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Why Do We Have No Pockets? The Regency Removed Them

The Regency is to blame for no women's pockets

How frustrating is it having no pockets? Very. Just need to take your keys and a phone out with you that day? Don’t want the inconvenience of having to take a bag with you? Too bad, you’ll still need a bag of some kind because very few women’s clothes have pockets in, and those that do have pockets rarely have ones that are strong enough or big enough for purpose. Ask any women about pockets and you’ll see you’ve touched a nerve.

However, it wasn’t always like this. In the 17th century, women had vast pockets, although they weren’t always built in to their clothes. Often they were stringed, silken drawbags which were tied around their waist and worn under their petticoats. The petticoats and skirts had openings in the side seams so women could easily get to their invisible pockets and get whatever you needed from inside. The quasi-pockets were big enough to carry money, a comb, a small bottle – you name it (within reason).

Woman’s Pockets
England, mid-18th century
Made from silk and linen
Measuring: 15 1/2 x 8 in. (39.37 x 20.32 cm)

The change came at the end of the 18th century and into the Regency period (1811-1820) when petticoats and voluptuous skirts went out of fashion and instead the slim-line, empire-waist Regency gowns came to the fore. These dresses had no room for pockets – it would mess with the lovely silhouette, so pockets had to go. In their place came reticules (Jane Austen even referred to one as a “ridicule”). These were essentially what had been worn on the underside of the dress, only now your hands were tied up with holding onto it, and opportunistic thieves could more easily snatch them.

Meanwhile men went on to have more pockets, not less. A gentleman of the 1940s had, thanks to his suit jacket, waistcoat and trousers, an average of two dozen pockets!

The Regency may have given us some beautiful fashions, but it also, in some ways, ended our hands-free capability. Strange how little quirks of fashion can still influence us today.

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From Classic to Romantic: Changes in the Regency Silhouette

An example of one regency silhouette style

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 [hourglass shape], 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


Round gown, 1798, Metropolitan Museum

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.

Round gowns, Heideloff Gallery of Fashion, 1794

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.

Ackermann plate: Regency Morning Dress, 1813

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.

Ackermann plate of a walking dress, 1818

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.

Ackermann plate of an evening dress, 1820

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:

Ackerman plate of a ball dress and young lady’s dress, 1826

Kathy Decker’s Regency Style, year by year

Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion

The Regency Fashion Page

1800s-1820s: Thumbnails

Ackermann’s Costume Plates

Regency Open Robe: 1795

Fashion Prints: Walking Dresses, 1806-1810

Museum Links to Clothing Images

Two Dresses, 1810, French


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.

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Fingerless Mitts: A Regency Must


I have found your white mittens; they were folded up within my clean nightcap, and send their duty to you.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
August 24, 1805

Period Mitts, including a pair owned by Princess Charlotte (far right)Among the fashion items in Kensington Palace are a pair of hand-embroidered mittens owned by Princess Charlotte, daughter of George 1V and Caroline of Brunswick  (the Princess Diana of her day) who died tragically young in 1817 while in childbirth. Read more: Mail Online

Your average 18th century mitt would have a thumb (or rather half a thumb), but not have any other fingers. It would sometimes extend not just over the hand but over part of the fingers as well. This meant that it would keep you warm (or protected from the sun in the summer) but not hinder your movements at all. You could do things like write, draw or do needlework with mitts on. And combined with a muff, they were quite enough even for venturing outside in the winter.”
Mitts & Fingerless Gloves

Several websites offer instructions for making your own mitts, including a crocheted pattern in our crafts section:Lacy Mitt Gloves. A firsthand look at mitt construction can be found here: Making 18th Century Mitts, while a pattern for sew mitts can be purchased from Kannick’s Korner. Velvet and lace Mitts can be purchased from our Jane Austen Centre shop in a variety of colors.

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.

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The Festival starts with a splash!

Wow, what a start. Despite a bit of rain the promenaders turned out in their finery to celebrate the start of the Jane Austen Festival.
Click here to go to the full story from the Bath Chronicle.

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Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen

Ever since I learned that this book would be coming out in the spring, I couldn’t wait for its arrival. The title alone told me that it was tailor made to my interests. Slim and more a monograph than a book, Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen‘s 62 pages are jam-packed with information and images. Some of the material that author Sarah Jane Downing wrote about was familiar, but much of it was new. While I finished the book in two sittings, I know I will be using it frequently for future reference.

