A Primer on Regency Era Women’s Fashion by Kristen Koster.
“Parisian Ladies in their Full Winter Dress for 1800”, an over-the-top exaggerated satirical Nov. 24th 1799 caricature print by Isaac Cruikshank, on the excesses of the late-1790s Parisian high Greek look, and the too-diaphanous styles allegedly sometimes worn there. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is an overview of women’s fashions in the Regency Era and the apparel they changed in and out of multiple times per day. This list isn’t exhaustive by any means and is rather representative of the upper classes rather than the working classes, but should give a good foundation in recognizing what an author is talking about and why they’re so focused on their characters being fashion conscious.
Before we get into the individual items of clothing, it’s important to realize some phrases we use today didn’t mean quite the same thing 200 years ago. For example, when we say “She was in a state of undress.” or “She was caught en dishabille.” The folks of the regency wouldn’t have batted an eye. It was quite common for ladies to entertain guests in their boudoirs while dressed in comfortable, but concealing gowns and robes. The terms “undress”, “half-dress” and “full-dress” were degrees of formality, not coverage.
“Undress” meant simply casual, informal dress in the Regency period. This would be the type of dress worn from early morning to noon or perhaps as late as four or five, depending on one’s engagements for the day. Undress was usually more comfortable, more warm, more casual, and much cheaper in cost than half dress or full dress.
“Half Dress” is perhaps one of the most difficult concepts to grasp about Regency Fashion. Basically it is any dress halfway between Undress and Full Dress. In modern terms it might be thought of as dressy casual or casual business attire in terms of formality, if not style.
“Full dress” was the most formal kind of dress in a Regency Lady’s wardrobe. Full dress was worn for the most formal occasions — evening concerts and card parties, soirees, balls, and court occasions. “Evening dress” referred to outfits suitable only at evening events, but was a specific subset of “full dress”.
1817 walking costume (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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