Daphne Bridgerton may have reignited your curiosity in the matter, but Regency era aesthetics have long been the talk of town! While the recent revival of interest in Regency era fashion certainly has Netflix’s latest period drama to thank, Regency era fashion has captivated clothing connoisseurs for decades.
Read on to learn about the variety of influences woven into the fabric of Regency era fashions, the most popular silhouettes of the day and the lasting impact of these most dashing and romantic designs. While Brigerton certainly caused a sartorial sensation, this author has much more to divulge when it comes to peeking inside the Regency era closet!
Defining the Regency Era:
Historically, the Regency period marks the years 1811 to 1820 in Great Britain. This period in the early 19th century reflects the regency of George IV, who was appointed to lead by the Regency Act of 1811 after his father George III relapsed into mental illness and could no longer serve his official duties.
Despite the unhappy circumstances of George III’s decline, the Regency era was marked by a booming resurgence of society engagements and new levels of refinement and culture. Queen Charlotte, the Prince Regent and their dashing circle of close confidants all enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and polite society followed suit.
Illustration from Life in London by Pierce Egan, plate 24, 1821
The era was defined by several changes in arts and culture. Architecture and furniture design
flourished during the era. Romanticism blossomed during this time and musicians, artist, novelists and poets all created beautiful and inspired art in the Romantic movement.
Key Regency figures include groundbreaking artists like J.M.W. Turner and John Constable, great poets including Lord Byron and John Keats, and, of course, the incomparable Jane Austen. Austen's chronicles of Regency-era romance captivated readers then and now, and no doubt offered immeasurable inspiration for the Brigerton stories filling our screens today.
Empire Waist Woman's Dress, England, circa 1820 | LACMA
While all of these developm
ents made the Regency an era to remember, one of the most captivating aspects of the time was the revolutionary fashion. Regency period fashion perfectly blended classicism and romanticism, embracing simplicity, grace, and refinement. Regency clothing designs married exquisite details with timeless silhouettes, creating looks that simultaneously recalled neoclassical grace while adding flourishes of whimsy and texture.
Regency Crystal And Ormolu Epergne | M.S. Rau
Much like the fashions of the day, Regency style furnishings, such as this delightful epergne combined the influence of classical antiquity, as seen in the Egyptian sphinx details, with colorful contemporary flourishes like the scalloped cranberry-hued glass. To learn more about Regency Era furniture and design, read our blog
on the topic!
The Regency Era Fashion: A Melting Pot of Influences:
Regency fashion was influenced by various factors, including political, social, and artistic movements. The Regency era marked a transition from the opulence of the Georgian era to a more refined and understated elegance. The revival of interest in classical art and literature, particularly the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, heavily influenced the aesthetic of Regency fashion.
Wedding dress, about 1807, England. Museum no. T.12:1-2013. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London
The French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars led to a shift in fashion trends, as some women sought comfort and practicality. Concurrently, Napoleon’s wife, Empress Joséphine Bonaparte exerted a huge influence on French society and fashion that extended into the British empire. Together with Napoleon, the couple was instrumental in reinstating France’s place as the arbiter of style and luxury.
As a patron of the arts, the Empress encouraged French artists and craftsmen to create masterpieces that evoked the opulence and rich embellishments of the classical era. Empress Joséphine revived the wearing of fancy necklaces and tiaras in aristocratic fashion and under her discerning eye, the jewelry created during this period enhanced feminine gentility whilst remaining elegant, geometric and stunning.
Convertible Diamond Necklace, Bracelet and Tiara | M.S. Rau
Handcrafted circa 1810-1820 in the style favored by Empress Joséphine, this extraordinary and one-of-a-kind convertible set can transform into a diamond necklace, bracelet and tiara. The set contains a conservative estimate of 95.00 carats of marvelous Old Mine-cut white diamonds that each display a kaleidoscope of dazzling vibrancy. All eleven of the rosettes of diamonds can be worn as a necklace, bracelet, or tiara by unscrewing the grouping from the original base.
Only two comparable necklaces are known; one, owned by Empress Joséphine, resides in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian and the other was gifted by King George IV to his mistress Lady Conyngham, illustrating the French influence on British Regency era fashion.
