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 1817 run. Right click on each image and choose “view image” for a full size view.
The Regency silhouette went through a fair few changes…
Wednesday. — Mrs. Mussell has got my gown, and I will endeavour to explain what her intentions are. It is to be a round gown, with a jacket and a frock front, like Cath. Bigg’s, to open at the side. The jacket is all in one with the body, and comes as far as the pocket-holes — about half a quarter of a yard deep, I suppose, all the way round, cut off straight at the corners with a broad hem. No fulness appears either in the body or the flap; the back is quite plain in this form , and the sides equally so. The front is sloped round to the bosom and drawn in, and there is to be a frill of the same to put on occasionally when all one’s handkerchiefs are dirty — which frill must fall back. She is to put two breadths and a-half in the tail, and no gores — gores not being so much worn as they were. There is nothing new in the sleeves: they are to be plain, with a fulness of the same falling down and gathered up underneath, just like some of Martha’s, or perhaps a little longer. Low in the back behind, and a belt of the same. I can think of nothing more, though I am afraid of not being particular enough.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
May 5, 1801
The popularity of the high-waisted regency gown is due to both to French influence in fashion and the Neoclassical rage that swept Europe during the 18th Century. Marie Antoinette is said to have inspired the round gown of the 1790′s, which is essentially a dress and robe joined together and tied in the front. Later, Josephine Bonaparte who reigned supreme in her position as a fashion icon, influenced the slim, high-waisted, gossamer thin chemise dress of the early 19th Century.
The round gown, a precursor of the Empire gown, had a soft, round silhouette, with full gatherings and a train, and straight, elbow-length sleeves. These gowns were in stark contrast to the stiff, brocaded or rigid silk dresses of the rococo period. The round gown’s train, which was common for a short time for day wear and lasted until 1805-06 for the evening, would be pinned up for the dance, as Katherine and Isabella did for each other in Northanger Abbey. One must question how practical these long white muslin dresses with their trailing trains were in England, a country renowned for wet weather and muddy roads.
In England especially, daytime dresses were more modest than their evening counterparts. A few French images depict young ladies wearing day gowns with plunging decolletes, but this was not generally the case, and it is a point that cinema costume makers frequently miss. Until 1810, a fichu or chemisette would fill in the neckline. At first, embroideries on hems and borders were influenced by classical Greek patterns. After Napoleon’s return from Egypt in 1804, decorative patterns began to reflect an eastern influence as well.
Around 1808, the soft gathered gowns gave way to a slimmer and sleeker Regency silhouette. Darted bodices began to appear and hemlines started to rise. Long sleeves and high necklines were worn during the day, while short sleeves and bare necklines were reserved for evening gowns. The sleeves were puffy and gathered, but the overall silhouette remained sleek, with the shoulders narrow. The shape of the corset changed to reflect the looser, draped, shorter waisted style.
Due to the war between England and France, and the restrictions of travel to the Continent, the designs of English gowns began to take on a character of their own, as French influence waned. Between 1808 and 1814, English waistlines lengthened and decorations were influenced by the Romantic movement and British culture. Dresses began to exhibit decorations that echoed the Gothic, Renaissance, Tudor, and Elizabethan periods. Ruffled edges, Van Dyke lace points, rows of tucks on hems and bodices, and slash puffed sleeves made their appearance. The length of the gown was raised off the ground, so that dainty kid slippers became quite visible.
After the 1814 peace treaty, English visitors to France began to realize just exactly how much British fashion had split from its French counterpart. Parisian waists had remained higher, and skirt hems were wider and trimmed with padded decorations, resulting in a cone-shaped look. English fashion quickly realigned itself with the French, and the silhouette changed yet again.
Dresses now boasted long sleeves, high necks, and a very high waist, The simple classical silhouette was replaced by a fussier look. Ruffles appeared everywhere, on hems, sleeves, bodices, and even bonnets. In 1816-1817, the waistline fell just under a woman’s breasts, and could go no higher. There was only one way that waistlines could go, and by 1818, they began to drop by about an inch a year.
By 1820 the simple classic lines of the chemise dress had disappeared and completely given way to a stiffer, wider silhouette with a quite short hem. New corsets were designed to accommodate the longer waistline. Remarkably, Anglomania hit France, and the French began to copy the English fashion.
The rows of ruffles, pleats, appliques, and horsehair-padded decorations stiffened the skirt into a conical shape, creating a puffy silhouette. Big hats were worn to counterbalance the broad shoulders, much as big hair balanced wide shoulder pads during the 1980′s. By 1825 the waist had reached a woman’s natural waistline in fashion plates, but according to evidence in museums, it would take another five years before this fashion caught up with the general public.
Leg of lamb sleeves (gigot sleeves) appeared, and dress decorations became intricate and theatrical.
