The years between 1795 and 1825 were known in Britain as the Regency Period. It was a time characterized by war, political upheaval, revolution and immense change in Europe. It occurred after the slower paced Georgian period where very little changed, and just prior to the fasting moving industrialization of the Victorian age.
It was a time of growth, expansion, religious revival, defining of culture and testing of diplomatic and military willpower; a time of constant conflict and the clashing of the old ways, philosophies and points of view against a new more modern way of thinking, often displayed to the bloody extreme. Leading figures of the age included political and military icons such as Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte, Lord Horatio Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Czar Alexander I, Queen Louise of Prussia and diplomat Karl Metternich. The Regency era was also a time of great elegance and beauty. Ludwig von Beethoven composed “classical” music and Jane Austen wrote novels such as Pride & Predjudice, Sense & Sensibility and Emma. Country dances were popular, beautiful works of art were created and Greek architecture enjoyed a huge revival. This extended also to the fashion of the day. In efforts to emulate the styles and philosophies of the ancient Greeks, women’s clothing reached heights of classic simplicity it had not attained for many centuries, and so was born the Regency period gown.
I myself have also gone through a change of heart with regards to this manner of dress. Even as little as a year ago, I would not have embraced this gown. The flimsy fabrics and often risque manner of attire did not appeal to me, but as in the Regency period itself, I found that times of change can’t be helped, but instead are reflected in one’s own attitude towards many things. It was with the coming of our little grandson that I slowly came to a change of mind. I had fashioned the rather large gowns of the Georgian era with the boned bodices and hooped petticoats and much as I love them still, I really had to be a little more realistic about what Shara and I were actually going to wear to such an event as the Tall Ships Festival. Although the Georgian gowns are perhaps more in keeping with the 250th anniversary of the Royal Navy Dockyards in Halifax, the time was to be July, and some the warmest weather of the year could be expected. With our entourage, we were going to have a small child and a nursing mother and I had to be honest with myself. The Georgian gowns were just not going to work for us this particular time and occasion.
Warily, I set my mind back to the Regency period. After-all, our men are dressing as Naval and Marine officers circa about 1805, Napoleonic Wars to the War of 1812, and really wouldn’t a regency gown seriously match the uniforms they would be wearing in a much more authentic way? So I set my mind to researching the gowns of that era. I found that fabrics such as fine muslins, lawns, silks and laces would be so much cooler for us and so much more adaptable to our requirements. I found that although clothing was simpler and more revealing, it also had an innocence, elegance and beauty that was very desirable. Fine women were still as modest and refined as ever but were granted some modicum of freedom in their dress and self expression. This led to many advances for them in lifestyle, as well as artistic and literary endeavours, to name but a few. I certainly couldn’t begrudge them that and I liked it…a lot!
The first Regency gown I have completed, and which is modeled by my daughter Shara in this post, is very simple in it’s design. It is based upon research I did about the drawstring gowns that were being worn at the time. They are very conducive to women of differing situations and sizes and also flattering to many figure types. I also watched Emma, Pride & Prejudice and several other Jane Austen movies. 🙂 I started with an embroidered raw silk like fabric in a cinnamon shade for the dress, a fine see through gold checked lawn and a gold venice style lace for accent. The neckline is fairly low and the waist is high, both would normally be gathered with a simple drawstring and tied. I sacrificed a little authenticity here and used modern day elastic, simply to make the act of nursing an infant easier. I made the slightly gathered sleeves about elbow length and added a lace insert at the cleavage in order to abide somewhat to the then rules of modesty in day dress. Bare arms and cleavage were acceptable only for evening wear. I also added a wide belt and satin ribbon to accentuate the empire waistline. I also made a triangular lace modesty piece to wear over the shoulders and to be used as both a cover up and a warmer. I was so happy to find a plain regency reproduction straw bonnet/hat, which I decorated with scraps of fabric, lawn, ribbon and lace. Self made buttons also decorate both the hat and the dress.
So, all in all I’m pretty happy with the result ‘and Shara looks a very fine Regency lady in it. Quite lovely! Mr. Darcy would no doubt approve!