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Among the principle gifts in 1908 may be mentioned: – suit of clothes, &c., formerly belonging to Mr Thomas Coutts, the founder of Coutts Bank, died 1822, given by Francis Coutts, Esq., Announcement for The Victoria & Albert Museum

Shirt. Image @Metropolitan Museum of Art

This cryptic announcement does not tell the whole story of how a number of important museums around the world came into the possession of several portions of Mr. Coutt’s wardrobe. In her excellent book, Four Hundred Years of Fashion, Natalie Rothstein (curator of silks at the Victoria & Albert Museum) recounted how the clothes that had once been worn by Thomas Coutts, successful banker, came to be passed down for several generations in the family and divided among a number of major museums in 1908 and 1912.  The collection was unusual, for it consisted of the entire wardrobe of a gentleman who lived in the early 19th century, that included:

the considerable number of cloth costumes, articles of hosiery and underclothing left by Mr Thomas Coutts at the time of his death, 24th February 1822 . . . The cloth suits are all of a plain black and of precisely the same cut, so that only one is necessary for exhibition.”

One of the ten wigs in the “brutus” style. One wonders if Mr. Coutts is wearing one in the illustration below! Image @The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Top hat

Additional clothes in the collection include: 57 items of underwear made of linen or wool,  46 shirts made of a fine cambric and with and without frills, four spotted nightgowns, several plain nightgowns, 13 pair of leather and wool gloves, ten wigs and three beaver hats. Such a large, intact group of clothes from one source was rare and unique. Ironically for the museums, according to Strandlines, “Thomas Coutts seems to have been an eccentric man, who preferred to dress scruffily and to hide his wealth, rather than display it.”

Thomas Coutts. {From an engraving by R. W. Sievier of an oil painting by Sir W. Beechey, R.A.)

Coutts was not a wit himself or the cause of wit in others. There are, indeed, two or three anecdotes, ” duplications,” in the argot of the Higher Criticism of the same legend, which turn upon the piquant incongruity of his garb with his gear. He is dressed in a threadbare coat, “the costume of a decayed gentleman,” and a benevolent stranger of limited means presses a guinea into his hand, and then to his dismay learns that he has ” pouched ” the wealthiest man in England. It may have been so. A dean once complained to the present writer that he was often mistaken for the verger, and offered a shilling for his services as guide to the Cathedral. It is possible that before the days of Harriot Mellon, Coutts was sometimes ” attired in very faded, worn-out clothes,” but his wardrobe, which his widow preserved in camphor, was, like Alice Fell’s new cloak, as stout and ” warm as man can sell.” A select portion is preserved at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and may be inspected by the curious. He had, too, some five or six ” Brutus ” wigs, which were of the finest make and the costliest description. Even if these legends are founded on fact, they are hardly worth the re-telling.” – The life of Thomas Coutts, bankerErnest Hartley Coleridge (1920).

Harriot Mellon Coutts and the future Duchess of St. Albans, painted by Sir William Beechey in 1817-1818. She preserved her husband’s wardrobe.

It was fortuitous that Coutt’s second wife, Harriot Coutts, nee Mellon, was the daughter of a wardrobe-keeper in a company of strolling players. One can only imagine that when she was made a widow the preservation of her husband’s wardrobe would come naturally to her. The Victoria & Albert Museum eventually acquired three suits, several sets of the underwear, two of the spotted nightgown, and some accessories. The rest of Coutts’s wardrobe was (sadly) divided among a number of museums, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Royal Ontario Museum, The Royal Scottish Museum, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, and more. All but one of the museums would receive a black suit. With vast understatement, Ms. Rothstein (who laments the break up of such an intact collection) writes:

The clothes worn by Mr Coutts were probably not the height of fashion but rather conservative. There is no mention of any trousers for instance, in the full list of his clothes. All his suits had breeches. The cut of his coats is consistent with the current fashions: his tailor was probably as conservative as his customer. None of his coats had a waist seam. - Four Hundred Years of Fashion, Natalie Rothstein, p. 62

Black wool day suit. Image @ Victoria & Albert Museum

Since the late 16th century, middle-class professionals like doctors, lawyers, clergymen, academics, merchants, and businessmen have worn these stark black suits. This tradition continued through the 19th century and well into the 20th. “The sombre colour of this suit befits the sober profession of its wearer, Thomas Coutts (1735-1822), the founder of Coutts Bank., including the old-fashioned breeches, which suited his age. Top hat made in Great Britain, ca. 1800-1817. Cotton shirt, (1800-1820) made in England. (Text from the V&A.)

