Something Other Than White: Colorful Regency Fashions 1800-1820

Don’t be Drab. Be Fab!

While coloring on a museum gown would be a shame, coloring your costumes isn’t.

I love a pretty white Regency gown, but when everyone else is wearing a white gown, how can you stand out in the crowd? A brightly-colored Spencer jacket? A brilliant paisley shawl? A pair of painted shoes? A sunflower glued to your knee?

There is an easier, bolder way: make your regency gown itself out of a colored fabric! Compared with your average regency gown, a colored gown is a wild, risky choice, but it’s a historically accurate risk well worth exploring.
Appliques and embroidery are a good starting point on the journey into colored regency gowns. They add subtler touches of color to an otherwise white gown. Ball gowns of the era came in many different shades, especially paired with gorgeous metallic embroidery. Day dresses came in a variety of natural colors like browns, tawny yellows, and greens. Towards 1810, prints began to re-gain ground and by the end of the 1820s, they were in full swing!

Colorful Regency Gowns

American Cotton Dress, circa 1804-14
This gown is like one of those “Magic Eye” pictures. It makes me a little dizzy! But I love it.

Italian Silk Dress (back), circa 1805-10

French Silk Evening Dress, circa 1805-10

Italian Polychrome Embroidered Dress, circa 1807-10
(Colorful floral embroidery like this has been a hallmark of Italian fashion since the 18th century.)

French Cotton Dress, circa 1807-12

European Silk Dress, circa 1815

American Silk Dress, circa 1815-1820

British Silk Dress, circa 1818

American Silk Dress, circa 1818

Ball Gown, circa 1820

American Silk Ball Gown, circa 1820
(I fondly call this the “My Fair Gentlewoman” gown because it’s so frothy and fussy! The lavender is gorgeous)

If you love Regency and color, you have so many options. Simple, light cottons in muted colors make fabulous day dresses and are a staple in most fabric stores, so they are easy to find. For ball gowns, nothing beats a gorgeous Indian silk sari with a wide border of gold or polychrome designs! If you want to get really fancy, take a cue from the brightly-dyed military uniforms of the day: bold navies, reds, and golds make excellent colors for a warm wool pelisse. With the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, (and the following years until 1815) wearing a colorful regency gown will certainly add a festive touch to reenactments and memorial events! I’m thinking of a yellow or even a striped gown, myself…

As with all of my articles, the pictures and lighter brown text are all links to pages with more info about that item, technique, person, or event, so please click on them to learn more!

You can also visit these excellent websites for more info on Regency costuming:

Fabrics for Danceable Regency Ball Gowns by Jennifer Rosbrugh at Historical Sewing

Colorful Regency Gowns at Maggie’s Costume Wardrobe

5 thoughts on “Something Other Than White: Colorful Regency Fashions 1800-1820

  1. The “Magic Eye” dress is named the “Ric Rac Regency Attack” in its folder on my desktop. Every time I look at it I automatically feel better about whatever I have on.

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