Detail does matter. The Regency lady going to dinner, or going to a ball, wanted every detail of her appearance to be perfect. Especially if her aim was to attract a potential husband. (She might, of course, have been a married lady looking for a little diversion with a new lover.)
Did the gentlemen in question notice these details? Possibly they did, because most of the details on these gorgeous gowns were around two areas of the female body that drew the masculine eye — the low-cut neckline exposing much of the lady’s bosom, and the naughty ankle, glimpsed as the lady walked or danced.
Regency gowns — rich in detail
I make no apologies for showing this vibrant red gown again (from the Hereford Museum Collection). It would always be striking from a distance, simply because of the colour. No gentleman could miss the lady wearing this.
But look more closely at the detail on the bodice and those sexy little puffed sleeves. Gorgeous workmanship by some anonymous seamstress. Those red satin appliqué flowers edged with chartreuse would have nestled against the bare skin of the lady’s shoulder. Quite a come-on.
And if the lady in question should happen to flash a neat silk-clad ankle while dancing? With that hem catching the candlelight, he wouldn’t have missed the frisson, would he?
But weren’t debutantes limited to white?
Debutantes were supposed to wear white or pale pastels, of course, but even they could use trimmings and colour to draw attention to their assets. The bright embroidery at the neck and hem of this muslin gown is a good example (in the Hereford museum). The muslin is incredibly fine and see-through. A debutante should have worn lawn petticoats under this gown, but what if she dared to damp them when her chaperon wasn’t looking?
Some debutantes would have looked terrible in white because it didn’t suit their colouring.
Alverstoke, in Georgette Heyer’s Frederica, is an elegant gentleman who dresses in the Beau Brummell fashion and has a very discerning eye for what ladies are wearing. At the grand come-out ball, he notes that Louisa’s plain daughter is wearing a hideously unflattering pink gauze gown with a wreath of pink roses on her head. He says nothing to Louisa, but he compliments Mrs Dauntry on having chosen a primrose gown for her daughter Chloë, since it is much more flattering to the girl’s creamy complexion.
Perhaps Chloë’s gown was like this one from the Hereford Museum collection. Isn’t that appliqué lace hemline stunning? It would have caught the light beautifully as its wearer moved.
Shy Chloë, of course, would never have dared to dampen her petticoats.
Dashing damsels wore dark… and daring detail
This is one of my favourite gowns, even though it’s in a colourway (brownish-maroon) that few would choose nowadays. It includes chartreuse trimming again, as on the red gown above. Possibly that particular shade of yellow-green showed up really well in candlelight?
It looks simple until you look closely at the details — the eye-catching hemline with those carefully applied parallel lines of chartreuse silk, individually padded, the twisted chartreuse edging to the neckline…
and, finally, those extraordinary puffed sleeves, with several frothy layers, and narrow chartreuse piping to the top one, all stitched by a seamstress of real talent.
I imagine that the debutantes in their pale pastels were lusting after more vibrant gowns like these, knowing that they were forbidden to those just “out”. For many of the very young ladies, there would be no chance of graduating to such “fast” attire until after they were safely married.
To be continued in yet another blog, one of these days, once the Joanna picture collection is properly under control…
Lovely, Joanna. And I would choose the brownish-maroon/chartreuse dress – I love the colour. But then, I’d be allowed to, wouldn’t I?
Well, a young gel like you, Lesley, I don’t know…
Actually, the pics don’t do justice to that maroon/chartreuse gown. It’s fabulous in the flesh, so to speak, and would probably suit you very well.
Wonderful post, Joanna. I’m still lusting after the red gown myself.
Don’t blame you, Jan. It is De-lish, and the colour is astonishing, considering how old it is.
I have another post in preparation, with more — and different — gowns. Soon…
Gorgeous. When you see them in the flesh, as it were, it really gives a feel for how intricate the sewing was and how the style lent itself so well to the female form. All kinds of bumps and lumps of flesh might be hidden under there. Though I can’t help but feel sorry for the seamstresses straining their eyes in the candlelight over these detailed little touches.
Yes, I agree about the seamstresses, as I said in my previous post about them. Do agree about the detail, which is gorgeous. You’re right about hiding, too, though when I’ve seen the more buxom actresses in Austen adaptations, it’s clear that corsets had a major role to play
These are so beautiful. Sigh. The chartreuse is rather a trying colour under electric light but, as you say, candlelight would have softened it, and it certainly makes a striking contrast.
And as for that glamorous red confection … do you think this was the colour of Deb Grantham’s stripes in Faro’s Daughter, when she goes to Vauxhall and tries to shock Max Ravenscar with her fast behaviour and vulgar appearance? Coquelicot stripes always sounded wonderful to me. Poppy red, were they?
My mental image of Deb’s dress is a colour much like this, in stripes about three inches wide, which would have been pretty striking, especially when worn with the clashing garnet jewellery and the “head” of feathers that gave Deb’s aunt the vapours. Personally, I never thought of the coquelicot stripes as wonderful, though. Just “in your face”
Luscious gowns. I’m glad I’m modern. I wouldn’t have done well at Almacks! (I wouldn’t even have been there, of course. My ancestors from every country are strictly middle class; generally they were farmers, artisans, and teachers.
Agree about the gowns, Sue. Unlike many fashions of previous centuries, I think we can see ourselves wearing styles like these. But of course the rules around acceptable behaviour for unmarried women were horrendous and would have driven modern women up the wall.
Thanks, John. Great to see you here at Libertà