Be True."

The other investment is a corset. Ladies, and sorry gents, this is all for the ladies- if you are over a B cup, you really must have a corset for your dress to look and fit correctly.  I am telling you they are not that bad!   I have several and always wear with my period attire.  There are several sellers on Etsy, but one I can definitely recommend is historicaldesigns by Beth Shaw.  There are patterns out there too if you are inclined to sew one yourself.  In all of this, give yourself plenty of time.  You cannot make all of this up in one week unless you are superwoman! Just make sure you get the right corset for the right time period. A good corset maker will  know this (so a cosplay provider or Fredericks of Hollywood are NOT good choices).

1790 Pattern used to make my dress

The 3 1/2" wide ribbon was purchased at a great fabric store in New Orleans called Promenade. They now have an Etsy store but you can search ebay and Etsy for your color of choice. I used 4 yards of a soft ribbon (no wire edge).

The hat!  The hat is everything and I am not kidding!  Amber Mendenhall Welch from Ohio made my hat and it did not disappoint. You can find her on Etsy as VirgilsFineGoods.

I decided to go totally authentic and invested in a "hedgehog" wig.  Yes, it's called a hedgehog! The hedgehog style was fashionable in the 1780s and 1790s. This is BIG hair full of curls that seems wildly styled.  If  you look at Gainsborough portraits from the period, you will recognize it.  Basically it is an elaborate up-do with a drop curl on each side of the neck.  The hair all over the head is a wild mess of curls just barely contained.  I love mine and you can have one made too by our local company in Louisville, KY (  I cannot help but remember Prudie's line from the series, "An' after all, 'tis better'n takin' orders from some fudgy-faced baggage wi' drop-curls!"

Actress Laura Linney as Abigail Adams in the series, John Adams

My hedgehog made in my color

As for the jewelry, I had the notion to have the pendant Ross gave Demelza at the ball copied.  It turned out well I think!
The original Georgian piece on the left used in the series, and the reproduction on the right.  Mine is made with "paste" (glass) which is totally authentic and less expensive.  Most people could not tell the difference and it is amazingly beautiful!

And of a pair of red leather shoes! From Burnley & Trowbridge

A knock came at the door and she checked an impulse to start up as a maid entered.  “This has come, ma’am. I was telled to bring it up to you.  Thank you, ma’am.  A dressing maid’ll be along in just a few minutes.”
Demelza stared at the packet. On the outside was written Rs. Poldark Esquire, and over that Ross had scrawled in ink not yet dry: For delivery to Mrs. Demelza Poldark.
She pulled at the wrapping, took out a small box, parted some cotton packing, gasped.  After a moment, gingerly, as if afraid of burning herself, she put in a finger and thumb and drew out the brooch.
“Oh,” she said.  She lifted it and held it to her breast so she could see the effect in the mirror.  The ruby glowed and winked at her. Ross’s gesture was tremendous.  It melted her.  Her eyes, black and liquid with emotion, glowed back at herself above the ruby.  The gift, if anything, would give her confidence.  With a new dress and that, no one surely could look down on her.  Even the maids could hardly do so. (Demelza Poldark)

I think that about covers it!  I hope you have enjoyed this blog about costuming and learned "how-to" if you are inclined to put together an outfit.  Perhaps you will want to attend the Poldark Balls in Cornwall and I heard rumor of an event in America in 2017!

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All the best!
Bonny  Wise, I am
Inspired by Poldark


This post first appeared on Inspired By Poldark, please read the originial post: here

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How to dress in the Poldark Style


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