The era spanning from the 1790s to the 1820s saw an emphasis on elegance and simplicity which was motivated by the democratic ideals of the French Republic but which looked back to classical Greece and Rome for its fashion inspiration. Waists were high, the directional emphasis was vertical, and lightweight white fabrics were at the height of fashions which were so simple that the lady of the time often wore only three garments; a chemise, a corset and a gown! This was an incredible contrast to the clothing of preceding and succeeding periods with their horizontal emphases, multiple layers and often heavy fabrics.

The chemise was the only ladies' undergarment used during the era. (Panties would not be developed until the 20th century and pantalets were not in vogue until Victorian times.) The chemise was simply constructed of linen or cotton. In modern terms its appearance was similar to a long blouse or short nightgown.

In the early days of the Regency era some women wore tight but lightweight linen stays which had an effect similar to a modern push-up bra while some chose to wear no support at all. The ideal was to emulate the "classical" Greek look of ancient statuary and the older conical shaped stays of the Georgian era didn't do the trick. But soon new corset designs had caught up in "support" of the latest fashions. The corset was worn over the chemise, was typically made of linen, laced in the back, was “boned” for firmness and often had a long wooden or whalebone busk in the front to create the “lift and separate” support necessary for Regency fashions. A lady wearing a proper Regency style corset will likely carry herself with flawless posture.

Gown or Dress:
The gown was at least ankle length and had a very high “empire” waist. Some bodices scooped quite low in front and/or back while others were more moderate. Some had trains in the rear which were pinned up while dancing. The sleeves could be short or wrist length as each style was popular at different times. Even a few sleeveless gowns were seen early in the period. The fabric was usually light in color with solid white being the favorite of the era. Small patterns and vertical stripes were also used. Good fabric choices would be lightweight such as cotton batiste, lightweight cotton muslin or a silk such as charmeuse that isn’t too stiff but has a good “drape” to it. Sometimes a very light semi-transparent overdress was worn on top of the main article. White cotton voile or silk chiffon might be good fabrics for such an option. Trim could be in the form of piping, metallic braid or ribbon.

Spencer Jacket:
The Spencer Jacket was an item peculiar to the Regency period which went well with the empire waist gown. It was very fitted, had either a standing or flat collar and could have short or long sleeves. The bottom of the jacket conformed level with the high waist of the gown. Spencer Jackets were often made of linen though wool or silk could be used.

Stockings were often silk or cotton and came up to thigh level.

Low shoes similar to modern lace-up ballet slippers were used as were leather, lace-up shoes with a heel.

Hats and Bonnets:
The poke bonnet was the very popular, signature headwear for ladies of the period. It was long and scoop shaped, sometimes compared unfavorably to a coal scuttle in appearance. Critics of the era’s fashions (often older folks who longed for the “good old days” of the 18th century) represented women in both satire and cartoon as running about in their underwear (lightweight, diaphanous gowns) with comically long headwear (poke bonnets) for hiding their faces in!
Straw “cartwheel” hats, often plumed, were very popular both before and into the 1790s and would have a resurgence in popularity in future decades as well. Turbans and ostrich feathers were quite in vogue for a time, particularly for formal occasions, as were diadems.

Ladies’ hair was quite fashionable when piled high on the head in a classically inspired style with hanging wisps, curly bangs and ringlets about the face.

Small purses which shut by means of a drawstring were popular. Jewelry was worn but for most women tended to be less ostentatious than that of their 18th century counterparts. For example, a small gold, silver or pewter cross on a short, simple chain worn around the neck was considered very tasteful and was the height of fashion during the first two decades of the 19th century. In fact, Jane Austen herself wore just such an item. Hand painted miniatures, (cameos with portraits painted on them) were popular as well.

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The images featured on this page represent a variety of ladies' clothing and fashions ranging from the mid 1790s to the 1820s. Among the portraits may be found commoners, aristocrats and royalty. Some are relatively unknown persons while others were and are widely known. Included are a number of those regarded as great beauties in their day such as Queen Louise of Prussia (widely admired as the most beautiful woman in Europe as well as the most noble), Madame Recamier and Dolly Madison. Among these paintings may be found the work of perhaps the two greatest portrait artists of the age, Madame Vigée Le Brun and Monsieur Jacques-Louis David.
































Encouraging Words in Appreciation of the Ladies

It has been well acknowledged by persons of discernment throughout history that of all the visible creation, God has blessed none with so much beauty as he has woman. This alone would be cause enough for great admiration, yet when woman adds to physical beauty such treasures as the beauty of good character; nobility, grace, generosity, affability, and discretion, along with intelligence, taste, wit and a sense of style, then she is a higher work of art indeed. It is no hidden thing that women have great influence over men. A low woman may be able to reduce a low man to the level of a swine. But a true lady has the ability to lift, inspire and ennoble a good man toward chivalry, gentlemanly ideals and greatness itself.

Ladies, do polish your physical beauty and allow it to shine, recognizing that your attire does matter, yet take even greater heed to the development of those qualities which will bring depth to beauty's luster. When you have done this you will discover great power in making use of all to inspire the good men around you to higher levels of their own.

Your fond admirer,

Lord Scott