The Regency era brings up visions of ladies in white and Mr Darcy. But when was it? The Regency era was named for the Prince Regent who ruled in England between 1811 and 1820. It’s actually a sub-period of the Georgian era as the Prince Regent became King George IV after his father King George III died. But we all know that the Regency era came after the Georgian and then the Victorian era came. But there’s more to the naming and defining of an era than who is on the throne of England. We also name eras for architectural styles, social change, fashion. We’re talking about fashion here and people often use the words ‘Regency Fashion” to describe those high-waisted styled dresses also known as ’empire’ line (due to the political events happening in France when they came into being). So you’ll see ‘Regency Fashion” being used to describe dresses anywhere from the late 18th century right through to the 1830s.
When I started Regency costuming my definition was ‘the dresses they wore in Pride and prejudice.” but for the purposes of this page I’ll include anything from the late 18th century through to 1837.
In addition to being in a 15th century re-enactment group I’m also in a costuming group. My first event with my costuming event was a pirate night which was a bit of fun, but my first event where I needed a ‘real’ costume was for a regency picnic in 2008. To date I hadn’t done any sewing other than medieval and renaissance clothing and had never used a modern pattern. My first regency dress was made from a simplicity pattern designed to be worn over modern underpinnings. I had my mum’s help but still found the pattern hard to follow, but fortunately I found an online tutorial with decent photographs that helped. For my bonnet I cut down an old sun hat and covered it and tied it on with a ribbon.
I felt pretty on the day but was in awe of all the other’s far superior ensembles.
The next year I decided to make a dress for the picnic with period underpinnings. I made short stays and a new dress. My skills by now were at the stage where I could combine the short puffed sleeve with the long straight sleeve to make long sleeves with a puff.
I also decorated an actual bonnet form.
I made the sleeves so that if I needed and emergency ball gown I could detach the lower sleeves for a short-sleeved dress. Such an occasion did arrive!
Still I was determined to have a more accurate Regency dress, so I began recearching and decided to make one from the early 1800s.
I was much happier with this dress (and it even has a petticoat) but there are things I’ll change for next time. The skirt has too much fabric squeezed into the sides and I didn’t mockup the sleeves which are too small (while the rest of the bodice is a tad large).
I really like the Regency style and have fabric for more dresses and spencers and all sorts of things (off the top of my dress, fabric for two ball gowns, three spencers, four day dresses and a half robe.*) but I haven’t had the chance to make much of it up yet! Because I handsew things take time and I have to prioritize my sewing time to the things which I’ll need or wear most often.
*just to clarify, I don’t have a fabric addiction! I don’t even have a fabric stash. That cupboard where I can’t fit any more fabric into is NOT my fabric stash, just costumes that aren’t made up yet. Shut up. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it! I WILL freely admit to my ribbon, lace and other trimmings stash though. But that’s a necessity.