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Fashionable Ballgowns

“I see what you think of me,” said he gravely — “I shall make but a poor figure in your journal tomorrow.”

“My journal!”

“Yes, I know exactly what you will say: Friday, went to the Lower Rooms; wore my sprigged muslin robe with blue trimmings — plain black shoes — appeared to much advantage; but was strangely harassed by a queer, half-witted man, who would make me dance with him, and distressed me by his nonsense.”

“Indeed I shall say no such thing.”

“Shall I tell you what you ought to say?”

“If you please.”

“I danced with a very agreeable young man, introduced by Mr King; had a great deal of conversation with him — seems a most extraordinary genius — hope I may know more of him. That, madam, is what I wish you to say.”

Northanger Abbey

In the minds of many a Regency lass nothing could be more delightful than a ball– planning for it, dressing for it, dancing at it and, afterward, meeting with friends to talk it all over. In the forefront, therefore, of every girls’ mind, must be how best to present oneself, and to this end, the pages of popular fashion magazines would have been indispensable. The following plates track the changing styles in Ballgowns from 1800-1824, a time in which Jane Austen’s writing flourished and she too would have been concerned with “the style of sleeves now worn”.

Right: Ball Dress, 1800, from Journal des Luxus und der Moden, 1800-14. This dress actually seems a little awkward for dancing with the tight fit of the sleeves and bodice and the train on the overdress.

Left: Ball Dress, 1801, from Journal des Dames et des Modes, also called Costume Parisien, 1797-1839. Plate is labeled “An 9.” This ball dress is so daring that the lady’s left bosom is showing, which may not be visible at this size and resolution. This dress was copied by The Ladies Magazine in their February of 1801 issue (see right figure), but the neckline has been raised. The train is trimmed with two rows of fabric roses, while the darker overdress is fringed.

Right: Ball Dress, February 1801, from The Lady’s Magazine, or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated Solely to Their Use and Amusement, 1770-1837. This ball dress was copied from a more daring plate in the Paris Journal des Dames (see left figure). The roses trimming the train, the darker overdress with fringe are the same as the Paris plate, but the neckline is much higher.

Left: Ball Dress with Shawl and Turban, 1805, from Journal des Dames et des Modes, also called Costume Parisien, 1797-1839. The words above and below this illustration (not visible in this cropped image) read “An 13. Costume Parisien. Turban de Drap d’Or. Aigrette d’Oiseau de Paradis.” The lady’s feet reveal that we are seeing the back of this dress, not the front. The dress dips to a low v on the back. The collar of lace is vaguely in the Tudor style, while the short sleeves are trimmed with puffy rouleaux. The shawl is clearly a cashmere shawl in the popular pine style, a style that we see in the portrait of Josephine wearing a dress made from a cashmere shawl and wearing another.

Center: Ball Dress, 1817, from Wiener Modenzeitung, later called Wiener Zeitschrift fur Kunst, Literatur und Mode, 1816-1848. This ball dress is heavily trimmed with green satin petals and satin roses. Lace forms the collar of the dress and decorates the gloves. More satin roses are worn in the hair.

Right: Ball Dress, 1818, Wiener Modenzeitung, later called Wiener Zeitschrift fur Kunst, Literatur und Mode, 1816-1848. A heavily festooned dress- -this dress has artificial flowers on the overdress and two bands of leaf trim on the petticoat. The overdress is split up the back of the dress to display the petticoat beneath ribbon ties. The long sleeves have lace cuffs.

 

It may be possible to do without dancing entirely.Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind; — but when a beginning is made — when the felicities of rapid motion have once been, though slightly, felt — it must be a very heavy set that does not ask for more.
-Emma

Left: Ball Dress, 1820, from Journal des Dames et des Modes, also called Costume Parisien, 1797-1839. Clusters of pink roses and bands of white lace trim this pretty ball gown. A wreath of pink roses is the only headdress, while a diamond and ruby necklace adorns the lady’s neck.

Right: Ball Dress, 1824, from Rudolf Ackermann’s The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashion, and Politics, 1809-1829. This yellow silk ball dress is trimmed with yellow satin bows. A yellow satin inset forms a stomacher, or part of the dress’s bodice. The sleeves are covered with a network of satin accented with satin knots and bows. The hem is trimmed with satin rouleau. The turban has a border with a gold net pattern on it that echoes the yellow satin net of the sleeves. The top of the turban is white crepe. Gold tassels dangle off the turban. The jewelry is gold set with sapphires. The gloves and shoes are white, like the top of the turban. The silk scarf that falls around the lady’s waist is blue; however, it is a much lighter blue than the sapphires. This lady is eating an ice, a common evening delicacy.

 


Originally written for Cathy Decker’s Regency Fashion Page.

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