Women’s Wear in the Regency Era

By J.P. Lane

First of all, let me say how thrilled I am that Annamaria invited me to blog about Regency fashions as part of the celebration of her launch of White Swans, a YA fantasy set in Regency times. It doesn’t get much more romantic than this era made famous by Jane Austen. But before I get into all the frills and flounces, here’s something to put you in the Regency mood. It’s the ballroom dance from the movie “Pride & Prejudice.” When you’ve finished watching, just click the left arrow at the top of the Youtube screen to get back here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wr-Lia0jvDU

Regency gownBetween the end of the 18th century and around 1805, a revolutionary new fashion emerged. It may not seem like anything out of the ordinary to you, but clothes prior to this period were designed to hide a woman’s body. Nothing like the new “Empire” gowns of whisper-light fabrics that skimmed the body or clung to it had been seen before, at least not since Ancient Greece and Rome. Tightly laced corsets were abandoned, making way for clothes that were not only freeing, but made of almost transparent fabrics that hinted strongly at what lay underneath.

This return to neoclassical simplicity was fashioned in muslin, or light cottons and silks with embroidered accents such as flowers, leaves or classical Greek symbols. The epitome of the look was the white gown, though pastel blues, pinks and yellows were also popular and bolder colors were worn for full dress (formal wear) by mature women.

Ladies of the upper set wore “morning dress” (high-necked, long-sleeved dresses without embellishment) at home in the mornings and afternoons. They changed into evening attire for evening. Evening gowns had short sleeves and plunging necklines. Many wardrobes included afternoon, walking, traveling, and dinner dresses, as well as riding habits. Interestingly, underdressed meant quite the opposite of what it means today. It meant your neckline went up to your chin and hardly an inch of skin showed. Fully dressed meant bared arms and shoulders, and as much of a show of breasts as propriety would allow.

If you’re curious about the underwear Regency women wore, visit me at http://jplanewrites.blogspot.com/2012/03/hidden-things.html

Also see my guest blogger Maggi Andersen’s post on Regency menswear. http://jplanewrites.blogspot.com/2012/04/powdered-wigs-to-3-piece-suits.html

 

J.P. Lane  J.P. Lane is author of The Tangled Web. She blogs about fashion history and is currently writing a novel set in early 19th century England and Jamaica. Find her at:
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Sources:
http://acrosstheages.tripod.com/NewFolder/empireresearch.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1795%E2%80%931820_in_fashion#Women.27s_fashion

Image: thefineartofdesign.com

About Annamaria

Although born in the United States, Annamaria Bazzi spent a great deal of her childhood in Sicily, Italy, in a town called Sciacca. Italian was the language spoken at home. Therefore, she had no problems when she found herself growing up in a strange country. Upon returning to the states, she promised herself she would speak without an accent. She attended Wayne State University in Detroit Michigan, where she obtained her Bachelor of Science in Computers with a minor in Spanish. Annamaria spent twenty years programming systems for large corporations, creating innovative solution, and addressing customer problems. During those years, she raised four daughters and one husband. Annamaria lives in Richmond Virginia with her small family where she now dedicates a good part of her day writing.
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9 Responses to Women’s Wear in the Regency Era

  1. Melanie Kerr says:

    I have worn Regency clothes many times, for costume occasions, and the stays they wore instead of corsets are actually quite comfortable. They are more like a bra, but more substantial. But you definitely see why ladies needed servants when you try to get in and out of one!

    • Annamaria says:

      hello melanie,
      thank you for stopping by.
      yes, i’ve done some research on Regency women’s wear for my white swans novel, and they are certainly more complicated than i would have ever imagined.

  2. opal comfort says:

    I wonder what they would think of us? Reading this makes me want to see the movie Anna Karenina just to glimpse elegance and detail of those period fashions. Thanks JP!

  3. Carol Bodensteiner says:

    So interesting, Joan. As to the point about the corset going over a chemise and the difficulty of getting out of such a get up – We could see how that worked in the movie Lincoln when the Abe helps Mary out of her corset, leaving her free in her chemise. But I wonder if corsets were actually abandoned? The advertising I’ve been reading for corsets in the early 1900s promoted corsets even for children to mold them in healthy ways to grow!

    • J.P. Lane says:

      They brought the corset right back after that temporary moment of freedom. Waistlines became pinched again, and skirts fuller. Can see you’re not too happy about corsets, Carol (-: Guess if we’d lived back then we’d have been the “Burn the Corset!” crew.

  4. Audra says:

    Love this post. I love history and these particular times always fascinate me.

    • J.P. Lane says:

      I’m so happy somebody else loves history. There are times when I wonder if this subject is of interest to anybody, so your comment made my day, Audra. Thanks!

  5. J.P. Lane says:

    Thanks so much for inviting me to chat about Regency clothes Annamaria. Wishing you the very best for your launch of White Swans!!

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