Progress of the Toilet, a series of engravings created in 1810 by James Gillray, a renowned and prolific British caricaturist, show three illustrations that depict a young lady being dressed by her maid. The details in these prints from an extensive print collection at the Yale University Library are striking and informative.
In the first plate, The Stays, Gillray depicts a young lady in her undergarments and wearing a cap, stockings, and slippers. On the floor sit a bowl and pitcher with water. Toiletries, pins, and jewelry are scattered on top of her dressing table. She inserts a busk between her breasts as her maid tightens her stays. Find a more detailed explanation about regency undergarments and regency fashions by clicking on the bolded words.
Elaborate powdered wigs of the previous century gave way to simpler hair styles, some cut quite short. In the illustration entitled The Wig, the maid prepares to place a short curly wig on her mistress’ head. Note that the mirror is now full length and that the side table looks different. Our young lady sits in a simple muslin day gown, with neck and arms covered, reading a book as her maid prepares her. A bonnet and an open robe or pelise (on chair) will complete her toilette. Find more regency hairstyles on this site.
In the third engraving, Dress Completed, we observe our young lady dressed for the evening and putting on evening gloves, which, typical of the day, are loose at the top. Her maid holds a shawl and fan, and her reticule hangs on a hook on the wall. The side table is no longer visible; her fashion plate book/magazine lies discarded on the floor. Our young lady’s slippers probably looked like this pair below. For a comprehensive view of footwear during this era, click here.
In The Mirror of Graces, 1811, a Lady of Distinction write, “Perhaps it is necessary to remind my readers that custom regulates the veiling or unveling the figure, according to different periods in the day. In the morning the arms and bosom must be completely covered to the throat and wrists. From the dinner-hour to the termination of the day, the arms, to a graceful height above the elbow, may be bare; and the neck and shoulders unveiled as far as delicacy will allow.”