During the 18th and early 19th century, social satire prints were engraved and sold separately in print shops. By 1750, the term ‘caricature’ was applied to almost any comic cartoon or satiric illustration.
The ‘golden age’ when James Gillray (1756-1815), Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) and George Cruikshank (1792-1878) were active, occurred between 1780 and 1830. Most satirical prints were produced in London and were sold singly by publishers and booksellers, such as S. W. Fores and William Holland, who also put together collections for clients and even hired them out. A wide range of prices reflected the very different sizes and degrees of sophistication of satirical prints. In 1807 the publisher Thomas Tegg started a business selling cheap, crudely coloured prints aimed at a wide market. - British Museum
“The Fashions of the Day, or Time Past and Present”, an 1807 caricature engraved by Charles Williams after a drawing by Woodward. It presents a contrast between “The Year 1740: A Lady’s full dress of Bombazeen (i.e. bombazine or bombasine, a heavy corded fabric. Black bombazine was worn by widows during heavy mourning) and “The year 1807: A Lady’s undress of Bum-be-seen.” There are some fascinating details to observe about the fashionable regency lady, whose decolletage is so low that her breasts are practically popping out of their restraints. One can see her drawers under her thin muslin dress, and her stockings come up over her knee. They were held up by garters. (Click on this link to read a fascinating article about stockings and to see a pair of 1820 stockings and garters. This link also leads to an article about 18th & 19th century hose.) Regency ladies as a rule did not wear drawers for the first 20 years of the 19th century. Those who did wore a modified version of men’s drawers, which tied at the waist and split in the middle. Chances were that, if she did not wear a petticoat or a chemise, her bum would have shown through the thin fabric!
Note that “undress” didn’t mean anything naughty — there’s a definition of it here. In pursuing his goal of satirizing certain features of contemporary 1807 fashions, the caricaturist did not really draw a fair comparison between the styles of 1740 and 1807, since a young Regency fashionable is juxtaposed here to a sedate middle-aged pre-Regency lady (perhaps in mourning), and such features of mid-18th century dress as tight stiff stays with extremely low necklines were not included (also, the “1740″ costume actually seems to be somewhat of a pastiche with 17th century styles).
(Women’s fashions of the Empire/Regency weren’t always “sensible”, but their excesses do seem to be more in accord overall with the spirit of the 21st century than the fashion excesses of most other periods between the 16th century and World War I, which tended to go in for such things as huge hoopskirts and tight corsets…)