Aimee Hall

Regency Clothing

During the Regency a more pronounced dichotomy evolved between the styles of dress for men and women. Womenís clothing was neoclassical in styles adopted from the English vision of classical Greek dress, while menís clothing becomes very drab and utilitarian.

"It was filmy, gauzy, and virtually transparent at the beginning of the century" according to according to Pool in What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. Womenís dresses were based upon the classical Greek profile, as were their hairstyles. This trend continued so far that the bonnet was modeled on the Greek helmets, though they drifted away from the inspiration by the addition of decorations. Dresses were high waisted, giving us the modern term empire waisted, and generally made of light colored Muslim or poplin, often devoid of excessive decorations. They often buttoned down the back. Corsets and petticoats went out of fashion, because they did not fit with the natural, child-like look. Instead women wore a shift or chemise and might where one petticoat or light stays. Women aimed at creating an image of innocence and a natural look during this period, some even going so far as to wet down their dresses or their stays, a form of light corset. The Habits of Good Society stated the "female readers would need at least a walking dress, an ordinary evening dress, a dinner dress, and a ball dress" (Pool). Womenís accessories would include a reticule, a small handbag for personal items since dresses had no pockets, gloves worn both outdoors and indoors, caps to be worn indoors, and bonnets for outdoor wear. A woman would either where a Spencer, a short, waist length jacket, or a Pelisse, a ĺ length overcoat that buttoned in front, in cold weather. The neoclassical style dominated from the French Revolution to about 1820. As the period progressed more decorations were added such as ruffles and bows, the waist lowered, petticoats were added and increased, and the corset returned as the dresses became tighter. The dresses moved away from the simplicity of the Greek styles, which inspired them, and by 1825 they were hardly recognizable.

Menís clothing after the French revolution also became simpler and thinner in line. Men began to regard decorations as "feminine." Menís clothing moves towards the "dull, dark uniform dress" of the Victorian era. The impulse towards natural or innocent looking clothing was also at work in menís styles as can be seen by the popularity of the clean-shaven look and the movement away from hair powder and wigs. "The new style of dress was to be natural, unartificial Ė it was modeled after the riding costume." The class distinctions in clothing disappeared by day, a lord might dress in the same style as a shopkeeper. However, formal wear continued to distinguish the classes. Menís formal dress might include lace, gilt, embroidery, or velvet. A manís suit of clothes would consist of the following: a linen shirt, undergarments made of lawn or muslin, a stiff neckband or stock, a cravat which consisted of a square of cloth folded and tied around the neck, tight pants or breeches anywhere from mid-calf to ankle length, a vest or waist coat, a dress riding coat that was high-cut and double breasted with long tails, and riding boats or shoes in the city. The simplicity of menís styles led many dandies to accessories such as decorative waistcoats, canes, and pocket watches. Extravagantly tied cravats were another affection of dandies.

If a man always wore a clean linen shirt it was a mark of how rich he was, since linen soiled easily. However, linen was often used for shirts and undergarments because it was easily cleaned by boiling it. Muslin was also easy to care for because it was a fine cotton material. Technological advance, such as the mechanical loom, made cotton fabrics cheaper and more fashionable. Poplin was also a popular fabric for clothing because it was thin silk or worsted.

Childrenís clothing also changed in this period. The custom of bundling or tightly wrapping babies was discontinued and christening gowns became popular. All children wore skirts until they were 4-6 years old. The sexes were distinguished by the decoration of these skirts. Stays were also worn by both sexes until the boys reached the "breeching" stage when they would begin to wear pants. Boys might wear "pudding caps" which had a padded band around the head, to protect them from head injuries.