By the turn of the nineteenth century, the fashion for women (and in particular for ladies of the gentry and aristocracy) had become settled upon the robe en chemise, which later came to be known as the 'Empire' gown. High-waisted muslin, cambric or calico dresses, in white, natural or pastel shades and worn with heelless slippers, became synonymous with the Regency era. The whole effect was for a simple, classical elegance and ‒ especially when dampened by the daring ‒ the sheer fabric clung with the form-draping folds demonstrated by Greek statuary. The Merveilleuses, female equivalents of French counter-revolutionaries the Incroyables, employed an extreme style of dress which may have led to the suggestion, either real or not, of such wanton behaviour among the beau monde.
However, while being comfortable for the wearer in warm weather, the flimsier versions of these gowns, which tended to be of French influence, did little to hold off winter's chill. Stockings, in white or pink silk or cotton, were worn to offset the effects of a whistling wind, for pantalettes ‒ loose-fitting drawers of muslin, silk or cotton with frills at the base of each leg ‒ were not introduced until about 1804. Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince Regent, helped to popularize their usage as she was said to wear them in 1811, while the Duchess of Bedford had hers trimmed with Brussels lace. Pantalettes fastened below the knee with either ribbons or buttons and had no gusset. Draughty! There were even long-legged styles ‒ including feet ‒ for cold weather, as well as elastic India cotton for hunting and Opera or woollen stockinette for increased riding comfort.
The prevailing fashion did not receive universal approval. Indeed, in March 1803, it was criticized in the Ladies Monthly Magazine.
"...a party of high-bred young ladies, who were dressed or rather undressed in all the nakedness of the mode..." "...had they been placed on pedestals or niched in recesses, they might have passed for so many statues very lightly shaded with drapery... as much a hazard of health as it was trespass against modesty..."
So, to protect themselves and their modesty, ladies accessorized their ensembles with a variety of decorative and practical garments. for day and evening wear, a fichu (a triangular piece of muslin, lace or similar) or a tucker (linen, cotton or lace) could be worn around the neck to cover or disguise a low décolletage. A 'bosom friend' was another such item, being similar to a tippet. Scarves and shawls were extremely popular, especially, it would seem, with the Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon. It is said she collected almost four hundred shawls, with each one priced in the region of 15-20,000 francs. Jane Austen, who was a deft needlewoman, stitched her own elegant adornments, including one of white muslin worked with satin stitch, dated about 1800. Norwich silk, cashmere and Paisley shawls were all popular with the beau monde and were produced in luxurious patterns and colours. The weavers of Norwich, Paisley and Edinburgh also copied the Kashmir wares with soft, British sheep's wool, originally with a small, simple pine cone design and later with larger, more complicated patterns. It became something of an art to drape a shawl in order to reflect good taste, or add a touch of sensuality or luxury to a simple gown. French mesdames, such as Madame Gardel in Paris, performed shawl dances and offered instruction in the graceful arts of such fashionable drapery.
For outdoors, a lady could choose from a fur tippet (a small cape or collar which had long ends dangling at the front), a Spencer, a pelisse, a redingote, a cape or a cloak. The Spencer was a long-sleeved jacket with a short waist which made its first appearance in the 1790s. It is purported to have been named for the 2nd Earl Spencer, George John Spencer, who supposedly was the first to wear one. Spencers were made from such fabrics as kerseymere, velvet, wool, silk and satin, sometimes with high, frilly collars and sometimes without a collar at all.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the pelisse was a cross between a coat and a cloak or tunic, with armholes or, more usually, long sleeves and a raised waist. Later it became a full-length, elegant garment with an Empire line style and fastened across the chest or all the way down the front. Made from velvet, wool, brocade, kerseymere or similar thick cloth for colder weather and lighter fabrics for summer wear, it was often trimmed to match a dress, frequently with sable, ermine or chinchilla. Collars varied in height and width, while sleeves were long, often reaching over the hand, and either trimmed at the shoulder with fur, gathered or puffed.
A redingote was a double-breasted type of overcoat similar to that worn by gentlemen and sometimes cut away at the front. It usually had a wide, flat collar. Cloaks, mantles and capes were generally made from warm materials such as wool, velvet or fur and were often trimmed or lined with fur as well. They fastened at the neck.
Hats, gloves, muffs and parasols
When indoors, most married ladies and spinsters of more mature years wore a cap to show their respectability and status. Jane Austen herself was given to wearing a cap, because, as she wrote: '...they save me a world of torment as to hairdressing.' Caps were made from satin, muslin and lace, in a variety of styles, trimmed with ribbon and often fastened under the chin. The Mameluke cap was described in 1799 by Jane Austen as being 'all the fashion now'. It was an Oriental-style turban with a feather in the brim. Many articles were created and worn to salute Britain's great naval commander and the Nelson cap, fashioned in Coquelicot velvet, was just one of them.
I hope you find this useful, all you established and budding Regency writers. Sorry there are no pictures. I will update this post when I can access my scanner again!
Best wishes, Heather
A hat was the essential item to complete a Regency lady's toilette. Many ladies bought plain hats and trimmed them to their own taste, practising economy where it was needful by changing the decoration for different outfits. Such embellishments included ribbons, feathers, flowers, fruit and braid.
