Preparing for Summer’s entertainments? Look no further than La Belle Assemmblée ( or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies) produced by John Bell from 1806 until his retirement in 1821, and by G. & W. Whittaker & Co. from 1823–1829. La Belle Assemblée is now best known for its fashion plates of Regency era styles, but until the 1820s it also published original poetry and fiction, non-fiction articles on politics and science, book and theatre reviews, and serialized novels, including Oakwood Hall by Catherine Hutton. Other notable contributors to La Belle Assemblée include Mary Shelley. Contributions from readers were also encouraged and published.
While each number of La Belle Assemblée typically contained five plates—one depicting a member of the court or fashionable society, two depicting the latest fashions, and a further two providing sheet music and a sewing pattern—the magazine was not dominated by the frivolities of fashionable dress. Indeed, Bell separated the portion of the work dealing with the fashions of the month from the remainder of the publication. One could (at least initially) purchase either of the two divisions of the work separately; the first consisting of the bulk of the letterpress, together with two of the plates, the second (‘La Belle Assemblée’) consisting of the fashion plates and sewing pattern, together, usually, with four pages describing the plates and discussing the latest London and Paris fashions
The following “Fashions for August, 1807” offer an insider’s look at the fashionable attire of London’s elite as they travel from Kensington Garden to Vauxhall, the Opera and beyond.The spelling, while odd in places, is original to the volume, though a in a few spots, the type was badly deteriorated and unreadable.
Explaination of the Prints of Fashion: English Costume
Kensington Garden Dresses
No. I.—A plain cambric round dress, a walking length. Roman spencer of celestial blue sarsnet, with Vandyke lappels and falling collar; finished with the same round the bottom of the waist, and flowing open in front of the bosom. A village hat of Imperial chip, with bee-hive crown, confined under the chin with ribbon the colour of the spencer. Cropped hair, divided in the centre of the forehead with full curls. Gloves and shoes of lemon-coloured kid. Parasol of salmon-coloured sarsnet.
No. 2 —Round train dress of India muslin, with short sleeves, ornamented round the bottom and sleeves with a rich border of needle-work. Promenade tippet of Brussels lace, lined with white satin. Hat of white chip, or fancy cap of lilac satin, with a Brussels lace veil. Hair confined in braid; over the right temple, and formed in loose curls on the opposite side. Gold hoop earrings. Gloves and slippers of lilac kid.
London Walking Dresses
No. 3.—A French jacket and petticoat of India muslin, finished at the extreme edge in Vandyke and headings of embroidery. Plain short sleeve; frock bosom, confined at each corner of the bust, where the jacket falls in easy Lappels. Full frill of French net round the neck and shoulders. Brunswick bonnet of pale jopnquil sarsnet, ornamented wtih a wreath of similar flowers. Hair waved crop; oval hoop earrings; yorltan gloves; shoes of jonquil kid; parasol of bright lavender blossom.
No. 4- A plain round gown of the finest cambric, with gored bosom and slashed sleeves. Lace tucker with shell-scolloped edge. Rose pelice of Ja..not muslin, bordered all round with needlework and Vandyke. A Gypsy hat of satin straw, with an edge a-la […] tied all across the crown , and under the chind with a handkerchief of Patterns, or coloured sarsnet. Bosom of the gown confined with a bow of ribbon to correspond. Straw-coloured kid gloves and shoes. Parsol of Shaded green sarsnet.
General Observations on the Present Style of Fashionable Decoration
Having given, in regular progression, our delineations and remarks on the various fashions of the passing season, we at length offer to our several readers a close of equal animation, attraction, and splendor. We scarcely ever witnessed a period when taste and fashion were more perfectly in unison; nor any season when elegance and grace shone with such unrivalled fascination. Not only amidst the assemblies of rank and opulence, but in those simple unobtrusive adornments appropriated to the intermediate station—in those chaste habits becoming such as move in a more domesticated sphere, have our fair country-women exhibited testimonies of their advancement in taste, and the graces of life.
The era is long since past, when the daughters of our Isle condescended to turn copyists; and the females of a neighbouring kingdom are now happy to aid their exhausted inventions, by adopting the correct graces of English style.— When, therefore, we offer a sample of Parisian decorations, it is more with a view of rendering our information extensive, various, and amusing, than from the necessity of offering to British females prototypes for imitation.
Although the metropolis is gradually losing on the score of fashionable attraction, yet do the Opera, Vauxhall, and our summer Theatres, still continue to exhibit a crowded display of beauty and fashion. Pleasure still holds her court within its walls; and her votaries, beguiled by her various allurements, seem reluctant to quit the field.
Little alteration is visible in the out-door costume since our last communication; but at Vauxhall we observe a novelty and grace of style appropriate to that place of captivating resort. The light flowing robes, and shadowy vestments, flowery ornaments, and azure veils, worn by our fashionable elegantes, conspire to render this brilliant scene truly Arcadian. Gowns and robes are now usually made round, and short; trains, even in full dress, being almost entirely exploded. We trust, however, that a speedy edict from the throne of taste, will again introduce this graceful appendage; for, however convenient and appropriate (which the short dress certainly is) to the morning, or walking costume, the distinguishing effect of a drawingroom is destroyed by this general reduction, and our females unquestionably deprived of much external dignity and elegance. Frocks of coloured muslin, or Italian crape, with a painted border of shells in Mosaic, worn over white sarsnet slips, are a new and elegant article; and French veils of coloured gauze, forming at once the head-dress and drapery, are considered as most graceful ornaments. They are usually worn with a plain white sarsnet or muslin gown, with flowers or wreaths in front of the hair, placed towards the left side, so as neatly to obscure the eye brow.
