Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion: Images



day dress

evening dress




Both Sexes


men's hats

men's hair


period fabrics

children's wear

NOT ALL SOURCES are created equal. When you look through a book of historical costume, many of the images are portraits of trendsetters, and are not typical of what people like Jane Austen were actually wearing. It's sort of like watching Madonna videos to understand 1980s costume: certainly they're very much a product of their time, but they're not representative.

FASHION PLATES, which were just becoming popular in the early 1800s, are closer to the truth, although they're still idealized - like leafing through the pages of Vogue. They do offer a lot of ideas for trims and accessories, and remind us that in 1800, one didn't always have to color-coordinate one's hat with one's dress.

The purest source of information is SURVIVING GARMENTS, which in my experience are more varied in style and construction than one would think if judging by illustrations. But they're hard to come by, and don't tell you anything about how they were worn or what they were worn with.

Since PAINTING & DRAWING were part of a well-bred woman's education, amateur sketches exist which, while usually not terribly detailed, tell us more about what people were really wearing. A good example of this is cloaks, which don't show up much in fashion plates, but appear quite frequently in drawings and are mentioned in contemporary novels. There were also some professional artists who painted people as they actually were; J.A.D. Ingres painted and sketched in wonderful detail.
Then there are FILM COSTUMES - but they are subject to the knowledge of the costume maker. In general, films are more likely to be accurately costumed than TV movies, films made after 1970 are more likely to be accurate than those made before, and British productions are more likely to be accurate than American ones. Of course there are exceptions. Furthermore, the gowns, coats, waistcoats, and breeches tend to be the most accurate things worn by actors in any production, with accuracy falling off in the accessories (or lack thereof), then descending to hairstyles (which are usually at least partly modernized), and then makeup (which almost always reflects current standards rather than antique ones).

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Copyright 1997-2003 by David and Jessamyn Reeves-Brown. All rights reserved.
Note: to the best of my knowledge, all images are in the public domain
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