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Regency Period: Fashion, Clothing & Shoes

Instructor: Anne Butler

Anne has a bachelor's in K-12 art education and a master's in visual art and design. She currently works at a living history museum in Colorado.

The Regency era was a time of relatively simple and classic fashions. Inspired by classical Greece and Rome, these fashions are usually seen in movie adaptations of any of Jane Austen's novels.

What does 'Regency' mean?

The Regency period itself was relatively short, lasting only from 1811 to 1820. The era's title comes from the time when Prince George IV was ruling in the place of his father, King George III. The prince acted as the king's regent because various illnesses affected the nervous system of King George III and he was declared unfit to rule. George IV ruled in his place until his father's death in 1820.

Even though that's the official timeline, the regency style in fashion really began around 1795. People were shocked by the events of the French Revolution and sought to make their clothes less aristocratic and more functional and simple. Styles were influenced by classical Greek and Roman sculptures; ladies had almost column-like dresses and men had well-fitting and tailored pants and jackets.

Different Styles of Regency Clothing
clothing

Women's Clothing

Undergarments

The first item women always wore, whether day or night, was the chemise. This garment looks a bit like a nightgown. Its modern day comparison would be a slip. Since Regency dresses were usually light and airy, women needed an extra layer so their legs and waist couldn't be seen through their dresses. Chemise necklines were usually low, so sometimes women would add an extra layer on top called a chemisette. This made it look like there was a blouse underneath their dresses without adding extra bulk. Underwear wasn't a thing yet, so women would wear corsets and drawers. Drawers, while not worn by everyone, were two pant legs tied together at the waist, allowing women to do their business. Petticoats gave dresses an extra poof.

Dresses

Dresses were usually high-waisted , eliminating the need for large corsets that forced the wearer's waist completely inward. Dresses scooped low in the front and were made of light weight fabrics such as cotton, silk, or muslin. Everyday dresses were usually white, but sometimes a light color such as green. Evening gowns were much fancier versions of regular dresses and the wearer usually wore extra ribbons in their hair or even a turban or other hat. Hair was usually up in a simple style, unlike the elaborate and powdered wigs previously popular.

An English dress from about 1820. Mannequin also displays a period hairstyle.
dress

Outerwear and Shoes

Regency women had many choices for outwear. One of the most popular was the spencer jacket, which was a waist-length coat. Another longer choice was the pelisse, which was a full length coat designed to be worn over dresses. Coats were usually a thicker material like wool. If a hat was worn, it was usually a bonnet.

Spencer and Petticoat from 1815
spencer

Early shoes of the Regency period were high-heeled pumps with large buckles. Both men and women wore these. There was no difference between a right and a left shoe in the Regency period. Shoemakers designed a shoe and then the wearer would break it in.

As clothing styles changed, so did shoes. Women would have at least three pairs of shoes; one for every day, one for dancing, and one for walking. Wearers would also sometimes strap pattens on their shoes. These were a lift that allowed the wearer to keep their shoes out of mud and other wet ground.

Men's Clothing

Shirts and Pants

Men's undergarments weren't nearly as complicated as women's. Nightclothes were a simple shirt. Men didn't have to worry about their clothes being see through, but there were many layers. Clothes for men were simple as well. Men's shirts were usually a linen shirt with an attached collar. A stock or cravat were added to more formal outfits. These were ruffled collars designed to be worn under the chin.

Pants were longer and usually tucked into boots. Shorter pants had fallen out of favor for longer pants. Pants also had something that today we'd call a button fly. A flap at the front allowed men to button and unbutton as needed.

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