The Regency Lady: Upper Class

Regency style reigned from about 1795 to 1820. Romanticism was in full swing, emphasizing the feminine, the natural, and a general atmosphere of dreamy mystery. Just as Romanticism was a revolt against the strict logic of the Enlightenment, Regency was fashion’s response to Rococo, which had been all about ornamentation, artifice and wealth. Regency responded to this gaudy excess with simplistic, natural “Greek” style gowns and decoration.  The classic silhouette for Regency style is the famous empire-waist gown with a low square or scooped neck that is fitted right below the bust and flows in a loose column or train around the wearer’s body.

Since the waistline was so high and the majority of the gown floated away from the body, corsets also shrunk upwards and gained breast-enhancing cups to achieve the high-bosomed look the dresses required (Remember: Bras weren’t fully invented until the 20th Century, so ladies still wore corsets to keep their breasts perky!)

The gowns were made of light, flowy fabrics, most popularly cream and white, but almost every color appeared like red, green, pink, brown, and light blue. Bright colors were harder to come by since synthetic dyes were still being invented, so natural colors were the norm. Since much of Europe is not as warm as the Mediterranean area from which the “Grecian” gown came, various scarves, shawls, capes, and jackets came into fashion. Military buttons were popular on fitted wool coats, and cashmere shawls, often paisley-patterned, became almost indispensable in the winter.

For daytime wear, ladies almost never went out of the house without a hat or gloves. Sunscreen hadn’t been invented yet and sun-kissed skin was still a no-no: tans identified you as a member of the working class. Hats or bonnets were made with wide, flared brims to keep the sun off. A delicate sheer scarf swirled around your neck and tucked into your neckline would keep your chest from getting dappled while walking or picnicking in the sun. Gloves of all sorts–leather, cotton, and a few knit in winter– complete any proper Regency ensemble.

Regency shoes came in two types: indoor and walking. Shoes were not boxy and mass-produced, but fitted to each wearer. Unfortunately some shoes had no assigned “left” or “right” shoe. Instead, they had a sole much like ballerina shoes today. Indoor shoes, called slippers, are also very similar to ballerina slippers. Heels were out of fashion and still pretty wobbly, so decorated flats with pointed toes and ribbon laces were must-haves. Walking boots (more like the ankle booties) were usually leather and had a small heel (1cm to 3cm) to elevate the walker above the mud.

Jewelry was as varied then as it is now, but wasn’t as widely available. Most jewelry was made out of precious metals and real or paste (glass) gems. Colored stones were popular and clear stones were often “foiled” to make them look colored. Diamonds and pearls were still popular, as were finely-carved cameos. Every proper lady had a few pins to keep her wraps and scarves in place. Necklaces, earrings, and even tiaras were worn at night to parties, so they were often grand affairs made to glow in candlelight. Bracelets almost always came in pairs. (Regency jewelry falls under the “Georgian” category in most jewelry and fashion resources and covers a wide range of dates)

To learn more about Regency style visit:

The Regency Style Wikipedia Page
Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Site
The Metropolitan Museum Collections

All of the pictures in this article are linked to to sites detailing each section, so feel free to click and explore!

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