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.
Between 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