Beauty is Shape By Pauline Weston Thomas for Fashion-Era com

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1800-1825 is it Late Georgian, Regency or Both?

The period 1800-1837 is part of the Georgian era. George III was insane after 1811, but alive until 1820. His son the Prince Regent, George, acted as Regent for nine years of the King's madness, then reigned 1820-1830. Because of the influence of the Georgian Prince Regent on the era, it is known as the Regency. 

Bonaparte's Influence on Fashion 1804

Napoleon Bonaparte crowned Emperor in 1804 was keen to make France a leader of fashion and innovator of design and craft skills. During the French Revolution the French textile industry had suffered and unlike in England, use of textile machinery had been non existent. Emperor Napoleon stopped the import of English textiles and he revived the Valenciennes lace industry so that fine fabrics like tulle and batiste could be made there.

To make women buy more material he forbade them to wear the same dress more than once to court. Ladies dresses had extra fabric gathered into the back and trains were seen again for evening. Bonaparte also had fireplaces at the Tuileries blocked up so that ladies would wear more clothing. He did not ignore men's rôle in the revival of the textile economy and he enforced male military officials to wear white satin breeches on formal occasions. 

Bonaparte was following a long tradition of promoting the French economy through fashion. Empress Josephine was a great fashion leader. She was an ideal model for the slender fashions of the day designed by Leroy. 

Josephine in Full Regalia

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You can read more about how Louis XIV promoted fashion in an earlier era when he sent fashion dolls to European courts. See the section called Fashion Dolls.

The Empire Style 1800

The high waisted graceful styles of early 19th century are known as the Empire style. The Empire dress which evolved in the late 1700s began as a chemise shift gathered under the breasts and at the neck. 

More Simple Empire Clothes

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Named after The First Empire, by 1800 it had a very décolleté low square neckline, a short narrow backed bodice and separate skirt. The small neat puff sleeves barely capped the shoulder. They were pulled back by the narrow cut of the bodice and this restricted arm movement to a certain daintiness.

Regency dress in the period 1800-1820 was based on classical principles of flowing Grecian robes. For modesty until 1810 a tucker or simple chemisette (a side opening half blouse) filled the bare neckline by day. 

Chemisettes like these with side fastenings were worn under low necked gowns as a modesty filler.

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The soft muslin dresses of 1800 clung to the body highlighting the natural body outline so stays were unpopular unless the figure demanded them. These Empire fashions at the turn of the century were often little more than sheer nightgowns.  The practical solution to the discomfort of lighter clothing was to simply adopt the warm undergarment called pantaloons and already worn by men.

The pantaloons were made of light stockinet in a flesh toned nude colour and reached all the way to the ankles or to just below the knee.  This is why Empire women often appear to be wearing no underwear when seen in paintings of the era. The flesh tone pantaloons acted in just the same way under clothes as they do today when a women wears a flesh toned bra and briefs under white or pastel trousers and top.

Stays Worn about 1810.

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Later it became fashionable to wear a white or pastel slippery silk satin slip over the stays making the dress silhouette quite smooth. To support extra skirt fullness a small bustle pad lifted the dress back. 


The Fabrics for Empire Line Dresses

The fabric for Empire dresses was usually fine white lawn, muslin or batiste. Although muslins were less costly than silks, good white work embroidered lawn fabrics still cost money. Muslin also laundered better than silks, but the white muslins still needed a great deal of attention to keep them looking pristine clean. Regular wearing of white gowns was a sign of social status as white soiled so easily. White gowns generally were kept for evening and in the day pastel or coloured robes were thought more suitable. 

White Muslin Empire Gown.

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Empire Costumes Paper Dolls another great selection from Tom Tierney.

In winter heavier velvets, cottons, linens, fine wools and silks were used and sometimes extra warmth came from flannel petticoats or full under slip dresses. 

Decoration That Helps Identify and Date Dresses 1800-1825

The classical decoration was inspired by images of Grecian ladies from original Greek art. To help you date costumes in prints, paintings and productions it is useful to understand that the classical line was debased by other types of decoration dependant on fashion influences. For example Napoleon's expeditions to the east and items brought back by him and other soldiers created interest in Egyptian ornamentation.

Classical Grecian Decoration on Dress 1800-1803

Between 1800 and 1803 classical ornament used geometric shapes. Greek key patterns decorated garment hems, sleeve bands and shawls. All the embroidery was initially delicate and light, faithfully following the classical influence, but eventually the embroidery became coarsely executed. 


Egyptian Ornament on Classical Dress 1804-1807

One of the problems of such simple classical silhouettes was their very simplicity. This soon led to boredom and decorative innovation as the restraint of staying pure to plain classical robes was too much for some. Between 1804 and 1807 the classical robes developed an eastern exotic feel with Etruscan and Egyptian decoration with woven or embroidered borders on fabric lengths and on stoles. The eastern patterns first appeared from gifts Napoleon gave to his Empress Josephine after his visits to Egypt. Soon everyone copied the items.  Empress Josephine was an icon and fashion leader of her time.

