Copyright (c) Jane Austen’s World. A fine mist and cool air will greet my dog and me on our morning walk. I intend to put on a thick short coat and scarf, and faux fur lined boots. How would my Regency counterpart have dressed in November, 1810, precisely 200 years ago?
More elegantly, I decided. While I putter on my computer in my jammies and robe, and sip coffee upon first rising, my Regency counterpart would have sipped hot chocolate from a delicate china cup and written letters, read from a book, or practiced on the pianoforte, as Jane Austen was wont to do in the early morning.
The maid would have started a fire in the morning room, but the house overall would have felt much cooler than it did even a month ago. A Rumford stove, which was becoming quite popular, would have retained more heat, but as you can see, our Regency miss is swathed in a cap, long sleeved dress, and a high-necked chemisette. She wears gloves, stockings, and thin slippers. Layered as she is (for she probably wore a corseted petticoat underneath her ensemble and perhaps even a chemise), she would have felt comfortably warm. Had she still felt cold, she could opt to throw a thick shawl around her shoulders and a small throw over her lap.
Morning dress, or undress, were dresses worn by ladies who expected to be seen only by close members of the family or guests in the home. They were never meant to be seen by visitors. Undress outfits, especially in more modest households where women worked alongside their servants, preparing vegetables or overseeing household duties, gardening and the like, were covered by aprons and pinafores.
In this image from Sense and Sensibility 1996, Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood are shown wearing undress. As soon as Edward Ferrars nears the house, the women tidy themselves, taking off their aprons, and making sure they look neat and presentable. They would not have had time to change into nicer outfits, nor would they have likely had many choices of dress to choose from.
Some Regency ladies who stayed at home all day would remain in a state of undress until dinner, when they changed into a gown suitable for the dinner table. Others would change their outfit much sooner, when they were ready to leave the house or if they had arranged to receive visitors. After I finish writing this post, I shall put on my half-dress, replacing my morning robe with a walking outfit consisting of a hooded sweatshirt, long-sleeved t-shirt, jeans a short coat and a scarf. I’ll exchange these outdoor exercise clothes with a more formal office look for work, which means that I will have worn three outfits by nine a.m.
My Regency counterpart would also change her outfit. A lady of fashion would look vastly more elegant in her walking outfit with its little fur tippet artfully arranged over a long-sleeved spencer jacket than me in my walking suit. If she was married or a spinster, she would place her jaunty hat with its soft capote crown over a cap, whose lace trim would peep out from beneath the hat’s brim. Sturdier leather slippers, leather gloves, a reticule and umbrella or parasol would complete the ensemble.
A middle class lady would look less modish than the idealized women depicted in Ackermann’s Repository, which was the Vogue magazine of its day. She would have fewer clothes to choose from, and most likely possessed only one walking outfit instead of a variety, and certainly not in the first stare of fashion.
Whatever her social background, our Regency lady was now ready to meet the world and visit friends, go shopping, or generally run errands outside of the house. The walking outfit in the Ackermann plate provided sufficient layers for a lady to stay warm during her walks and errands. Should the November day turn particularly windy and wet, she would most likely trade the tiny fur tippet for a more substantial shawl or cloak. The middle class Regency lady might trade her shawl for her only cloak, which she would keep for years until its usefulness was outworn.
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