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Undress, Half Dress, Full Dress: Making Sense of It All

When Lydia went away, she promised to write very often and very minutely to her mother and Kitty; but her letters were always long expected, and always very short.

Those to her mother contained little else, than that they were just returned from the library, where such and such officers had attended them, and where she had seen such beautiful ornaments as made her quite wild; that she had a new gown, or a new parasol, which she would have described more fully, but was obliged to leave off in a violent hurry, as Mrs Forster called her, and they were going to the camp; — and from her correspondence with her sister, there was still less to be learnt — for her letters to Kitty, though rather longer, were much too full of lines under the words to be made public.
Pride and Prejudice

Let us understand from the start that the term “Undress” did not signify being unclothed. Likewise, “Half Dress” did not mean one was literally half- dressed. The terms are categorical, not literal. Like Full Dress, their name referred more to function than a state of being. In which case you may ask, ‘What does it all mean?’

It means that there had to be a great many gowns in a genteel Regency lady’s wardrobe–regardless of the size of her fortune. Indeed, to be active in Society the necessity of owning a large wardrobe could hardly be avoided. In

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