Until the Napoleonic Wars, France had influenced fashions in Britain and Europe. It was the custom of messengers known as les grandes couriers de la mode to deliver the latest French fashions to the great courts of Europe in person. Wearing designer creations, their costumes were analyzed from head to toe and then tried on and taken apart. Patterns were made from the resulting pieces. People who visited cities and returned home were plied with questions about the latest trends in fashions by those who stayed behind. Soon, fashion journals appeared showing images of fashions, home furnishings, and architectural plans, and new styles trickled down to even those who lived in the farthest reaches of England.

The French Revolution marked a radical shift from the elegant, wide-skirted brocade gowns so prevalent for most of the 18th century to the streamlined, body-hugging, empire-waisted silhouettes of the Directoire Period that were inspired by classical antiquity. Wide hooped skirts were still worn for appearances at court, but gowns became simpler, narrower, and more vertical. In fact, the change in dress silhouettes was so dramatic that such a radical shift in style would not occur again until the flapper era and the jazz age over a century later.

Jane Austen’s books were written during the narrow time frame when empire dresses with their high waists, short sleeves and décolletté necklines reigned supreme in the fashion world. When long sleeves were introduced in evening dress, she wrote Cassandra:

I wear my gauze gown today long sleeves & all; I shall see how they succeed, but as yet I have no reason to suppose long sleeves are allowable. Mrs. Tilson has long sleeves too, & she assured me that they are worn in the evening by many. I was glad to hear this.
– Jane Austen, 1814

Male attire also went through a dramatic change. Ruffles and ornate brocaded fabrics gave way to intricately folded neckcloths, simple shirts, stark jackets and leg-hugging breeches. The emphasis was on the neckcloths, but not the shirts, which were sewn by women, not tailors. Jane was known to be an excellent seamstress, and she wrote about completing a batch of shirts for her brother Charles: “[I] am to send his shirts by half dozens as they are finished; one set will go next week,” and “In Mansfield Park Fanny price works diligently to ensure that her brother’s linen is ready when he goes to sea.” – p 13.

There are so many other interesting tidbits of information that I won’t share in this review lest I spoil the reader’s pleasure. Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen discusses accessories, underwear, half dress, full dress, court dress and more. I wish a timeline had been included of when hems were raised and when they became decorative; precisely how the Napoleonic Wars affected fashion in both England and France and who influenced who and when; and when waists when up, then down, then up and down again. Another quibble I had was with the book’s cover, which John Pettie painted in 1887. With all the lush images and paintings available of regency misses and their chaperones and suitors, why choose a Victorian painting? The woman in this painting  obviously belongs to another age.

Be that as it may, I give this book three out of three regency fans and recommend it highly to all readers who are interested in Regency fashion and historical romance writers who are interested in precise details of dress.

Price: £5.99 ($9.40)
Paperback: 64 pages
Publisher: Shire Publications (10 Mar 2010)
ISBN-10: 0747807671
ISBN-13: 978-0747807674

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.


More on the topic:

  • Another excellent book about fashion is Penelope Byrd’s A Frivolous Distinction: Fashion and Needlework in the works of Jane Austen.
  • Regency Fashion History is an excellent site.
  • Cathy Decker’s Regency Fashion Page cannot be topped.



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Fashions of the Regency Period

Jane Austen Fashion
by Penelope Byrde

This delightful book is the work of Bath’s Costume Museum Curator, Penelope Byrd. It takes an in-depth look at fashions of the period, care of clothes, and needlework, taking references from Jane Austen’s novels and her letters, and is supported throughout with beautiful illustrations. A must for anyone interested in period clothing, and a real treat, as it has been out of print for an absolute age!
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Excellent Press
ISBN: 1900318121
Price: £12.95


Jane Austen: In Style
by Susan Watkins, Hugh Palmer

A perfect book for those who enjoyed Maggie Lane’s Jane Austen’s World but want to know more. Jane Austen In Style offers an in depth look at Regency life, with chapters on homes, entertainment, fashion, food and more. While offering a wealth of Austen Family trivia and biography, Susan Watkins has also provided a map of daily life in the Regency.

Replete with full page, full color photographs and period prints, the book is visually stunning as well as being wonderfully informative. A well written, delightful read, it makes a good starting point for those wishing to get a feel for life in Regency England. Perfect for historical research or the casual novel reader.

