Fashion of the regency are was defined by the thin fabrics
luxurious embellishments and high empire waistlines. France had a strong
influence on the fashion of this time.
The French Revolution
The French textile industry suffered greatly during the
French revolution and unlike in England, use of textile machinery had been
In 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Emperor as part of
his rule he wanted to make France the leader of fashion and craft skills so he
stopped the import of English textiles in favour of having France crate their
own and reopened the Valenciennes lace which made tulle and batiste. He forbid
women from wearing the same dress more than once to court in order for them to
buy more fabric ad extra fabric also began to be added to their dresses in the
form of gathering in the back and long trains that were worn in the evenings.
He had fireplaces blocked off to encourage women to wear more clothing. Bonaparte
was following France’s tradition of showing off their economy through fashion.
Bonaparte did not forget the importance of male fashion either enforcing all military
officials to wear white satin breeches on formal occasions.
Empress Josephine was the ideal model for the slender
dresses seen in the regency era and because of how good she looked while
wearing the outfits became a fashion icon and leader of the times.
The Gothic Influence
In 1811 the British were influenced by the gothic styles of
the middle ages. Bodices became shapelier and were panelled. Opting for more
comfortable wear the waistline was not as tight and narrow but instead the
shoulder line was broadened to give off a similar cinched in silhouette without
The Napoleonic Wars
During the Napoleonic wars fashion took on a military style for
both men and women. Frogging, braids, cords, velvet and various other trims were
commonly seen on clothing during this time especially on outdoor wear. When the
wars ended in 1815 and the peace treaty was signed Britain adopted various
French fashion trend such as the empire waistline. Around 1816 to 1817 the
waistline being directly under the breast was fashionable but eventually fell
and tightened to the regular waistline by 1825.
The dresses of the 1800’s were thin enough to show the
natural body outline as the muslin fabric would cling to the wearers body
because of this it became unpopular to wear stays unless the figure demanded
them. As the fabric of these dresses was so thin there was not a lot of warmth
so the women would wear warm undergarments known as pantaloons which were
already worn by men. They were made of flesh toned stockinet reached to either
below the knee or the ankles. These pantaloons gave of the illusion that women
were wearing no underwear as they could not be seen through the thin fabric of
the dresses. Bustle pads were worn as another underwear layer to lift the back
of the skirt and add more fullness to the dress back. Slips became popular
later in the regency era and were most commonly in white pastel colours and
made of silk or satin they were worn over stays so that the dress silhouette
would stay smooth. During winter warmth came from flannel petticoats or full
under slip dresses.
The empire style was the most common silhouette of the
regency era in started in the late 1790’s and began as a chemise shift gathered
under the breasts and at the neck by 1799 the empire silhouette seen during the
regency era was well established. The A-line skirt of these dresses was very
full which was achieved by using a girdle to gather the muslin fabric under the
bust line. The necklines of the dresses were often low and square and small
neat puff sleeves that barely capped the shoulder were part of these dresses.
The backs of the bodices were often narrowly cut which pulled back the
shoulders of the wearer restricting arm movement slightly.
Fine white lawn, muslin or batiste was mostly used for the
dresses of the regency era. These fabrics were most commonly woven and dyed in
India. White gowns were a way to show a person’s social status as the white
fabric was very difficult to keep clean and were often kept for evening wear.
During winter thinner fabrics were swapped out for heavier velvets, cottons,
linens, fine wools and silks.
The base of the dress in the regency era was very simple
there was rarely any colour as whites and pastels were popular at the time and
fabrics rarely had any patters to counter act this garments often had
elaborately embroidered trim of varying styles. Between 1804 and 1807 the designs
adopted an eastern exotic feel with Etruscan and
Egyptian decoration inspired by gifts Napoleon gave to his Empress Josephine
after his visits to Egypt. Spanish ornaments featured on clothing after 1808 as
slashed areas and tiered sleeves. A particular style of sleave that covers the
hand and was called the à la mamelouk also became popular around this time.
Shawls were worn to give warmth to the wearer as the light
weight dresses were not sufficient in supplying warmth and were considered the
most attractive and useful accessory, stoles and lond slender scarves were also
used but shawls were most commonly worn and were considered the most
fashionable. Many different types of shawls existed such as tulle shawls which
suited evening dresses, muslin net shawls worn mostly in Essex, silk and wool
shawls which had heavy Chinese influence, and cashmere shawls which were
warmest shawls in the regency era. Shawls with embroidery or woven designs were
considered the most attractive.
There were many kinds of interesting and outrageous headwear
in the regency era. There was a large selection of hats from small caps to
enormous ribbon decorated bonnets. As well as hats there were turbans which
were mostly seen at night, while caps were usually seen during the day, the cap
was also used to cover up setting hair that had been tied up to be release
later in the day as ringlets. Bonnets trimmed with ribbons, feathers, frills
and sometimes flowers got larger as the years went on and by 1815 the crown of
the bonnet became very large and was called the Leghorn style which comes from
the leghorn straw used. Fabrics such as taffeta silk were ruched and pleated to
make flowerpot style hats with wide deep brims.
Women wore a limited amount of jewellery and preferred to
wear dainty necklaces and jewelled hair ornaments all modelled on original
Greek items. Many of the hairstyles were influenced by Grecian ones. Hairstyles
were mostly short so false hair in ringlets was added to show of earrings. As
the regency progressed more elaborate hairstyles and jewellery were worn and
matching jewellery sets called Parurers became popular.
Footwear in the regency era was relatively simple and
consisted of a low healed or flat pump that was often trimmed with a bow or
rosebud. The shoes were very flimsy as they were made from various soft cloths
such as silk which cause them to wear out very easily occasionally the flat
shoes had ribbon ties that were crossed over the leg reaching to the calves.
Because these shoes were so flimsy they wearer mainly worn indoors or during
the evening but a shoe called the half boot was worn outdoors as it was more
durable being made from heavy materials.