"I cannot determine what to do about my new gown; I wish such things were to be bought ready-made. ... I want to have something suggested which will give me no trouble of thought or direction." - Jane Austen in a letter to her sister Cassandra in 1798.
When a lady decided to have a dress made, she would first get an idea of the styles from fashion plates in magazines, and from her friends' clothes. The dressmaker might then call at her home, or the lady would go to the dressmaker's establishment, where she might be shown model dresses worn by the prettiest apprentice, and be assisted in making her choice. Colors that complimented various complexions and shaping gowns to hide figure flaws was well understood by the best dressmakers. However all this knowledge might be set at naught by the desire to be fashionable.
From 1795-1810, simple high-waisted white muslin dresses and helmet like bonnets inspired by ancient Greek motifs became fashionable.
In the period 1800-1820, women's evening dress aimed for a romantic and exotic appearance. Moorish turbans (bottom of page), Egyptian styles, and Grecian hairdos copied from Thomas Hope's Costume of the Ancients (pub.1809) were all the rage.
In 1810 the dress became less clinging and more constructed and stays began to creep back into feminine fashions. Trains had disappeared from day wear but remained in eveningwear. The neckline was low and square. Muslin was worn less for evening wear as satin and dresses of gauze over a satin slip came into fashion. (See gauze dress at left. A satin slip shimmering beneath would have made a lovely combination.)
Bonnets went through many style changes over the period 1810 to 1820, but in
general they grew larger.
From 1813 flounces (See Fig. 6 on link page.) began to be added to the bottom of dresses.
From 1815 to 1820 the deep V bodice revealing the chemise in day wear was fashionable.
By 1816 the skirt had become wider at the hem and was worn at ankle height. Trim work at the hem was more profuse. Dresses were often embroidered with a profusion of white openwork. Princess Charlotte's wedding dress was a fine example of this type of embroidery.
By 1818 Dresses were of silk, still with highish waists but with bodice detailing such as pintucks and wide puff sleeves.
After 1825 the new fullness of the sleeve was lowered slightly as the off the shoulder neckline became fashionable.
During the 1830's the waist had descended to
the body waistline and the dress skirt became larger and was balanced by huge puff sleeves.
Fashion-plate magazines like La Belle Assemblee, the Lady's Magazine, and Ackermann's Repository spread fashion ideas and served as a guide to dressmakers.
In the Georgian period, dresses moved from the gown a la Francaise with its stomacher and wide skirts supported by panniers to the body hugging Empire fashions and on to the wider skirts and sleeves that presaged Victorian fashions. These clothes had their own fashion terminology. For example: a fichu was an important accessory for women when low-necked Empire dresses were popular. It was a scarf-like piece of clothing used to cover the skin exposed by low-necked dresses, especially for day wear. The narrow skirts of Directorate and Empire dresses brought the reticule into fashion because pockets could no longer be placed beneath the skirts of gowns.
Shoes during the Regency period featured pointed toes, small curved heels, side seams, and natural materials (leather or silk upper, leather sole).
A page with information on underclothing.
Buy a reference book containing numerous fashion plates from a variety of sources Regency Era Fashion Plates: 1800-1819 by Mandy Foster
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