It is complemented by a directory of where all manner of things Georgian can be seen or purchased today in both the UK and USA. A complete index is also included for easy reference. Available new and used from dealers such as
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Thames & Hudson; (October 1996)
ISBN: 0500279004
Price: £12.95

English Women’s Clothing in the 19th Century: A Comprehensive Guide With 1,117 Illustrations by C. Willett Cunnington

The nineteenth century was a period of continuous change for women’s clothing in England. The growing prosperity of the merchant class meant an ever-larger number of women for whom “dress” was a principle function of life, while the increasing availability of lower priced ready-made garments enabled women of moderate means to purchase the fashions of the day.

The magnificent array of ladies’ fashions that characterized the century are on display in this remarkably complete decade by decade overview. Drawing almost exclusively from contemporary source– fashion magazines, newspapers, rare period photographs, memoirs, Victorian novels, periodicals and other publications as well as firsthand observation of actual garments– the author describes and explains the couture that evolved in response to the changing social conditions, technological innovations and cultural developments.

An excellent reference for those who wish to study the fashion of English women’s clothing in the nineteenth-century, this sumptuously illustrated, commentary about clothing details including information about what influenced the design, materials used, the situation in which the garment would have been worn, and what type of person would have worn the garment. Granted, much of the material is more suited to Victorian studies, as this style was the most prelevant during the century, but Regency costume was in vogue from about 1800 to 1820. A wonderful reference for the costume designer or student of fashion, though the illustrations are . This is one of the most useful books for nineteenth-century fashion to be found. If there was a complaint to be made, it would have to be on the lack of color; illustrations are black and white or line drawings. A comprehensive index is included in the book.
Paperback: 460 pages
Publisher: Dover Pubns; Reprint edition (June 1990)
ISBN: 0486263231
Price: $29.95

Fashions of the Regency and Empire Fashions
By Tom Tierney

Paperdolls- they’re not just for children anymore! These historically based books, written and illustrated by renowed paper doll artist Tom Tierney provide a fascination and comprehensive look into British and French Fashion of the early 19th century.

The fashions of England’s Regency Period originated in the early years of the nineteenth century, contemporary with Empire styles in France and the Federalist vogue in the United States (the actual Regency began in 1811 when the Prince of Wales began acting for his incapacitated father, George III). The clothing was characterized by the revival of classical styles, the elegant fabrics and fine tailoring favored by Beau Brummell and the popularity of such accessories as turbans and shawls. In Fashions of the Regency we are introduced to George, a young lord who is a fastidious dresser, and his intended, Jane, both of whom display a variety of dazzling outfits for different occasions, from full court dress to riding habits and daywear. 30 costumes on 15 plates.

In 1804, when Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned Emporer of France, fashion took a dramatic turn away from the ordinary, nondescript clothing born out of the French Revolution. Elegant, extravagant fashion returned because Napoleon wanted to reinvigorate the economy, including the lace and fabric industries. He required military officers and high-ranking political figures to wear brightly colored and heavily embroidered silk coats on formal occasions, and he insisted that ladies NOT wear the same dress twice at court functions.Empire Fashions features a chic couple modeling styles from 1800-1815 in 16 costumes on 8 plates.

Both books are wonderful research and play tools, and are a great when used to contrast English and French culture. Also useful for anyone who has a hard time visualizing what a Carrick coat or sleeves “edged with swansdown” actually look like.

Publisher: Dover Pubns; (November 1996); Dover Pubns; (December 1999)
ISBN: 0486293351; 0486408132
Price: $5.95; $3.95

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The History of Side-Saddles

From its humble beginnings as little more than a pad for pillion riding in medieval times, the side-saddle has endured many changes of style and construction during the centuries, some decorative more than functional, but all of them part of the rich heritage of aside riding, and which has contributed to making the art still popular today, albeit on a saddle more suited to safety and practicality in all equestrian disciplines, and the shape of the modern horse and rider.

L to R: 15th century with planchette, and c. 1799 with slipper stirrup

When women first rode horses independently, rather than just sitting behind a man on his horse, they sat facing sideways in a saddle (initially merely a stuffed platform, later a more chair-like creation) with a footrest called a planchette – first introduced into England in the fourteenth century by Anne of Bohemia – but this gave little control over their horses and generally necessitated them being led along, travelling no faster than a walk. These saddles possessed a single pommel or horn in front. In the sixteenth century, Catherine de Medici is credited (currently being debated) with being the inventor of a second horn, between which a lady placed her right leg, and so faced forward for the first time, thereby having independent control of her horse and able to ride at faster gaits.

