Angelica Neal: a courtesan in 1785 London



Julia Westermann


(click images to to enlarge)

Outline the story …

The character I have chosen for my entry is the character of Angelica Neal, a courtesan living and working in the world of Imogen Hermes Gowar's 2018 novel "The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock". When I first read this book, I was utterly spellbound by Gowar's descriptions of late eighteenth century life in London, and was fascinated by the character of Angelica Neal. Angelica is a courtesan who moves within the upper echelons of 1785 London, and can be at times vain, selfish, and greedy. She is drawn into the world of Mr. Hancock, a merchant who possesses a fascinating treasure: a mermaid.

I have been wanting to try historical costuming for some time, and I decided to make a full set of eighteenth century undergarments and accessories that Angelica Neal may have worn. I decided to use a blue colour scheme as a nod to the mermaid and of the marine-themed party thrown at the bawdy house of Mrs. Elizabeth Chappell. This was my first time making any sort of foundational garment, and I wanted to draw inspiration from this intriguing character and wonderful story.

Outline the construction…

This was the first major historical costuming piece I have ever attempted to make. I have sewn a bit in the past, but never this ambitiously. I decided to work with a pattern, and I used Simplicity and American Duchess pattern number 8162 to construct the chemise and the stays. I made the chemise from a lightweight white cotton, and sewed it by machine. The stays are three layers: two layers of heavy cotton canvas and a top layer of cotton that I dyed blue myself to get the perfect shade. I made some changes to the pattern, making the stays fully boned instead of half boned. I machine sewed all the boning channels, and hand sewed all the finishings including the binding, twill tape, and all of the eyelet holes. The hand sewing was a first for me, ans started off very difficult, but as I got the proper tools (a leather thimble and a better needle) I fell into a comfortable rhythm and started enjoying the meditative process of hand sewing. The boning is plastic zip ties, and the lacing is all done with twill tape.

I decided to make some accessories for the ensemble as well. I bought a plain fan and decorated it using eighteenth century fan images as inspiration. I also took an old pair of heels and covered them in blue fabric and trim to match the stays, building up the front of the shoes to give them an eighteenth century look.




  1. Avatar Laura Holland on March 11, 2021 at 9:17 pm

    Excellent- well done

  2. Avatar Samanthalovestosew on March 11, 2021 at 10:52 pm

    Really beautiful work and you look beautiful in it.

  3. Kitty Mortensen Kitty Mortensen on March 12, 2021 at 5:31 pm

    This is so fantastical- very magical. I Love it so much! Well done!

  4. Avatar Nadine on March 13, 2021 at 7:52 pm

    This is an amazing combination. I like the blue. Very neat work.

  5. Avatar Manon L'Hostis on March 14, 2021 at 1:11 pm

    This color is so soothing ❤ Your stitching is very neat and delicate, well done!

  6. Avatar Viktoria Cudkova on March 14, 2021 at 5:31 pm

    The whole vibe of this makes me want to get the whole get up! Great work!

  7. Avatar Whats Sewing On on March 16, 2021 at 5:40 pm

    It looks sooo well made! I love the colour, it’s perfect!

  8. Avatar Amanda on March 19, 2021 at 1:53 am

    Gorgeous fit, well done!

  9. Avatar Laura Ingalls Gunn on March 21, 2021 at 11:15 pm

    Truly beautiful. Your attention to detail is masterful.

  10. Avatar Deborah Melo on March 24, 2021 at 1:22 am

    The finishing is exquisite! Well done

  11. Avatar AnnaCatherine Sendgikoski on March 26, 2021 at 5:45 am

    Wow, this is beautiful! I love this! Thank you!

  12. Avatar Benigna on March 26, 2021 at 11:11 am

    This looks wonderful! I really like the colours, everything fits together so well.

  13. Avatar Stephanie Murison on March 27, 2021 at 2:21 am

    I love the pastel blue shade! Well done, the stays fit wonderfully and are beautifully finished, and I love the matching fan and shoes too!

  14. Avatar Valarie Olafson on March 27, 2021 at 3:09 am

    I love it!! Your workmanship, your colours….it’s perfect.

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