Regency Women’s Fashion: The Rise of Empire Silhouettes:
One of the defining features of Regency era fashion for women was the empire silhouette. The most prominent fashion trend of the day,
Regency style empire line dresses were high-waisted, with a raised waistline just below the bust. This style accentuated the natural body shape and allowed for freedom of movement. Delicate fabrics such as muslin and silk were favored. Though the silhouettes were classic and simple, designs were often adorned with intricate embroidery, lace, and ruffles.
The raised waistline of the empire waist gown was countered by more daring necklines. Regency ladies sought to fill out the wide square necklines of these gowns with the aid of a variety of undergarments. This included a new variation of the corset that debuted around 1810 that was amusingly nicknamed the “Divorce Corset.” The garment featured a stiff panel that separated the breasts which was ideal for filling the empire gown’s low cut.
Garments like these helped add to the overall feminine and romantic shape of the Regency era’s most popular style. A favorite of the fashionable Regency lady, empire waist dresses were at the center of this fashion revolution.
Regency Men’s Fashion: Dandyism and Tailored Excellence:
Court Suit. 1810-1820, England | Victoria & Albert Museum
Regency men's fashion embraced dandyism, emphasizing elegance and attention to detail. Tailored coats with high collars, fitted waistcoats, and breeches were the key elements of men's attire. Elaborate cravats, intricately folded neckwear, and top hats were signature accessories. Beau Brummell, a prominent figure in Regency fashion, popularized the trend of meticulously tailored suits, setting the standards for men's fashion that endure to this day.
Tail Coat, England, circa 1820 | LACMA
The Regency Ballgown: Epitome of Grace and Style:
Evening Dress, England, 1810 | Victoria and Albert Museum
Back detail, evening ball gown.
The Regency ball gown was the pinnacle of the era’s most ubiquitous fashion trend. These glorious dresses were the epitome of grace and style, symbolizing the elegance of the era. These gowns were characterized by their floor-length, flowing skirts, often embellished with delicate embroidery and trimmings. Gowns sometimes featured off-the-shoulder necklines, adding a touch of sensuality, while the high waistline created a flattering and ethereal silhouette.
Some Regency ball gowns also featured ruching in the back, creating sinuous and rounded shapes that underscored the romantic femininity desired by fashionable ladies of the day. These gowns were worn by high class women for formal occasions and became the centerpiece of Regency fashion.
Accessorizing the Regency Look: Bonnets, Gloves, and Beyond:
To complete the Regency look, accessories played a crucial role. Women adorned their heads with bonnets, often decorated with ribbons, feathers, and flowers. Gloves were an essential accessory, worn both during the day and for evening events. Delicate parasols and fans added a touch of elegance while serving a practical purpose. Jewelry pieces, such as cameos, pearl necklaces, and intricate hair ornaments, complemented the overall aesthetic. To learn more about Regency period fashion jewels, explore out our blog covering Georgian and Regency jewelry.
Regency men donned top hats and riding gloves along with elaborately tied cravats. As a nod to the dandyism of the day, gentleman often completed their fashionable attire with an elegant walking stick. Canes have long been carried as an accessory of distinction. To learn more about the history of these finely crafted walking sticks, check out our blog about collecting antique canes
The Influence of Regency Fashion on Modern Trends: A Timeless Legacy:
Regency era fashion continues to inspire contemporary fashion designers and enthusiasts alike. Elements such as the empire silhouette, high waistlines, and delicate fabrics have found their way into modern fashion. Bridal gowns often draw inspiration from Regency fashion, with designers incorporating empire waistlines and ethereal fabrics. Regency-inspired fashion events and balls celebrate the enduring allure of this elegant era.
Woman's Dress, England, circa 1818 | LACMA
This Regency period empire waist gown from LACMA’s impressive costumes and textiles collection recalls many of the sunny fashions worn by Penelope Featherington in the popular Bridgerton show.
The Regency era left an indelible mark on the world of fashion, captivating us with its timeless elegance and exquisite details. From the empire silhouettes, elaborate jewels, dandyism in men's fashion and stunning ball gown attire, the Regency period continues to influence and inspire. As we embrace the revival of Regency era fashion, we pay homage to an era that celebrated grace, refinement and a harmonious blend of classicism and romanticism.