Monday, November 8, 2010

Dressing Up Regency, for Ladies

Ladies, this post is for you. With the GBCS Holiday party coming up December 18th, it's time to start putting together your costumes.

Regency describes the period of English history from about 1800-1820. In France it was known as "Empire" or the Napoleanic Era, and in the fresh new USA it's referred to as the Federalist period. No matter your country of origin, this period of dress has common trends and themes. Let's take a look, and come up with some ideas for Winter-time Regency clothing appropriate for an evening party.

At the turn of the 19th century, the fabric of choice was very thin cotton muslin, and this nearly sheer fabric was generally white, and often featured delicate embroidery, sprig printing (block printing, a new technology), or subtle striping. Light colors were favored over dark, and in the infant years of the Regency, these thing white muslins were worn in both Summer and Winter.

"Sari" gowns were very popular, inspired by the intense
colors and beautiful designs of India
Later in the Regency we begin to see heavier silk fabrics coming back into style, along with bold colors. These gowns featured Indian and Asian inspired embroidery, beading, and decoration, and could be very complex in the cuts of the bodice, but still featured the straight-front skirts, and gathered backs.

For Winter
Cool-weather wear included the pelisse, the spencer, and the open robe.

A green pelisse with much detail

A slate grey/blue pelisse
The pelisse is a long coat, often made of wool or velvet, that completely covers the dress, and was long-sleeved.
A spencer with military detailing and textured fabric

A quilted silk spencer
The spencer is a short jacket worn just over the bodice, fastening under the bust, and allowing the skirts of the gown underneath to show.
The Lady of Portland House's open robe, from Janet Arnold's
pattern (Patterns of Fashion 1)

An extant open robe from the the late 1790s, early 1800s.

The open robe is an over dress, with short, 3/4 or long sleeves, the drapes the full length of the gown, but is open in front, closing with a belt under the bust.

The pelisse and spencer are for outside, travelling, and riding, whereas the open robe is more of an evening or indoor garment.

Ballgowns and Evening Wear
A ballgown would be the appropriate garment for evening. These were often silk, taffeta, shiny, luxurious fabrics, with glitzy details, lace overlays, or in stunning bold colors. Here are some beautiful examples of ballgowns from the later Regency:

Hair, Hats, and Head Things
Regency hair styling was relatively simple in comparison to other periods. Think Greek and Roman - the hair was curled and pulled up into a high, short ponytail or a bun. The front of the hair was allowed to stay loose and fall in short ringlets over the ears and forehead. JaneAustenWorld has an excellent article on hairstyles and accessories.

Popular evening hair accoutrement included ostrich plumes, ribbons, wraps (again, think Greek), decorative combs and clips, and turbans.
A lady wearing beautiful evening dress, with a turban and feathers

Other accessories for ladies included a reticule, a folding fan, long white gloves, and delicate slippers.

The shape of these slippers is simple and modern.

an embroidered reticule, to keep your things in.
Resources for Regency:

Jane Austen World
We Make History - and Introduction to Ladies' Fashions of the Regency Era
Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion
Fashion Era - Regency Fashion History

Emma (2009)
Emma (Gwenyth Paltrow)
Sense & Sensibility (Special Edition)
Pride & Prejudice (Keira Knightly)
Pride and Prejudice (Restored Edition) (Colin Firth)
Vanity Fair (Widescreen) (Reeser Witherspoon)
Regency House Party

Reference Books
Fashion: The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute
Federalist & Regency Costume: 1790-1819
Regency Era Fashion Plates: 1800-1819
Design Your Own Regency Dress

Simplicity 9221 - Regency Tea Gown and Jacket Costume Pattern - Size DD (4, 6, 8, 10)
1804 - 1812 Regency Gown Pattern
1790 -1810 Regency Evening Dress Pattern
Empire Dress Pattern
Regency Underthings Pattern
Butterick Sewing Pattern 6630 Misses' Regency Gown & Coat, Sizes 12-14-16
Simplicity Sewing Pattern 4055 Historical Costume / Regency Gown for Misses
Butterick Sewing Pattern B4890 Misses Historical Costume / Medieval Dress, Sizes 6-12, or 14-20
Early 1800s Regency Era Stays Pattern
1800 -1820 Regency Corset Pattern

Where to Buy Online (pre-made costume pieces):
Regency Reproductions
Garland of Grace on Etsy
Reproductions on Etsy
Little Bits Clothing Co. on Etsy


  1. Awesome post, Lauren. Very thorough and informative. Too bad I will not be able to make it to the party :(

  2. Gorgeous! May I please ask which museum the blue "sari" dress came from? I would love to learn more about it. Thank you!

  3. Stephanie,
    I have no idea, lol. I did an image search on Google and saved the photos that looked good. Sorry!