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Block Print c.1800

Today’s post is going to be more of a gallery. I want to build on my last post (The Colorful Regency) and highlight print gowns. The two methods of printing were block and roller (which are exactly what they sound like). Block predates roller, which was invented in the late 18thC and really came into its own in the 1820s.

It was common to see “penciling” combined with block printing. What this means is that the blue part (and sometimes the yellow part) of the design was painted on after the main pattern or “springs” were printed (yes, that’s what “sprigged muslin” means, printed with a small repeating design).

An unusual method of printing that was period was “chine”. The fabric was printed on the warp before weaving, resulting in a blurred design. I couldn’t find one from the Regency, so there’s an 18thC example in the pictures below, but it WAS used throughout the Georgian period (including the Regency) and Victorian era and beyond.


Print Gown c. 1800

A bit about terminology: Calico is a general catch-all term for medium-weight cotton fabric of Indian origin (heavier than muslin). Chintz is calico which has been printed or painted. Many sources state that chintz was also glazed (note: glazed fabrics can’t be laundered!), but this clearly does not seem to be true of all chintz. These fabrics were commonly used for day dresses throughout the entire Regency period.

Indiennes was the term applied to French imitations of Indian chintz,, the most famous of which were produced in Jouy (such as the copperplate printed scenes we now call “toile,” which were only used for furnishings in the 18th and 19th centuries, so don’t dress your heroine in them).

As you’ll see below, white and cream backgrounds were common, but so were da

rk backgrounds in any color you can think of.

Jane Austen’s World has a nice post on this topic with more examples that are worth looking at when you’re done here.


Orange “Sprigged” Gown c. 1800-1810

drawstring dress 1800 1810 detail

Blue “Sprigged” gown c. 1800-1810

Sprigged Gown c. 1795-1805

1830s dress brown

Brown Printed Gown c. 1830

1820 roller printed dress bodice

Roller Printed Gown c. 1820

1805 1840 green blockprint

Green Block Print Gown c. 1805-1810

1795 1800 hooded perline 3

Printed hooded perline c. 1795-1800

floral front fall back detail 1820

Floral Gown, 1820s

1808 close up of back

Tiny Red Dots 1805-1810




Printed Gown c.1800-1810

dress 1810 detail front

Woven Stripe w/printed sprig c. 1805-1810


Chine printed gown

Example of Chine printing, 18thC

1805 1812

Puce silk c. 1805-1812

1820 striped evening

Purple silk c. 1820

For my first guest post here, I want to talk about the common impression that the Regency period was a sea of plain white gowns (another “inspired by Twitter” post from me). Yes, white was fashionable during the Regency, but it was hardly the only color worn. There was a big kick for all things ancient during the Regency, and as the statues from Rome and Greece had all lost their paint (yes, they weren’t plain white when they were new!) the period conception of the costumes of that period was white. So from the late 18th century into the early decades of the 19th, white ruled the fashionable set (not only was it all the rage, but because it was hard to keep clean, it functioned almost like an in-built sumptuary law: the poor could not ape you).

1820 1822 red muslin evening dress

Red Muslin c. 1820-1825

But even during that period, white was not the only color worn (though I’d lay money it was the most common color worn when sitting for a portrait, which adds to the overemphasis it seems to have on our minds today). When you look at extant garments from the period, what appears is a sea of color: Puce, orange, silvery grey, red, yellow, blue, purple, pink, stripes and block-printed and roller-printed fabrics in all sorts of patterns and colors (with improved patterning and vibrancy by the 1820s).


Blue Blockprint c. 1800

And while many of the examples look plain compared to the huge amounts of decorative passementarie used both before and afterward, if you look at the garments, they often have quite a few decorative elements (and would have often had more once accessorized in a period manner). If you look at the examples in Ackerman’s, you’ll see gowns of every color imaginable, and with enormous decorative variety: net overlays, lace, eyelash or fly trim, beading, spangles, tassels, Elizabethan collars/ruffs, elaborately pleated and tucked chemisettes, silk embroidery, chenille embroidery, and then we hit 1811-1815 and everything goes à la militaire or à la hussar and there’s just BRAID everywhere. By the time we get into the 1820s and the gowns have moved away from the flowing, Grecian lines into belled skirts and natural waists, the ornamentation goes wild. There are stuffed hems, and ribbon embroidery, and chenille ball trim, and rows and rows of big honking decorative stuff all around the hems.

1810 yellow gown

Yellow Muslin c. 1810

I highly recommend Fashions in the Era of Jane Austen (it’s fashion plates from Ackermann’s c. 1809-1820) to anyone who wants to see just how spoogy the gowns can be. Or you can find select examples (in all their colorful glory) on Candice Hern’s site.

When you picture ball scenes when you’re reading, is it an all white scene, or a colorful swirl?

Recently, I played the character of Celia in a production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Celia and her cousin Rosalind are both daughters of dukes who, at the beginning of the play, live in luxury in a palace….until Rosalind is banished. Then Celia and Rosalind run away to the Forest of Arden — Celia disguised as a shepherdess, and Rosalind disguised as Celia’s little brother. Due to Celia’s smart thinking, they’ve brought their “jewels and their wealth” along with them, so they take care of sheep the same way Marie Antoinette did, and have a lot of fun along the way.

So, you’re thinking, what does this have to do with writing Regency romances? I’ll get to that in a moment. 🙂

I wore two costumes in this play. In the first picture here (photo credit: Jesse Sheldon), you see me in a very tight, binding, ouch-my-back-and-shoulders-hurt pale blue gown with a train, a gauze overskirt, trailing sleeves that almost reach the ground, (fake) fur trim, and (fake) pearls sewn all over the gown. I also have a heavy necklace, and a headpiece with a back veil that’s so long it almost touches the floor.

