Artifact Corner: Regency Era Women’s Fashion

Hi everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a lovely miniature portrait of Margaret Bloodgood Hall, by artist Robert Fulton. This portrait was painted sometime during the 18 teens, and is painted on ivory, in a velvet frame. Just by looking at the portrait though, we can tell that it was painted during the Regency period. Her hair style, and her gown are all indicative of the time period. Let’s learn a bit more about women’s fashions in the Regency period.

In the 18th Century, women’s fashions tended towards the opulent with larger silhouettes. The late 1700’s saw the end of the wide panniers, conical stays, and figured silks that were so popular throughout the bulk of the eighteenth century. Fashions had melted into a neoclassical dress that revealed the natural body, with a high waist and lightweight draping muslins. Throughout the Regency, there were certain elements of fashion that remained fairly consistent. Necklines were low and wide, filled in for daytime with fichus, scarves, or chemisettes; a high waistline; a fitted bodice, and fitted sleeves, either short and puffed, elbow-length, or long. Day wear was often a long sleeved gown or chemise dress, made from lightweight white muslin or cotton, that was gathered in the back with a train. Evening wear for a woman in the Regency period was very similar to day dress, but the fabrics could be more elaborate. Light weight silks and satins would be worn, and sleeves could be short and puffed. Outerwear and accessories were essential elements of the period, and were often the way of introducing pops of color. The most important accessory of the neoclassical period was the shawl, specifically Indian kashmiris or cashmere. Lightweight muslin gowns did not provide much protection from the cold, and shawls became a necessary accessory; not only did they provide warmth, they added to the classical draped effect. By the 18-teens the pelisse or redingote, both types of long coats, or the spencer, a cropped jacket were the most common. These garments often displayed the influence of the wars, with a widespread use of military-inspired trim. Braid, tassels, frogging, and cords festooned female outerwear especially. There was a stunning variety of hats, caps, and bonnets. White muslin day caps were worn indoors by married or older women and in the evening, turbans, brought to European fashion through Napoleon’s occupation of Egypt, remained a stylish choice. Outdoor hats and bonnets ranged from the face-shielding poke bonnets to tall conical hats inspired by the shakos worn with hussar uniforms. Poke bonnets could be decorated with flowers, ribbons, bird feathers, cording, and much more.

So, how would a woman get dressed in this period? First you would start with the foundations, a short sleeved cotton or linen shift was the foundation garment for every outfit. Next you would put on your stockings, which could be made from wool or silk and would be held in place with a garter tied just below the knee. Next you would have to put on your stays which were your support garment, these were most often corded, made from cotton and laced up in the back. Stays at this point could be waist length or terminate just under the bust. Because the stays were made with cording, rather than boned, they were more flexible than earlier versions. A full length cotton petticoat was worn over the stay to help smooth out the overall look of the garments. Next, you could wear a chemisette, a short blouse like garment without sleeves, could be worn to fill in the neckline of a gown for modesty and protection from the sun. Next you would put on the actual gown. Now you can slip on your shoes, which were flat soled and made from either fabric or leather. And our Regency woman is ready for her day. If she was going out, she could throw on a Spencer jacket and a poke bonnet to complete her ensemble.

Now, this is by no means a comprehensive look at all of the different fashion trends during the Regency period. Just like today, trends came and went quickly. Our little portrait of Margaret Hall shows her white muslin gown, with an empire waist, and it looks like she might be pulling a pale yellow shawl over her one shoulder. This portrait is so perfect for the Regency period, and we are so lucky to have it in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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License (CC BY 4.0):
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