Detail of one of Coutts’s nightgowns. Image @Victoria & Albert Museum

Nightgown. Image @V&A

Nightgown. Image @V&A

Nightgowns were worn over shirt and breeches, in the privacy of home before noon or late at night.  The tufts of black wool on the cream wool fabric are meant to imitate ermine. These nightgowns come from the wardrobe of Thomas Coutts (1735-1822), the founder of Coutts Bank. (Text from the V&A.)

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Copyright (c) Jane Austen’s World. Look at this lovely Regency lady in this image from 1814. Her petticoat peeps under her fashionably short gown, whose conical shaped skirt has been given a definite shape by the undergarment.

1814 Ball Dress, Costume Parisien

At the turn of the century, when lighter cloths were used to fashion gowns and when the dress silhouette was columnar and worn close to the body, the use of a chemise or petticoat was even more crucial, for the thin fabric would cling to the legs and work its way between them without the barrier of the petticoat. A few weeks ago, one of my posts created a stir when I revealed that drawers were regarded as optional underwear for Regency ladies, and readers wondered how a Regency lady could withstand the cold in winter.

Morning Dress, Ladies Monthly Museum.

While bloomers were optional,  a petticoat was an absolutely necessity. Dress fabrics were gossamer thin, and petticoats, made of sturdier linen or cotton, and reinforced with tucks and perhaps a thin line of boning at the hem, served to give shape to the hem of the dress, keeping it away from the feet and body. As skirts rose, the decorative elements of a petticoat peeped out under the skirt. Below, one can see a typical petticoat of the day (with corset on top of it). This one is short, but the tucks are evident.

Petticoat

Without this undergarment, the thin fabric of a ladies gown would hug her body, revealing her legs and her mons of Venus in stark outlines when she moved. Gillray’s cartoon of The Three Graces in High Wind demonstrates how revealing Regency dresses were, even when petticoats were worn.

The Three Graces in High Wind, James Gillray, 1810

Illustrators James Gillray, Isaac Cruickshank, and Thomas Rowlandson relished making fun of the new fashions. In the image below Gillray shows the effects of wearing a gown without underwear and taking the fashion features of décolleté and side slits to the extreme. Rather than creating an elegant effect, the lady resembled a tart.

Boilly’s painting shows how clearly the chemise, which ended above the knees, shows through the thin fabric of this lady’s gown.

Point de Convention, Louis-Léopold Boilly, ca. 1797. Image @ Wikimedia Commons.

This image from the Kyoto Costume Institute also demonstrates the transparency of Regency gown fabrics.

White muslin dress with whitework embroidery, 1810. Image Kyoto Costume Institute.

The unusual (and rare) practice of dampening one’s gown at the turn of the century was most likely followed by light-o-loves, courtesans, ladybirds, cyprians, and women of ill repute. Aristocratic women who were confident in their unassailable status might have gotten away with such licentious behavior on a dare, and their fashion inclinations might have been considered “au courant”, but no proper lady, no young miss on the marriage mart, no merchant’s daughter looking to improve her station in life, would for a moment consider walking out in public without the protection of a chemise or petticoat, much less wet her gown to make it more revealing. While caricaturists showed enormous zest in depicting the new revealing fashions, they exaggerated the trend of these flimsy gowns out of all proportion in their visual commentaries.

Isaak Cruikshank, Parisian ladies in full winter dress, 1800. Image @ Wikimedia Commons.

Addendum: I must add that another primary purpose of these undergarments was to protect the delicate outer garment from soiling. In Regency times people did not wash themselves frequently, and petticoats and chemises presented a barrier between unwashed and sweaty skin and the dress. Since undergarments were made of sturdier fabrics, they could be laundered more often. In addition, people with less means owned fewer gowns and employed fewer servants to do the laundering. Even these ladies owned a number of chemises (usually homemade) and petticoats that could be washed frequently, thereby protecting their every day AND special gowns.

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To our modern eyes, Regency empire dresses represent a charmed and romantic era. But in 1794, the high-waisted look that had so recently come into fashion aroused much ridicule, and was described as the “banishment of the body from the female form.” The Rage, or Shepherds I have Lost My Waist was a doggerel based upon a popular song of the time: “Shepherds I have lost my love – Have you seen my Anna?”