In the second picture here (photo credit: Jesse Sheldon), I am royalty pretending to be common. My green dress still has some trim, but it’s much simpler, and much more comfortable. I skip, I run, I lie down under a tree at one point. I can do pretty much anything but bend forward too far (this dress has a pretty low neckline). 🙂

What I found right away was that the first dress very much changed the way I moved. It kept me upright. It kept me from walking backwards (unless I carefully handled my train while doing so.) It very much restricted how I could move my arms (which I could hardly raise). And sitting on anything was problematic — the “pearls” which adorned the dress are everywhere, so sitting involved sitting on a lot of large beads — rather uncomfortable!

Once I got used to the restricted movement of this gown, I learned its advantages. The long trailing sleeves made smooth, graceful arm movements very dramatic, and highlighted any hand gestures beautifully. The train, sleeves, and long veil clearly stated that this was an important person — and a wealthy one. It was true conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure in one costume.

This leads me to think about the aristocratic ladies of the Regency period. I think one’s first impulse is to assume that all of those empire gowns were just so comfortable. But if you think about it, some of them were fussy…some had trains….some had huge headpieces with feathers…some were probably quite tight…and the stays certainly would have kept things like bending at the waist, and certain sorts of twisting, to a minimum…

So our heroines, particularly when dressed up for balls and such, probably moved and stood in a very different way from women who were servants or shopkeepers. Our elegant heroines would know that a small hand gesture or a graceful inclination of the head would speak volumes. Our young, tomboyish heroines might chafe against such restrictive clothing, and keep trying to do things they really shouldn’t (and getting in trouble.)

I’m sure none of this is new to most of you — but it’s the sort of thing that wearing a costume can make one ponder yet again! So what do you think the advantages and disadvantages of Regency costume were? What character or plot elements might a heroine’s costume cause, or reveal? Can you think of any dress-related plot points in Regencies that you’ve read?

All comments welcome!

Cara King,

Posted in Research, Writing | Tagged , , | 8 Replies

How is everyone doing this week??  I am closing in on the February 15th deadline, slowly but (hopefully) surely, and looking at summer clothes on shopping websites as I fantasize about sundress and sandal weather coming back again.  (Surely it has to be somewhere in the not too distant future??).  I’ve also been following the fascinating news about the discovery and identification of Richard III’s skeleton under a Leicester carpark (that was once the Greyfriars church).  So amazing.

And I finally got some of the professional photos from my Dec. 15th wedding!


It made me wonder what sort of historical wedding portraits I could find.  I discovered things like Arthur Davis’s Mr and Mrs Atherton, ca. 1743 (it was originally thought to have been painted for their wedding a decade earlier, but was then given the later date):


There was Gainsborough’s portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Andrews (and more importantly, their grand estate!):


There was Reynolds’s depiction of the marriage of George III:


Queen Victoria’s wedding:


Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Marriage:


And the famous image of Anne of Cleves by Holbein that enticed Henry VIII into marrying her–until he met her in person, then he “liked her not!”  (I don’t know–I think she looks pretty enough):


And then there is this lady, Antoine Vestier’s Portrait of a Lady With a Book.  I imagine she is thinking about throwing that book at her husband if he says One More annoying thing…


What is your favorite wedding portrait????

Posted in Research | Tagged , , | 7 Replies

Having opened that nutshell, I don’t have the room for too many details. But as I was perusing two books this morning–one being REGENCY ETIQUETTE, The Mirror of Graces (1811) and THE FEMALE INSTRUCTOR (1831) it came home to me that there were prissy attitudes in dress and other attitudes in dress.

Regency affectionados sometimes believe there was just one way that things were–but most of us know that wasn’t so. Not to repeat myself (I may have said something along these lines before) but in the 60’s we did not wear Jackie Kennedy’s neat jacketed suits and pillbox hats, any more than we all wore mini-dresses in huge geometric prints. Or prairie dresses with flowers in our hair.

The lady (I assume both were ladies) author of REGENCY ETTIQUETTE had some amusing comments (not intending to be amusing, naturally). Here is one, regarding stays and corsets:

A vile taste in the contriver, and as stupid an approval by a large majority of women, have brought this monstrous distortion into a kind of fashion; and in consequence we see, in eight women out of ten, the hips squeezed into a circumference little more than the waist; and the bosom shoved up to the chin, making a sort of fleshy shelf, disgusting to the beholders, and certainly most incommodious to the bearer.


She has much to say on the subject of corsets, and also on the subject of a lady who, “of her own choice, ‘unveils her beauties to the sun and the moon.'” All of this suggests that there were ladies who wore stays and those who didn’t, and ladies who bared themselves in one way or the other–by means of low necklines or filmy material–and those who did not. Also, interestingly enough, the pictures published in this volume did not show examples of those you normally saw in women’s fashion publications in that year. The waistlines, for one, were almost at the normal waist and not high at all. (See the b & w scan above).

The authoress of the 1834 volume has a similar opinion as the first. Immodesty and excess of dress are to be avoided, in her opinion, and “…do not be fools in order to be belles. Above all things consider decency and ease; never expose nor torture nature.” She also reiterated the first authoress’ opinion that one should dress appropriately to one’s station. It seems that even in 1811 there were concerns about girls of “plebian classes” dressing above their station.

The second scan is from Costume Parisienne of 1811.

The third is from Ackerman’s of that year (a mourning gown); the fourth is from Acerman’s, 1810, a ball gown.

Finally, the last lady is from Ackerman’s of 1812. I could not tell you which are the cit’s daughters and which are the peers!


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