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The Regency Fashions of Childhood

the fashions of childhood

The Regency Fashions of Childhood

While children are not usually thought of in the world of high fashion, with his debut of The Repository of Fashion… in 1809, Rudolph Ackerman provided modern readers with a record of what was worn by even the smallest of the Ton during the 20 years his magazine was published.

As fashion evolved during the Regency, and figure hugging corsets gave way to loose, diaphanous gowns, so too, the fashions of childhood became simpler and while they still mimicked the clothes of their elders, a new style of short dresses and easy to wear pants and jackets came into vogue with overtones that can be seen even in today’s children’s wear.

What Ackermann did, in showing his “models” engaged in many different types of activities with their children, was prove motherhood to be fashionable- or at least something not to be hidden away and relegated to the attic nurseries of country estates. In doing so, he also left a legacy of the fashions of childhood unequalled by any other period source.

Aside from fashion plates and art prints, the only other visual reference to the time that we have are portraits from the period. These, too clearly show relation between the changing attitudes in parenting and clothing styles over Jane Austen’s lifetime. Even a cursory glance at those below will prove the point.

The first, by Joshua Reynolds, shows Margaret, Lady Spencer and her daughter Georgiana (later to be the famous Duchess of Devonshire) in 1759, a few years before Jane Austen’s birth in 1775. You can see the young girl is dressed almost as a miniature adult and, small as she is (about 2), stands stock still.

In 1787, Reynolds would paint the Marsham children. Jane Austen would have been 11 or 12 at the time– about the same age as the oldest girl in the picture. Here the children are given at least some childlike pastimes to entertain them while being painted and their clothes show the shift in fashion that came with the French Revolution. Though still mimicking the adults, their styles are much more comfortable and easy to wear.

A few years later, in 1794, Thomas Lawrence painted the famous Pinkie portrait. Here, a young girl stands with her back to the sea. The setting is out of doors, like the former, but much more casual in style, as both parenting and fashion had become. Her gown reflects the new “Regency Style” similar to the one seen in The Rice Portrait, which some believe to be Jane Austen, painted in 1790.

A portrait of The Fluyder Children painted in 1805 and a later one of Mrs. Henry Baring and her Children (1817) shows the complete turnover from stiff and formal attire, parenting and painting styles, to loose, playful and involved.


Many thanks to Heather Laurence for supplying high resolution scans of fashion plates, especially the fashions of childhood, in her collection. See more of her work and collection on her site, Solitary Elegance.

 

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Maxims for Health and Gracefulness

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Cassandra Austen’s sketch of her niece Fanny.

In 1833, Lydia Marie Child published The Girl’s Own Book, a volume full of entertainments for girls of all ages.

She closed her book with a few maxims on child rearing involving both the moral and physical aspects of raising young ladies. Although they may sound quaint and dated, mothers of the Regency. Child rearing has always been considered a woman’s domain, and mothers of this era, with its burgeoning middle class, read countless books on subjects ranging from household management to cookery. Topics their mothers were either too busy or too idle to concern themselves with.

Any number of spoiled children can be found in the pages of Jane Austen’s works, from the heir to Norland Park, to Mrs. Musgrove’s rambunctious grandchildren. We never get to see the children of Austen’s heroines, but they would, no doubt, have been raised in this new era of motherly awareness.

MAXIMS FOR HEALTH AND GRACEFULNESS.
Early rising, and the habit of washing frequently, in cold water, are fine things for the health and the complexion.Walking, and other out-of-door exercises, cannot I much recommended to young people. Even skating, driving hoop, and other boyish sports, may be practised to advantage by little girls, provided they can be pursued within the inclosure of a garden, or court ; in the street, they would of course, be highly improper. It is true, such games are rather violent, and sometimes noisy ; but they tend to form a vigorous constitution ; and girls who are habitually lady-like, will never allow themselves to be rude and vulgar, even in play.

Shoes and garments for children should be quite large enough for ease, comfort, and freedom of motion. Continue reading Maxims for Health and Gracefulness