Bonnets were made from straw, wood chip (such as willow), leghorn (a type of Italian wheat straw), velvet, tulle, silk, muslin or sarsenet and were habitually designed to match a certain gown or pelisse. They ranged from wide-brimmed sun hats to elegant day wear; from high crowns and neat peaks to the projecting brims of poke bonnets; and from military-style Shako hats ‒ which completed fashionable riding habits at the time of the Napoleonic wars ‒ to elegant turbans and headdresses for the evening. These latter, with the advent of shorter hairstyles, were sometimes no more than a bandeau or fillet to set off a head of cropped curls. A spray of ostrich feathers or a hood, similar to the modern snood, was introduced around 1800 to represent the caul of Grecian origin. Veils were fashionable and could be added to or removed from a hat as required. A pale complexion was, after all, considered entirely necessary in the lady of fashion.
Gloves were originally supplied by a glove maker and made from leather, but once such fabrics as cotton, silk, kid and wool began to be used, they were also produced by milliners. Chicken skin was believed to make hands white and smooth; kid gloves were popularly adorned in the late eighteenth century with hand painted scenes or printed patterns. Gloves were considered essential for both day and evening engagements. Colours were chosen to complement an outfit, white being at the top of the list, although neutral and pastel shades such as stone, buff, lilac and yellow were also popular. Black was considered acceptable only for mourning prior to the second decade of the century. Short gloves of York tan or kid were worn when driving, riding or walking out of doors, while silk gloves were chosen for visiting and other ladylike occupations. For evening, no lady was thought attired à la mode without a pair of long gloves of white kid. Ribbons or glove strings were used from the 1780s to tie the longer glove above the elbow, or the more affluent might choose a diamond buckle. After the Battle of Waterloo, as attitudes changed towards revealed flesh, gloves became almost arm length. In cold or inclement weather, whilst lacking the required degree of elegance, many a lady resorted to woollen gloves or mittens and for those in more straitened circumstances, cotton made an economical alternative to silk.
An alternative to gloves was a muff. Made from sable or ermine for winter wear, swansdown or feathers for warmer weather, a muff was a cylindrically shaped accessory for warming the hands. They were also made of other types of fur, cloth or sealskin; those for winter could be as much as two feet long. Carried by both sexes but mainly used by women, they were frequently matched to the edging of a pelisse or tippet. They could be used in place of a reticule to hold (or secrete) such items as a handkerchief, some pin money or a letter.
Another essential ‒ and fashionable ‒ adjunct to a lady's outdoor wardrobe was the parasol. Like chinoiserie furniture, bamboo and painted wallpapers, it originated in China and it became de rigueur for a lady to carry a parasol to protect her complexion when taking the air. These first parasols were made from silk in a variety of pastel hues which could then be matched with a gown, pelisse or reticule. Ladies held an unfurled parasol by its handle, whereas a gentleman would hold an umbrella (invariably green) in the centre. There were two types of parasol generally to be seen ‒ the 'pagoda' style and the fan or 'marquise'. The former was particularly fashionable. It had tasteful curves when open, the fabric extended on a frame of bamboo, cane or even the revolutionary steel sticks of telescopic design, and was frequently embellished with a knotted fringe. The 'marquise' style parasol was more reminiscent of a modern umbrella, being shaped like a fan, but the central pole was hinged, enabling the holder to position it vertically, either to display the decoration on its panels or as a screen. It was usually fashioned from either paper leaf or fabric. In May 1813, La Belle Assemblée featured a fashion plate of a walking dress, where the lady pictured carried a 'Johnston' parasol, which resembled a flattened circus top with little peaks and dips and was decorated with a fringe. Made of sky-blue silk, it had '...very recently made its appearance and is already a general favourite.'
Surprisingly, perhaps, to a modern viewpoint, fans had a variety of uses and were considered an essential part of a lady's evening attire. Aside from the practical use of relieving the owner during a ball or assembly which was over-subscribed and stuffy, a fan could be used to portray political messages, hidden signals to a lover, show to advantage a pair of pretty eyes or the owner's sophistication and taste, and disguise a naughty smile. Some were modest, simply painted with famous works, maps, botanical drawings or psalms; others were richly ornamented.
Fans were fashioned from a range of materials. Leaves were made from paper, silk, lace, chicken skin or lace and generally hand painted. The sticks could be of bone, metal or lacquered wood, but the more prized ones were made from mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell or ivory, the latter carved with intricate motifs. Vernis Martin fans, created by the brothers Martin in France using a varnishing (vernis) technique were particularly sought after, as were those by Angelica Kauffman, an artist much revered in the eighteenth century who died in 1807. The folding fan with many sticks, which is familiar still today, were also in great demand. These brisé fans were often most beautifully embellished, even though they had become reduced in size in the first years of the nineteenth century due to the increased popularity of the reticule. Having been used to celebrate victories by Nelson and no doubt Wellington to boot (sorry, could not resist), plus issue good wishes to King George III on his recovery from illness, those that pictured neoclassical motifs and scenes from the continental Grand Tour became much favoured. They were works of art in miniature, measuring, in the main, between 6-10 inches and opening out to about 120 degrees. From around 1808, 'cockade' fans became all the rage, since they opened into a complete circle. Some even contained a spy glass in the middle! From about 1817, crape fans came into vogue, featuring delicate embroidery of spangled silver.
Young ladies were taught the deportment of the fan so that they should hold and use them to the best advantage, thereby accentuating the grace and refinement of their hands.
The language of the fan
Touch right cheek ~ Yes
Touch left cheek ~ No
Fan slowly ~ I am married
Fan quickly ~ I am engaged
Open and shut ~ You are cruel
Presented shut ~ Do you love me?
Presented with handle to lips ~ Kiss me
Placed to left ear ~ I wish to get rid of you
Hide eyes behind ~ I love you
Closely examining fan ~ I like you
Fanning the left hand ~ Do not flirt with that woman
Best wishes, Heather