Shepherds, I have lost my waist,
Have you seen my body?
Sacrificed to modern taste,
I’m quite a hoddy doddy!
For fashion I that part forsook
Where sages place the belly;
T’is gone – and I have not a nook
For cheesecake, tart, or jelly.
Never shall I see it more,
Till common sense returning,
My body to my legs restore,
Then I shall cease from mourning.
Folly and fashion do prevail
To such extremes among the fair,
A woman’s only top and tail,
The body’s banish’d God knows where!”

The implication of the ditty was of the poor lady’s predicament. She had to refuse cakes and jelly for her dressmaker had left her with no body. Worse, her legs looked as if they started just below her breasts.


This image shows a lady wearing the latest rages: tall feathers and an enormous watch with fob suspended below a girdle without a waist.

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Hems (l - r) 1795, 1800, 1805-1810, 1816

Its all in the details Making a Regency Ballgown is a useful site for people who are interested in studying regency costumes or making a regency ballgown. The site is arranged in year order and makes the evolving styles clear. The evening or ballgowns are arranged by year and described in detail by bodices, sleeves, skirts, hair and hats. The information can also be downloaded as a PDF document. This is the clearest description of the changes in hemline that I have seen on a site. Trains, simple hems and long skirst gave way to fancy hems and skirts that revealed slippers and ankles.

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1803 Mirroir de la Mode Evening Dress

In 1803, a woman named Madame Lanchester of Bond Street, published  ‘Le Miroir de la Mode‘. By 1804, scarcely two years after it appeared, the magazine had vanished. (Although The Museum of London has at least one plate published by Madame Lanchester which is dated 1807).  Very little is known about the woman, who had designed for other publications, such as Richard Phillips Fashions of London and Paris.

La Miroir de la Mode was a short-lived, expensive, and large quarto-sized magazine published only from 1803 to 1804, clearly a failed attempt to follow in the footsteps of the defunct Gallery of Fashion, which was also quarto size. The publisher was the famous modiste, Madame Lanchester, who later wrote fashion descriptions and commentary for Ackermann’s Repository. – Word Wenches: Regency Ladies Magazines, Part 3

Ebay is a rich resource for people who are interested  in viewing Regency fashion plates, as this page by Cabrio4 attests. People can purchase their own fashion plates for a reasonable  price, with this particular seller enjoying a reputation of 100% satisfaction. The small image below of a Full Walking Dress  from  ‘Le Miroir de la Mode’, April 1803 (Measures approx: 10.5″ x 8.5″), is extremely rare (and has been sold).

Walking dress, 1803, Mirroir de la Mode

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Early Georgian & Regency Fashion Prints to 1806 – Guide written by Cabrio4, eBay seller
Regency Ladies’ Magazines, Part One
Regency Ladies’ Magazines, Part Two
Regency Ladies’ Magazines, Part Three

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Share/Bookmark// Find examples of Regency dresses and unmentionables in this extensive database by Démodé. The clothes featured in this link are from 1800 through 1830. Examples include corsets, bodices, shifts, underdresses, petticoats, day dresses, spencers, robes, etc, from collections around the world. These images are representative of the Démodé Regency collection.

Corset, Metropolitan Museum, c. 1798-1810

1800 Muslin gown from the V & A Collection

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Everything we now use is made [in] imitation of those models lately discovered in Italy. – Observation by an Englishman

diana sackville detail 1777

Diana Sackville, 1777

In the late 18th century, hairstyles for women took a dramatic turn from the pouffed-up and constructed hairdos of the earlier Georgian age to the simple hair styles inspired by the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians. Curls now framed the face and chignons replaced the complicated, almost architectural concoctions that took hairdressers hours to create. Ancient statues and works of art brought back as spoils of war or as souvenirs from grand tours revealed classical hairstyles. Women began to wear simpler hairdos with long hair pulled back in chignons or simple pony tails, long curls trailing over the shoulder, and short ringlets framing the face. Hair ornaments consisted of flower wreaths, ribbons, jewelry, tiaras, and combs.

greek and roman influences

Hairstyles on statues from antiquity

Lady Caroline Lamb (lower left) sported a saucy short bob, whose influence can be seen from the portrait in the Roman mural at the Metropolitan Museum. Madame Recamier, whose hair is longer, achieves a similar effect with ringlets around her face. Her curly hair, gathered in back, allowed the ringlets to fall. At right, the Marchioness of Queenston achieved a very similar style to Madame Recamier’s, but her bandeau sat further back on her head and the ringlets framing her face were thicker.

