This week and next, we’re going to take a look at how people dressed in the Regency Era. This week we’re going to focus on Regency Era Women’s Fashion and all the different pieces of apparel they were changing in and out of multiple times per day. This list isn’t exhaustive by any means and is rather representative of the upper classes rather than the working classes, but should give a good foundation in recognizing what an author is talking about and why they’re so focused on their characters being fashion conscious.
Before we get into the individual items of clothing, it’s important to realize some phrases we use today didn’t mean quite the same thing 200 years ago. For example, unlike when we say “She was in a state of undress.” or “She was caught en dishabille.”, the folks of the Regency era wouldn’t have batted an eye. It was quite common for ladies to entertain guests in their boudoirs while dressed in comfortable, but concealing gowns and robes. Therefore, the terms “undress”, “half-dress” and “full-dress” were degrees of formality, not coverage.
“Undress” meant simply casual, informal dress in the Regency period. This would be the type of dress worn from early morning to noon or perhaps as late as four or five, depending on one’s engagements for the day. Undress was usually more comfortable, more warm, more casual, and much cheaper in cost than half dress or full dress.
“Half Dress” is perhaps one of the most difficult concepts to grasp about Regency Fashion. Basically it is any dress halfway between Undress and Full Dress. In modern terms it might be thought of as dressy casual or casual business attire in terms of formality, if not style.
“Full dress” was the most formal kind of dress in a Regency Lady’s wardrobe. Full dress was worn for the most formal occasions — evening concerts and card parties, soirees, balls, and court occasions. “Evening dress” referred to outfits suitable only at evening events, but was a specific subset of “full dress”.
Regency Era Women’s Fashion
There’s a great post over at Word Wenches where author Kalen Hughes goes through the steps of dressing your Regency heroine from the skin out. If you visit that post, you’ll get better idea of how long it took to dress and the order everything goes on or off in.
- The forerunner of the slip, the basic white linen garment underneath everything, often short-sleeved or sleeveless. Easy to wash compared to stays.
- Less uncomfortable than those of Georgian or Victorian Eras and typically stays were worn instead of full corsets though the term corset was being applied to both. The ones we think of when someone mentions “corset” today are the Victorian ones.
- Usually only one was required and not a lot of volume was required for the high-waisted fashions.
- stockings/garters, pantaloons
- No panty hose for these ladies, but rather cotton or silk stockings, held up by garters.
- Basically a white lawn dickey with a high collar.
- Proper ladies didn’t wear drawers, since they were considered to be quite “fast” and racy.
Gowns & Dresses
Author Candice Hern also has a great page that details the various styles of dresses a woman would wear throughout the day named and appropriate for specific activities. These included:
- wraps & shawls
- A wide variety of wraps and shawls were worn for warmth during this time period.
- A close-fitting, tight sleeved, waist length jacket modeled on a gentleman’s riding coat, but without tails.
- An overdress or coat dress. The pelisse fit relatively close to the figure (though not tight) and had the same high-waisted lines as the dress of the day. Pelisses were also heavily and variously trimmed with fur, swansdown, contrasting fabric, frog fastenings, etc. practically from their beginning. In fashionable circles, pelisses more or less replaced the fur-lined cloaks of the earlier periods.
- From the French corruption of “riding coat”, a long, fitted woman’s coat, belted and open to reveal the skirt of the dress beneath.
- cloak or mantles (a short hip- or thigh-length cape) or Mantelets
- Worn in the evening, often as part of an ensemble for the opera. Short cloaks with upstanding collars would also be worn to the theatre.
- These were fading out of fashion for women during the Regency, but some still present
- slippers/simple pumps
- The basic shoe pattern resembled a ballet slipper (without points, of course) and might be made from kid leather, satin, or velvet.
- Backless slip-on shoes with a slight heel.
- An ankle boot made of sturdy leather for outdoors or velvet/satin for evening.
- A metal contraption strapped onto the lady’s shoes in inclement weather, to lift her above the mud, snow, or rainwater in the street.
- A standard accessory for any modest miss who felt too much cleavage was showing. Also called a “tucker” as you tucked it into the bodice of your gown.
- tippets (boa), pelerines (a broad collar-like cape which covers the shoulders.) & muffs
- Warming aids, but also fashionable.
- One mustn’t get spots! Freckles were quite unfashionable during the Regency.
- reticule or ridicule
- Some people argue that ‘ridicule’ is the only proper Regency term for a ladies purse, but you’ll see ‘reticule’ used almost exclusively.
- For propriety’s sake and during the day, to limit sun exposure.
- hats, bonnets
- Again, propriety insisted that one’s hair be covered and the bonnets helped keep that porcelain complexion spot-free!
- turbans, bandeaux
- Favored more by older women, these were quite fashionable.
- Mostly in conjunction with widows and mourning.
In the Boudoir or Bedchamber
- nightrail or night dress
- Practical and high-necked, probably cotton.
- dressing gown
- A long, comfortable house garment that covered the night dress
- A thin gown or robe worn for modesty
Next week, we’ll take a look at Regency Era Men’s Fashions.
Visit my post on Men’s Regency Fashions or my Regency Resource page for more information regarding a variety of other Regency-themed topics. If you’d like more information on a specific place or topic, please let me know in the comments section below.