What’s Haute, What’s Not

One of the reasons so many of us love the Regency is the elegance of the clothing: the simplicity, the reliance on truly beautiful lines and well-chosen details rather than fussiness and tight corseting. But among the many beautiful creations of the time there were also some fashion horrors, especially near the end of the period with the advent of Victorian excess.

So here’s my take on the Best and Worst of Regency fashion.

Best #1: from a painting by Constance Mayer (left), 1801, possibly a self-portrait. This is everything I love about Regency style: simple, elegant with just a touch of decoration around the sleeves and a ribbon threaded through the hair. Forever chic.

Best #2: a dress for dancing, circa 1809 (right). With the same elegant lines plus simple gold embellishments, it’s the perfect thing to wear to Almack’s and attract the attention of an eligible lord. (No wonder the Republic of Pemberley chose to incorporate this image into its coat of arms.)

Best #3: Portrait of a lady by Henri François Mulard, ca. 1810 (left). She just looks so pretty, with her simple white dress, nice touches of blue in the sash and fichu, contrasting color in the coral jewelry and the shawl. And her hair is so pretty, too!

Best #4: Walking dress, La Belle Assemblée, 1813 (right). Pretty and white, again with nicely coordinated touches of blue and the gold of the straw bonnet. What a cute little sash at the back, and such dainty footwear. One never knows whom one might meet when out for a stroll, after all!

Best #5: Ingres, Mlle de Senonnes, 1815 (left). Those French women just know how to do it. Velvet in a passionate red, that naughty look-but-don’t touch gauzy neckline, and the froth of lace. The perfect ensemble in which to seduce your rakish romance hero. Tres sexy!

And now for the worst…

Worst #1: A walking dress from around 1810 (right). Look at all those silly tassels, the overly vertical lines, the silly lacing over the breasts. No wonder the dog is barking at her. Hope he snaps off some of those extra tassels.

Worst #2: Bathing Place Evening Dress, 1810 (left). I don’t even know where to begin on this one. What a hideous shape, and that short skirt length, and all those silly ruffles! Makes me think of those frilly things they used to put on lamb chops. Ugh! And this is supposed to be evening wear?

Worst #3: Evening dress, from Ackermann’s Repository, 1816 (right). Now we see a new fussiness in the rosettes, the patterns, the flounces. If you are at all short or plump, you will look like a wedding-cake in this!

Worst #4: Evening dress, 1818 (left). They put everything but the kitchen sink onto this dress: strands of pearls, the sleeves with spiral-wound ruffles of lace, all that padded satin down the front. And that turban! All proof there are always some people who are into conspicuous consumption.

Worst #5: Court dress, modeled by Queen Caroline. How hideous is this???!!! Whoever thought that an empire waist should be combined with a hoop skirt is guilty of the most heinous Fashion Crime of the Millennium.


So what does everyone else think?

Which ensemble would you like to wear? Which one deserves the honor of Best Regency Style?

Which do you think is the least becoming? The overall Worst Fashion Faux Pas of the Regency?

LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, RT Reviewers’ Choice Award nominee

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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11 Responses to What’s Haute, What’s Not

  1. I think the busyness you highlight is the worst aspect of Regency fashion…plus, honestly, I hate the little ringlets that frame the face (yeah, I have straight hair. So does my heroine. Wanna make something of it?).
    An empire waist on someone built like me–small waist, large hips–is sorta deadly, too. Makes you look like your head is a point and you widen as you go down. Not attractive.

  2. Tess says:

    I’d love to wear Best #4, followed closely by Best #1 and think Worst #1 is definitely the WORST of the lot!

  3. Elena Greene says:

    Have you ever tried wearing a Regency gown?

    I definitely have the hourglass figure (albeit a bigger hourglass than I’d like, but proportional) and I thought the same thing about empire waists. I didn’t like how I looked in my Regency gown at RWA National this year, but I was jetlagging and having trouble with my corset so I just went in an ordinary bra.

    But at the Regency Tea and booksigning I did, I wore the corset, snugly but not uncomfortably laced, and it made a HUGE difference. It helps the bodice to come in properly at the high waist, and emphasizes the upper, um, “charms” and that helps to balance things out. A bit of puff in the sleeves is good, too, as long as it’s not as crazy as some of the ones we see in the less-accurate covers. Some of those look like bridesmaids’ nightmares, sad to say!

    Elena 🙂

  4. Nicole says:

    I really like the first one, but also love that red velvet one. Though I think I might pop out the front if I was wearing it.

  5. Cara King says:

    I liked some of the ones you disliked, Elena! Guess I’m just not so picky. 🙂

    I agree about the hoops with the empire waist, though — I’ve always hated that!

    I think I’m not really overwhelmingly in love with any of the ones you posted… I like white all right, but I don’t like it when everything has to be white. 🙂


  6. KimW says:

    My favorite is #5 but unlike Nicole, I don’t think anything would pop out if I wore it. haha! The worst is #4 and #5. It’s not only the dress but I don’t want to wear a turban or a feather like that on my head.

  7. Todd says:

    Hmm. Well, I think my wife might look at me strangely if I tried any of those fashions on. Though now that I think about it, my mother used to argue that it was a sign of Male Domination And The Oppression of Women that it has become acceptable for women to wear men’s clothing (e.g., trousers), but not for men to wear women’s (e.g., skirts)–as if it were demeaning for a man to look like a woman, but not vice versa. So perhaps I should strike a blow for equality!

    Ahem. Just as a disinterested admirer, I quite liked Best #1 and Best #2. And based on seeing Cara in her Regency gown, I think there is much to be said for the, er, high waist, and the er, I guess I’ll stop there. 🙂


  8. I like #5 and #1 the best (I’d wear either of them!) and #2 of the worst the least. Those ruffled bloomer things, ack!!! I don’t like the later Regency fashions nearly so much, all those big sleeves and poufy trims. But I love the simple, drapey styles. And I agree with Megan on those tiny little ringlets. If I lived then, I would have had to go with the short, Caro Lamb coiffure.

    Also, being on the, er, petite side (sounds so much better than “short”), I like high-waisted styles with simple lines. As long as they’re not too gathered in the skirt, for that “pregnant” look. 🙂

  9. I quite like worst #3. Imagine the nice rustling sounds it would produce and that would drive gentlemen mad with lust. But I must agree that the best fashions of the period are the earlier ones which relied on drape and simple lines.

    As for Q. Caroline, she looks like a tea cosy. Sorry, your majesty.


  10. Alyssa says:

    The yellow one with the tassels is quite awful, although #5 worst is bad too.

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