L to R: 1860, and the 1880s

The two-horned side-saddle remained, in various forms – such as with a side rail, slipper stirrup and ornate stitching, and with the addition in the 1820s of the invention of the balance strap – until the 1830s when the third pommel, the leaping head, was devised, arguably by Frenchman Jules Pellier, which gave a far more secure seat than any previous design and so allowed women to enter the hunting field; by the 1850s the three-pommelled side-saddle was fashionable everywhere, often with an offside handkerchief pocket.

Modern English side-saddle

But gradually the offside pommel diminished in size, and by the 1870s/’80s it had often disappeared. The dipped seat of the nineteenth century also eventually gave way to the level-seated side-saddle of the early twentieth century, and the doeskin-lined seat and pommels made by the well-known saddlers of the 1930s-’50s are regarded as the classic styles, and still in use. Other countries often have their own particular styles, such as the western side-saddle of America, and the Charra side-saddle of Mexico.

Regrettably, the older side-saddles are not suited to modern side-saddle riding: the designs are not safe to ride in, nor do they fit the well-fed horses of today. Of limited monetary value unless in exceptional condition or unusual decoration or design (older ones can still be bought for less than £100), their importance remains the province mainly of those with a particular interest in the evolution of the side-saddle, and a concern for their preservation as part of the colourful tradition of ladies who have ridden aside over the centuries.

Penelope Housman works as a costumed guide at the National Trust House, Killerton House where they are currently showing an exhibit on Regency Fashion. Her boutique, Side Saddle Lady, provides information, patterns, period saddles and more. Visit her Website for a world of Equestrienne history.

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Shoes Make the Man: Regency Footwear

Perhaps no image so thoroughly denotes the Regency Hero as that of a Gentleman elegantly, yet casually dressed in dark coat, buff troussers and tall boots. Who could resist a Mr. Darcy or Knightley presented in such a favorable light? And yet– those boots that so epitomize the time were still a new fashion only just becoming popular during Jane Austen’s day.

Jessamyn Reeves Brown is an historian of Regency Fashion. Her research into Regency footwear shows that ‘prior to the Regency, both women and men wore what we now call “court shoes”: high-throated pumps with curved heels and side pieces that tied or buckled elaborately at the throat. As dresses became less structured and suits less elaborate, shoes did too. Heels dropped rapidly through the 1790s and by 1800 were very small indeed, while material was pared away to a minimum from the uppers. Men’s dress shoes lost their heels even before women’s did, but some retained the fine buckles of the 18th century for the most formal of occasions. Men’s shoes also became basic black quite early in the century – almost no other color is seen after 1800.

Both men’s and women’s shoes of the 18th century had flaps attached at the instep and outstep that came up over the throat and were held in place with a buckle (most commonly) or were tied in place with bows. These flaps were called latchets, and they did not entirely disappear in the Regency.’

Discover more fascinating details of men’s footwear on her Regency Companion Page.

“Polished” Hessians

Hessian (from Hesse in Germany) refers to a style of boot that became popular in the 18th century. Initially used as standard issue footwear for the military, especially officers, it would become widely worn by civilians as well. The boots had a low heel, and a semi-pointed toe that made them practical for mounted troops as they allowed easy use of stirrups. They would reach to the knee and had a decorative tassel at the top of each shaft. The Hessian boot would evolve into the rubber work boots known as “wellies” and the cowboy boot.

When describing the appearance of Marley’s Ghost in A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens mentions the tassels on his boots, indicating that they were Hessian style.

The Wellington Boot

The Wellington boot, also known as a willy, a wellie, a topboot, a gumboot or a rubber boot, is a type of boot based upon Hessian boots. It was worn and popularised by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington and fashionable among the British aristocracy in the early 19th century.

The first Duke of Wellington instructed his shoemaker, Hoby of St. James’ Street, London, to modify the 18th century Hessian boot. The resulting new boot designed in soft calfskin leather had the trim removed and was cut closer around the leg. The heels were low cut, stacked around an inch, and stopped at mid-calf. It was hard wearing for battle yet comfortable for the evening. The Iron Duke didn’t know what he’d started—the boot was dubbed the Wellington and the name has stuck ever since. (The Duke can be seen wearing the boots, which are tasseled, in this 1815 portrait by James Lonsdale.) These boots quickly caught on with patriotic British gentlemen eager to emulate their war hero. Considered fashionable and foppish in the best circles, and worn by dandies, such as Beau Brummell, they remained the main fashion for men through the 1840s. In the 1850s they were more commonly made in the calf high version and in the 1860s they were both superseded by the ankle boot, except for riding.

Discover more Regency Fashion at our online giftshop! Click here!

Further information from Wikipedia. The Online Encyclopedia.