Curly styles

Longer hair, while not as prevalent as the up-do’s, usually took the form of a long curl draped over the shoulder. At second to right, Mrs. Henry Baring wore a more casual “do”, with her locks streaming around her neck and shoulders.

long hair

The long curl

Straight, simple hairstyles with few ringlets and ordinary bangs, or a style simply parted in the middle were worn, but were not drawn or painted by artists or depicted in fashion plates as often as the curlier styles.

plain ringlet free

Fashion plates of the time show how these hairstyles looked with bonnets and hair ornaments with a (l – r) walking dress, ball gown, afternoon dress, or morning dress.

fashion plate

The hairstyles that Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson wore in Sense and Sensibility seemed to be particularly true to the period (in my opinion). Some of you may have noticed that I use Kate Winslet’s image of Marianne as my avatar.

hair styles

This image of a Roman statue (a copy of an earlier Greek statue) shows the hairstyle that would become prevalent in the later Regency/early Victorian era (1820’s to 1830’s).

marble head of a woman roman copy of greek statue

1st C. AD Roman bust

“We wore white crepe dresses trimmed with satin ribbon & the bodices & sleeves spotted with white beads. . . Thursday night, Pearl combs, necklaces, earrings, & brooches. . . Tuesday evening we had sprigged muslin. . . gold ornaments & flowers in our heads & Friday we wore yellow gauze dresses over satin, beads in our heads & pearl ornaments” – Fanny Knight Austen

Evening dresses, fronticepiece, The Mirror of Graces,, 1811

Fanny Knight wrote a vivid description of how women dressed and what sort of accessories were popular when she was a young woman. The 1811 fronticepiece to The Mirror of Graces (above) shows how simple and elegant the combination of Neoclassical hair, dress, and accessories looked.  Jewelry styles favored smaller, lighter forms of draped chains and classical motifs, which were reflected in hair ornaments. These days jewelry from the Georgian era is difficult to find, for many of the pieces were refitted or redesigned to reflect motifs of the neoclassical period. (Neoclassical Jewellery ). Ebay Guides can be extremely useful in researching information about this era, such as this one entitled,  Georgian and Regency Combs and Hair Accessories – 1800-1814. (Click here for the PDF document.)

tiaras and combs

Georgian tiara and combs, early 19th c.

In addition to gold and silver hair ornaments, such as tiaras and diadems, young women wore silk ribbons, strands of pearls, feathers and other fancy hair ornaments in their hair, most notably for balls and formal occasions. These hair jewels were a visible sign of a family’s or husband’s wealth. Bonnets, hats, or turbans were also worn on social outings. The second image from the right (above) is of a George III silver comb, 1807.  “Silver combs of this type appear to have been a speciality of Birmingham, where they were produced in a small quantity and in a collectable variety of forms.” (Cinoa)

As the Regency era progressed long hair became increasingly popular and full ringlets began to appear near the side of the face. Hair ornaments for balls included jewellery, bandeaux, turbans and wreaths of grapes and towards the latter end of the Regency era flowers, turbans and ostrich feathers were seen to adorn the hair. (Overseale House)

ornaments

These days we achieve curls and ringlets with a hot curling iron. The use of hot irons in the 19th century was tricky, for hair could easily be singed. Back then, curls were made with pomade, a hair gel, and curling papers. The lost art of the paper curl describes how a person today can make a similar curl using old-fashioned techniques.

Lydia is exposed to an unregency like cut

Perdita Weeks as Lydia Bennet in Lost in Austen

The transition from the structured hairstyles of the mid-18th Century to the Regency period was not achieved without its own set of complications, as this James Gillray cartoon shows. The cartoon was drawn in the earlier Neoclassical period, when round gowns were still worn.

gillray fashion cartoon

A lady putting on her cap, Gillray, 1795

The fashion plate below shows how charming and uncomplicated, yet classic, the combination of the 1802 hairstyles and afternoon dresses are together, whereas the 1811 fronticepiece showed how rich both hair and fabric can be made to look using similar principles of fashion design.

1802 Lady's Monthly Museum afternoon dress june Payne Milliner Old Bond Street

Afternoon Dress 1802 Lady's Monthly Museum

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