European and Military Influence in Decoration 1808

After 1808 Spanish ornament featured on robes and appeared as slashed areas and tiered sleeves. When sleeves covered the hand they were called à la mamelouk.  

Peasant influence from European dress was particularly applied to the name of coats, cloaks and mantles such as the Witzchoura redingote an empire cloak of Russian origin. 

The Napoleonic Wars meant that soldiers uniform had high visibility and military style details featured on clothing for both sexes. Frogging, braids, cords, velvet and other trims lent a topical jaunty dashing air to many a garment, especially outdoor wear.

The Gothic Influence 1811

By 1811 in Britain, influence of the Middle Ages, termed Gothic crept into dress styles debasing the pure classical lines. The bodice gained more shaping and could be panelled. It was not cut so tight and narrow as in the first decade so it made the shoulder line broader and the dress more comfortable to wear. 

The flowing medieval touches soon broadened to include Tudor and Elizabethan times with ruffed and Vandyke triangular pointed decoration and cross over bodices. In England copious trimmings on skirts were all the rage from flounces and padded rolls to pleated, fanned and tucked trims. Embellishment was according to the latest fashion which sometimes took its own course due to the hostilities between France and Britain. But by 1820 the dress had lost all classical form and took on a pure Gothic line which lasted until Queen Victoria's accession. 


Variations in Fashion Between France and England 1808-1814

In wartime between 1808 and 1814 the female waistline lengthened in England. English ladies really had little idea of what was happening to Paris fashion. When visitors from Britain returned to France after the 1814 peace treaty they were amazed that fashions were so different. In Paris waists were worn very much higher than in England and skirt hems were wider, more A-line, padded and decorated.

British fashion soon followed the French lead after the French ridiculed the English dresses in cartoons making them appear very ugly with bulbous tulip round waisted skirts and solid corsetry. 

Rise and Fall of the Waistline 1815-1825

In 1815 with the Napoleonic wars over, Britain began to follow French fashion trends for wearing a high waistline. The waistline reached its peak height in 1816-17 when the line fell directly under the breasts. Almost as soon as the waist had risen, 1818 fashion plates began to show the waistline dropping and tightening. It continued to drop annually by an inch, until by 1825 it was at last in its normal position. 


Leroy the French designer had to follow the whims of his clients and drop the dress waists and widen the skirts. It seems that French ladies soon preferred the English style. Anglomania began to sweep France. 

After 1820 as the neat slim waist emerged, corsets were worn again by all women. The narrower buckle belted day waist or sash wrapped evening waist was balanced by widening skirts which were often horsehair padded and frilled to make them stand away from the legs. By 1825 the wider skirts were balanced by a wider shoulder line with a leg of lamb sleeve often known as a gigot sleeve. This had begun as a short sleeve which had been covered over by a transparent or semi opaque sleeve, and eventually a solid fabric. It was the forerunner of all manner of fancy sleeve styles setting the scene for more romantic dress styles of the 1830s. 


The Pelisse 1800-1850

The pelisse can be a confusing term because there were several forms over a 50 year period. The first form of pelisse worn from 1800 to 1810 was an empire line coat like garment to the hip or knee. After 1810 it was worn full length and was a warmer longer sleeved coat than the Spencer, but often made of the same materials.

It was usually fur trimmed, straight in cut, belted at a high waist like the gown and sported a broad cape like collar an influence of military styles. The colours for pelisses were golden brown or dark green and it was normally worn over pale gowns which were visible as it was worn open at the front. 

From 1818 onwards women wore a coat dress variation called a pelisse-robe. It could be suitable for indoors or outdoors and was essentially a sturdy front fastening carriage, walking or day dress. 


Earl Spencer and the Short Spencer Jacket 1795

The Spencer was a short top coat without tails worn by men during the 1790s as an extra covering over the tailed coat. It had long sleeves and was frequently decorated with military frogging. Its originator is thought to be Earl Spencer who singed the tails of his coat when standing beside a fire. He then had the tails trimmed off and started a fashion.

A female version was soon adopted by gentlewomen who at the time were wearing the thin light muslin dresses of the 1790s. The Spencer was worn as a cardigan is worn today. It was a short form of jacket to just above waist level cut on identical lines to the dress. 

 A Lady Wearing a Spencer.


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The Spencer was worn both indoors and outdoors and for eveningwear and was made of silk or a wool material known as kerseymere. When it was worn as an indoor evening Spencer it was called a canezou. Spencers stayed in fashion for about 20 years whilst the waistline remained high.  

Military Touches

As the fashion for military touches persisted many Pelisses and Spencers were covered in decorative braids, tassels, frogging and cords so that their wearers looked like members of the Hussars. In time, a short jacket similar to a decorated Spencer was called a Hussar jacket.

The Redingote 1818

The Redingote was worn from 1818 onwards initially indoors in cold weather, worn open  whilst revealing the dress beneath. Its name derives from the 18th century version of a riding coat. It was used in place of a loose cloak and as it developed a series of shoulder capes it became very suitable for travel. As dresses widened so the Redingote widened. Redingotes were usually trimmed with fur and mostly made of heavy dark cloth. 
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