Brocades, Fragrance, Lace, and Powder - A History of Women's Regency Fashion

Written by Leanna Serras

Women's fashion has changed over time from tightly laced corsets to a revealing high-waist that pronounced more of a natural figure. This change occurred during the transition between 1795 and 1820 in Europe and other countries influenced by this fashion changeover. In fact, the undress and informal styles of dress slowly replaced the brocades, lace, periwig, and powders of the earliest 18th century. After the French Revolution, the natives refused to be identified with the aristocrats. Men's fashion took a turn with the introduction of trousers, tailoring, and remaining true to the idea of men's fashion during the Regency era.


During this period, women's fashion was modeled after the Empire silhouette, where dresses were fitted to the torso right under the breasts. "Regency" era fashion refers to the historic time period of 1790 to 1820, or the period between the 18th century and the Victorian era. Women wore a high waistline during this 25-year period, thus abandoning the tight corsets of previous periods. The short waistlines were inspired by neoclassical designs, with flowing skirts made of white, transparent muslin material. This made it easy to wash and drape loosely, similar to ancient Greek and Roman garments. Therefore, the Regency era allowed middle and upper-class women to dress in less restrictive gowns; however, there were still distinctive style dresses for different times of the day and occasion. For instance, morning dresses were worn around the house, whereas evening gowns were trimmed and decorated for social events.

Hairstyles and Headdresses

Additionally, the Classical period extended its influence to different hairstyles and headdresses. Women would often wear curls over the forehead and ears, while drawing the back hair into loose buns as mirrored during ancient Greece and Roman Empire. During the latter part of the Regency era, women began to part the center of their hair and wear ringlets over the ears. Married women wore mob caps, or a wide-brimmed headdress to cover the ears. Fashionable and upper-class women wore morning wear along with these mob caps. Upon leaving the house, most women would opt for a hat or bonnet, while traveling outside in public. Most bonnets were decorated with extravagant accessories, such as feathers and ribbons. Other ornate items were affixed to hats on a frequent basis, often replacing old decorations with new trims, feathers, or ribbons.

Outerwear and Shoes

The majority of women favored the Indian shawls for protection against the outside elements. These shawls were made of delicate cashmere, silk, or muslin for summer months, and designed in paisley patterns. Spencers, or high waistline outdoor jackets, and long-hooded cloaks helped provide the necessary warmth and protection from the cold. Other outdoor clothing for women during the Regency period included: Turkish wraps, Roman tunics, overcoats, capes, and mantles. Most of these garments were made from velvets and exotic furs made from foxes, chinchillas, and sables. Leather, silk, or velvet slippers were worn outdoors, instead of the high-heels of the 18th century. Metal patterns helped protect shoes from the outside elements, including the rain, mud, and snow by elevating one's feet one-inch off the ground.


Accessories were worn both inside and outside of the house. For instance, gloves were worn inside during formal, special occasions, such as a ball or other major social event. Women removed their gloves while dining. Gaiters, long-glove fasteners, crumpled below the woman's elbow, which made them loosely worn during the Regency era. The Regency era introduced reticules, or small handbags with drawstrings attached to the material, which functioned to hold loose personal items similarly to modern purses. Parasols protected fair skin from the sun, which made them necessary accessories to women traveling outdoors on a frequent basis. Fans made of paper or silk were used to manually cool down oneself against the dead heat of the summer months. These accessories were created into various shapes and styles. Fans were used to convey body language and communicate to worthy suitors during the Regency period.

Follow these links to learn more about Women's Regency Fashion between 1790 and 1820: