Posts Tagged ‘regency dress’

India shawl made of cotton, silk, and gold thread. 1790-1800, Napoleon-fashion.com

India shawl made of cotton, silk, and gold thread. 1790-1800, Napoleon-fashion.com

Indian influence on Regency dress included fine Indian muslin, used for dresses and cravats, and beautiful, expensive hand-loomed shawls. During the late 18th-early 19th century, an unprecedented number of Indian cloths, made of quality fabrics, were exported to Britain. These cloths were expressly made for the British market, with colors and chintz patterns toned down to appeal to the more restrained British taste.

While cheaper and inferior imitation paisley shawls were increasingly made in Great Britain (by 1821, shawls made in British locations like Spitalfields and Scottland would overtake the Indian exports in numbers sold), the authentic Indian shawl was highly prized for its quality, cost, and prestige. These shawls were so popular with those who could afford them that they were presented to friends and family members by merchants, soldiers, and visitors returning from the East Indies. Made of durable cloth, they were carefully handled and handed down from mother to daughter and aunt to niece over the years.

Shawls not only added prestige and style to a lady’s wardrobe, they served other functions, such as color and pattern. They definitely added warmth to the thin, gauzy, almost transparent muslin gowns that became so popular at the turn of the 19th century. The shawls lent themselves to other uses as well.

Lady Hamilton, Lord Horatio Nelson mistress, used the shawls to great effect for her “Attitudes,” as described by Mrs. St. George, who had the occasion to witness several of her performances.

From their book Drawings Faithfully Copied from Nature at Naples by Friedrich Rehberg, Engraver and Tommaso Piroli, Illustrator, 1794 4

From their book Drawings Faithfully Copied from Nature at Naples by Friedrich Rehberg, Engraver and Tommaso Piroli, Illustrator, 1794 4

She assumes their attitude expression, and drapery with great facility, swiftness, and accuracy. Several Indian shawls, a chair, some antique vases,  a wreath of roses, a tambourine, and a few children are her whole apparatus. She stands at one end of the room, with a strong light to her left, and every other window closed. Her hair (which by-the-bye) is never clean is short, dressed like an antique, and her gown a simple calico chemise, very easy, with loose sleeves to the wrist. She disposes the shawls so as to form Grecian, Turkish, and other drapery, as well as a variety of turbans. Her arrangement of the turbans is absolute sleight of hand, she does it so quickly, so easily, and so well. It is a beautiful performance, amusing to the most ignorant, and highly interesting to lovers of art. The chief of her imitations are from the antique. Each representation lasts about ten minutes. It is remarkable that, though coarse and ungraceful in common life, she becomes highly graceful, and even beautiful, during this performance. It is also singular that, in spite of the accuracy of her imitation of the finest ancient draperies, her usual dress is tasteless, vulgar, loaded, and unbecoming. – Account by Mrs. St. George, Wit, Beaux, and Beauties of the Georgian Era, John Fyvie, 1909, pp 335-336.

As I collected Pinterest images of fashion plates of elegant ladies and their shawls, I saw how much elegance and beauty these accessories added to a woman’s arm and hand gestures. The artists who drew the fashion plates were certainly aware of these effects. I have created a short gallery of an example of the beauty that shawls added to a woman’s figure and fashion statement. Enjoy.

More on the topic:

Read Full Post »

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.)

More on the topic:

Read Full Post »

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.


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.

More on the topic:

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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

More about the topic

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

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,079 other followers