By 1820 the basic lines were almost submerged in ornamentation. The romantic past held a treasure trove of ideas for adorning a lady’s costume. From the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries came puffs bursting through slashed and the revival of the Spanish ruff. collars and cuffs developed points a la Van Dyke and sleeves could be a la Babrielle (after Garielle d’Estrees, mistress of Henry IV of France). Skirts were festooned with roses or made more flaring with crokscrew rolls … Fantasy seemed to now no bounds. (Ackermann’s Costume Plates, Stella Blum, page vi)
Read more about regency fashion trends in the links below:
Vic Sanborn oversees two blogs: Jane Austen’s World and Jane Austen Today. Before 2006 she merely adored Jane Austen and read Pride and Prejudice faithfully every year. These days, she is immersed in reading and writing about the author’s life and the Regency era. Co-founder of her local (and very small) book group, Janeites on the James, she began her blogs as a way to share her research on the Regency era for her novel, which sits unpublished on a dusty shelf. In her working life, Vic provides resources and professional development for teachers and administrators of Virginia’s adult education and literacy programs.
This article was written for Jane Austen’s World and is used here with permission.
Regency Fashions were forever changing and a glimpse at a few of the Ladies’ Magazines of the time shows just how difficult it would be to remain fashionable from one year to the next. The following prints span 11 years during the Regency and are from the collection of author Michele Ann Young.
These two prints are from Cabinet of Fashion. The first is from May, 1806 and the descriptions are as follows:
Curricle of Lace over a Round Dress of White Sarsnet. Spencer of Green Sarsnet. Straw Bonnet. Buff Gloves and Shoes. Beaver Hat. Indian Long Shawl. Cambric Walking Dress, with a Lace Ruff.
Head fashionably dressed, with a Band of Embroidered Lace. Dress of White Sarsnet, trimmed with Point. Robe of Pink Crape. White Shoes and Gloves.
This one is May 1808, not very different I think.
Dress of fine muslin, elegantly worked down the front and round the bottom, and trimmed with pea-green ribbon.-Hair fashionably dressed.-White shoes and buff gloves.
Short dress of muslin, with lace trimming.-Shawl of lilac silk, and bonnet of the same colour, with a fancy flower in front. Both these gowns are from the May issue of the Cabinet of Fashion.
The next two are from La Belle Assemblee, May, 1810. “This magazine contained a wealth of information on a wide range of women’s concerns. It was a true women’s magazine with celebrity anecdotes, instructions of manners, cosmetic advice, and beauty aids. Dress and fashion were covered in delightfully colored fashion plates–the best of which were from 1809 to 1820. Fashion plates were presented with lengthy, written descriptions, and modish gentlewomen pounced on the latest monthly issue. . . . The magazine was filled with advertisements that touted the wonders of various rouges, depilatories, powders, and corsets”*
Evening Shawl Dress
Ah, now here we have “a rich Paris-brown French silk shawl robe, with short full sleeves, made to sit very much off the shoulders; worn over a white satin body with long sleeves. Persian scarf of green silk; white satin shoes; and white kid gloves.” And just look how slender both of these young ladies are. Don’t they remind you of models today?
Evening Full Dress
A white satin, or fine India muslin, round dress, made short, and scalloped round the bottom, which is finished with a gold twist, made to sit very high over the neck; ornamented with a full ruck of white crape, or lace; long sleeves laced with gold twist, and small gold drop buttons, the sleeves scalloped to correspond with the bottom of the dress, and ornamented with gold cord; a gold net, or Persian silk sash, encircles the waist. White kid gloves; white satin shoes, with gold rosettes; tippet of white swansdown.
This grouping with the gentleman is from Le Beau Monde, May, 1817, and is one of those rarities that we love to find. He is clearly dressed for evening, with the knee-breeches and flat black pumps. And look at the shine on those stockings he is wearing. Now they just have to be silk, wouldn’t you think?
Le Beau Monde was published monthly and offered “two hand-colored fashion plates in each issue. It was filled with articles about theater, the arts, literature, and music. It was a close rival of La Belle Assemblee in content”+ and was even published by the same company until 1809.
The last evening gown (1816) is just darling, so delicate, and the pretty embroidery really appeals to me. This print was published in The Lady’s Magazine (May, 1816, the same issue which held such vivid descriptions of Princess Charlotte’s Wedding) The Lady’s Magazine, which was in print from 1770-1820 is touted as “the first of the true fashion-plate magazines that was issued regularly. The plates were not decorated with color until 1790. Before 1790, dressmakers would color the plates themselves to enhance the dress designs and entice their lady customers to order garments”.*
“The Lady’s Magazine with its emphasis on the doings of the haut ton marked “fashion” as a structure around which middling rank women could mount their conversation about consumption. The Lady’s Magazine tapped a grass-roots response to the subject, too, since it drew on its eager reader for the contributions that filled its pages. The magazine offered women the opportunity to speak to other women, to argue with one another, and often to provide one another with specialized information otherwise hard to come by. The Lady’s, together with other women’s magazines at the end of the century, nurtured a culture for women centered on material culture.”+
Michele Ann Young was born in England. While in school, she majored in History and fell in love with the Regency era. Now living in Canada, she is thrilled to have the opportunity to rekindle that passion in her books. No Regrets was her first book with the new Casablanca imprint from Sourcebooks, Inc. and is set in London and Paris in 1816. She now writes under the name Ann Lethbridge.
Fashion plates purchased from Moonstone Research and Publications and used with permission.
Select quotes from Cathy Decker’s Regency Fashion Page.
*Laudermilk, Sharon, and Teresa L. Hamlin. The Regency Companion. New York: Garland, 1989
+Copeland, Edward. Women Writing About Money: Women’s Fiction in England, 1790- 1820. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism. Eds.