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.
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…