Sunday, February 10, 2013

How Many Dresses Does a Regency Lady Need?

We all aspire to be fashionable Regency ladies, do we not? But how does one accomplish such a task?

First, you must consider your wardrobe. Do you have enough gowns? Are they elegant or vulgar? Whatever shall you wear on your trip to Bath? All important questions, which I will attempt to help you answer.

Let's start from the basics.

Unless you are a very fast lady, drawers are a no-no. Start with a shift, a long sack-like gown worn underneath all your other clothes. Linen is best - it is light and easy to wash. Gone are the days of the conical stays that your grandmother wore with such pride. Your stays are longer to flatten out the stomach and smooth out the silhouette.  Last comes your petticoat. Stocking are essential. Wool for winter and cotton for summer. And go glam with silk for a ball.

Stays, 1819, Source: Jane Austen Centre 
Morning Dress
Between the hours of rising and sitting down to dinner, you may wear a morning dress. It is a simple, practical gown made of muslin, calico or wool. Your arms, neck and bosom must be covered. But just because this is your at-home dress does not mean it should be shabby. Remember, lace can make any gown elegant. But all in moderation, you do not want to appear vulgar.  

Morning dress, France, 1818-1820. Source:  Les Arts Décoratifs

Day Dress / Afternoon Dress
For at-home visits and family time change into a day dress. But remember, modesty is everything. The French may suffer to wear deep decolletes, but as a proper English lady you better cover it up. Chemisette or fichu should do the trick.
Dress (open robe), 1795. Source: Met Museum  

Walking Dress / Promenade Dress
When out shopping or making formal calls, wear a walking dress. And out in a public place, go for a promenade dress. The two are often considered to be the same, but a promenade dress is usually a little more fine. Fabrics are light in the summer and heavier in the winter. Choose appropriate outwear for the season: shawl or warp for warmer weather, a spencer or pelisse for a colder day. You don't want to catch 'the muslin disease'.

Pelisse-coat, 1823. Source: Museum of London

Evening dress
Dinners at home or abroad are grand occasions. And you must show off all your finery. The neckline is lower and you may bare your arms. However, watch the fashion magazines. Sometimes long sleeves are in vogue, at others, short ones are popular. Fabrics can be rich: silk and satin. And if you are sick and tired of the dull 'classical' style, go for more recent history as Medieval, Renaissance and Gothic elements are very 'in' for both morning and evening wear.      

Evening Dress, 1823, Ackerman's Repository

Ball Dress
Some ladies are content with one fine evening gown for balls and dinners, but you should consider having a ball gown made especially. Fabrics are light, as you will be dancing, but rich. Popular choices are fine muslin, silk satin, duchesse silk and light taffeta. For a risqué look go with velvet. You may show your bosom, it is all right. A débutante ought to wear white and light pastels; married or older women may go with darker shades. To truly stand out in the candlelight adorn your dress with metallic trims, nets and beads. Gloves are a must for dancing and a fanciful turban will show your excellent taste.

Ball dress, 1812, Ackerman's Repository

Ridding Habit
A lady must ride; if only to accompany her husband. The dress for this activity is naturally darker, sturdier and heavier than your other gowns. Male fashions are de regulier with many masculine and military elements. The skirt is fuller than on a regular dress - you do not wish to show the world more than they ought to see.  

Ridding habit, 1817, Ackerman's Repository

Mourning Dress
When that disagreeable relation with a very large estate falls ill, start preparing a mourning dress. Black is for full mourning. For half mourning you may wear lilac, purple, grey or lavender. Avoid any shiny fabrics or jewellery. During half mourning a few black trinkets are acceptable.  

Mourning dress, 1823-1825. Source: Victoria & Albert Museum

Thus concludes our look at a wardrobe of a fashionable lady. Of course, one must not forget the dresses you will need for seaside resorts or evenings at the opera and numerous lovely accessories that a lady of quality simply must have at hand to be truly elegant. But that is a post for another day.    


  1. Oh my gosh your site is so fun! I love the history of clothing!I would totally wear this stuff again!

    1. Thank you! I would not say 'no' to a lovely lace morning dress either :)


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