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A Ballgown for April, 1812

“Oh, to be in England now that April’s there”, quoted Austen contemporary, Robert Browning. No doubt he was referring to the lovely countryside, abloom with spring’s bounty (Wordsworth’s Ddaffodils, perhaps?) rather than the hustle and bustle of a large city like London, where the social season was still in full swing.
1870 cartoon satirizing the coming of the London season
The London social season evolved in the 17th and 18th centuries, and in its traditional form it peaked in the 19th century. In this era the British elite was dominated by landowning aristocratic and gentry families who generally regarded their country house as their main home, but spent several months of the year in the capital to socialise and to engage in politics. The most exclusive events were held at the town mansions of leading members of the aristocracy. Exclusive public venues such as Almack’s played a secondary role. The Season coincided with the sitting of Parliament and began some time after Christmas and ran until midsummer, roughly late June. The social season also played a role in the political life of the country: the members of the two Houses of Parliament were almost all participants in the season. But the Season also provided an opportunity for the children of marriageable age of the nobility and gentry to be launched into society. Women were formally introduced into society by presentation to the monarch at Court.*

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Furnishing Fashionably: Ackermann’s Repository, 1816

Ackermann’s Repository of Arts was an illustrated, British periodical published from 1809-1829 by Rudolph Ackermann. Although commonly called Ackermann’s Repository, or, simply Ackermann’s, the formal title of the journal was Repository of arts, literature, commerce, manufactures, fashions, and politics, and it did, indeed cover all of these fields.  In its day, it had great influence on English taste in fashion, architecture, and literature. Along with articles on current events, stories and helpful tips, the magazine was famous for its studies of women’s fashion and architecture, including home furnishings. The following plates are from 1816. These beautiful illustrations give a good example of society interior decorating from the era when Jane Austen was writing Persuasion. No doubt it is the style of opulence to which Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot would like to become accustomed to. Glancing through the pages gives the modern reader a delightful context in which to set the staging of their favorite scenes. Furniture Plate 2: Chimney Piece of Mona Marble. (Series 2,Vol 1: Jan – June 1816) Furniture Plate 8: Drawing Room Window Curtains (Series 2,Vol 1: Jan – June 1816) Furniture Plate 14: French Sofa Bed (Series 2,Vol 1: Jan – June 1816) Furniture Plate 20: A French Bed (Series 2,Vol 1: Jan – June 1816) Furniture Plate 26: Grecian Furniture (Series 2,Vol 1: Jan – June 1816) Furniture Plate 32: Dining Room (Series 2,Vol 1: Jan – June 1816) Furniture Plate 8: Dining Room (Series 2 Vol 2 was July – Dec 1816) Furniture (more…)
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Rural Residences: Designs for Cottages, Small Villas and Other Buildings

One of the services Ackerman’s Repository of the Arts provided for it’s readers (both at the time of publication and today) was the inclusion of colored fashion plates depicting not only the styles prevalent in Women’s wear, but also in home fashion. Under normal circumstances, each issue would include at least one depiction of home furnishings (drapery, furniture, fire places, etc.) However, in 1816, a new series was designed, entitled Architectural Hints. When this series concluded in 1817, these illustrations were published together in 1818, in a separate book in titled “Rural Residences Consisting of a Series of Designs for Cottages, Small Villas and Other Ornamental Buildings”. The drawings included in this series delightfully depict country living and might have been drawn straight from the pages of Sense and Sensibility, with their cottages, vicarage, and even out buildings.

“I am excessively fond of a cottage; there is always so much comfort, so much elegance about them. And I protest, if I had any money to spare, I should buy a little land and build one myself, within a short distance of London, where I might drive myself down at any time, and collect a few friends about me and be happy. I advise everybody who is going to build, to build a cottage.”
―Robert Ferrars, Sense and Sensibility

Enjoy the following drawings and blueprints from Ackerman’s 1816 run. Detailed articles for each drawing can be found in the pages of Ackerman’s Repository, now available from Google Books. Right click on each image and choose “view image” for a full size view.

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Evening Gowns

Just as modern women read Vogue or Mode or other magazines to keep abreast of current fashion trends, women of the 18th and 19th centuries relied on fashion plates. Since all clothing was made by hand, whether by a high-priced modiste or by one’s mother, fashion plates were an important resource to ensure that one’s wardrobe remained up-to-date and fashionable. The first significant efforts to record contemporary costume appeared in the 17th century. These were issued more for education and amusement than as an attempt to set or predict fashion trends. Most of these early costume plates were of male costume. It was not until the last quarter of the 18th century that fashion plates began to be issued, designed to guide ladies in their choice of dress. They became extremely popular during the English Regency, coincident with the publication of several magazines devoted to feminine interests. The magazines were issued in paper-bound covers, and each month’s issue generally included one or two fashion plates, along with other prints. Subscribers could return their monthly copies to the publisher for leather-bound volumes, usually in 6-month sets, or they could have them bound privately. Sometimes women would cut out the fashion plates and keep them in a scrapbook. The number of Regency-period fashion plates still available indicates that they were not thrown away, but important enough to be kept in one form or another. The prints were hand-colored, usually by teams of young girls and women, with the best artists used for (more…)