At the Duchess of M—‘s last rout, we noticed two dresses of much novel attraction. The one entitled ‘the Pomeranian mantle,’ was formed of pea green gauze, cut in irregular pointed drapery, and trimmed with a silver tufted fringe; it was worn over a Gossamer satin underdress, which had a narrow border of the hopblossom delicately painted round the bottom. The hair in alternate ringlets, and bands, was ornamented with the same flowers, tastefully disposed. A sandal of white satin, laced with green chord, fastened with a tassel above the bend of the ankle.
The second dress, which struck us as singularly attractive, was styled ‘the Cashmerian robe.’ This dress was formed of azure blue crape, with alternate spots of blue and silver foil, and ornamented at the extreme edge with silver fringe. It was worn over a white satin round dress; was fastened with a pearl brooch on the left shoulder, and fell in a kind of Roman drapery round the form in front, gradually descending till it composed the train, completing the most elegant tout ensemble that imagination could paint. The head-dress, worn with this habit, consisted of a small half-square of blue patent-net, spangled and bordered with silver. It was tied simply across the forehead, in the Chinese style, beyond which the hair appeared in dishevelled curls, and occasionally fell over the handkerchief. The shoes were blue satin, with silver rosets.
Dress gowns are still worn high in the bosom, and very low on the back and shoulders. No handkerchief is seen in full dress; but the bottom, sleeves, and neck, are frequently ornamented with borders of natural flowers. Dancing dresses of Italian tiffany, crape, or leno, bordered with the convolvolus, wild roses, daisies, violets, &c. &c. have this season given a most animated coup d’wil to the ball-room. Indeed flowers as an ornament were never introduced with a more distinguishing effect. For the hair, they are formed in wreaths, tiaras, and small bunches ; and each are placed very low on the forehead. The hair is now scarcely every seen without an ornament of this kind, or the small half handkerchief, which consists of patent net, embroidered or spangled. The latter was the distinguishing ornament of a fair bride of rank, on her first appearance at the opera, after her marriage. It was disposed in the Chinese style; but they are equally fashionable placed at the back of the head, and brought under the chin, with tiaras farmed of carnations in front of the forehead. Bandeaus of broad gold are classed amidst a fashionable selection; but the turban has long resigned its place, in the sphere of taste and elegance. That dignified and graceful ornament, the winged ruff, a la Mary Queen of Scots, seems entirely confined to a few females of rank and taste, and is perhaps more immediately appropriated to such as may claim the privilege of singularity. The Vandyke though still very prevalent, is not considered so novel, or genteel, as the shell or crescent scollop; and the promenade tippets, and French bonnets, are now become absolutely canaillish.
The Gipsy hat, and robe pelice, form an elegant morning costume: the former are generally of chip with silk crowns, and the latter of white, or coloured muslin trimmed with thread lace. The French cloak of white sarsnet, is very generally esteemed; this article is also trimmed round with broad lace; and it is formed somewhat like the capuchins worn by females of old. Caps are considered an indispeasble in the morning costume. These are variously formed ; but the Anne Bullen cap, and the Brunswick mob, are those in general […], both for their novelty, simplicity, and elegance. A large bonnet, styled the woodland poke has lately been introduced. It forms a complete shade for the face; and is particularly adapted for those ladies, who, on the public prommenades, or by the sea side, would be otherwise exposed to the scorching rays of a summer’s sun. These bonnets, so conspicuous for unobtrusive neatness, are best formed of clear leno, with the raised pea spot. They are lined with coloured sarsnet, agreeably to the taste of the several wearers; trimmed round the edge and crown, with a Vandyke lace, and simply confined with a ribbon under the chin. The French jacket and petticoats, of cambric, edged with a beading of embroidery, are the last new article for morning attire: the jacket is made with a square collar, and long sleeves; shaped to the form of the arm. Sometimes it is cut with a round frock bosom; and worn with an embroidered shirt. Trinkets have undergone little change since our last information. The sapphire necklace, earrings, and brooches, are most distinguishable on females of taste, but pearls, diamonds, emeralds, and the union of gold and hair, must ever be ranked amidst the most chaste and elegant ornaments in this line. Gloves and shoes admit of little variety. The kid slipper for walking; and the sandal of satin, for full dress, are generally adopted.
The prevailing colours for the season are pink, lavender blossom, green, and jonquille.
From La Belle Assemblee or, Bell’s Court, 1807.
Garside, P. D., J. E. Belanger, and S. A. Ragaz, authors, A. A. Mandal, designer. “La Belle Assemblée, or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine”. British Fiction 1800–1829: A Database of Production, Circulation, and Reception. Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, Cardiff University.
“Belle Assemblée”. Science in the 19th Century Periodical: An Electronic Index.
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