I love every aspect of getting to imagine myself into Jane Austen’s world. But I hope I’m not alone in feeling that one of the most purely fun parts of writing and reading Jane Austen inspired fiction is getting to visualize the beautiful fashions that were popular during Jane Austen’s day. Every time I write a new book in my series, I love the chance to dress my characters for every occasion, whether it’s a formal dinner party or ball, a masquerade, or simply a morning at home.
It’s my love of Regency fashion that led me to discover one of the most fun web pages I’ve ever seen: a regency-era virtual paper doll. If you want to check it out– and, really, how could you not?– it’s called Dress Up Regency Bella.
Of course, the instant I found it, I immediately wanted to create paper doll versions of my own characters. Here are my fashion choices for Georgiana Darcy.
Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, and during her lifetime saw a revolution in fashion almost as dramatic as the American and French Revolutions that also occurred while she was alive. Women’s fashions moved away from the old wide hooped silhouette of the Georgian period to a high-waisted, narrow silhouette. Filmy, clinging fabrics like gauze or muslin were popular, and undergarments were kept to a minimum so that the straight lines of the skirts would not be spoiled.
Of course, light, filmy muslin gowns were not terribly warm. For cooler weather, ladies had a few options for keeping out the chill. Above, I have Georgiana above wearing a garment called a spencer. A spencer was a short, fitted jacket, only as long as the bodice of a woman’s gown. Spencers typically had long sleeves and a high collar, and often had military-style trimmings inspired by the army uniforms of the day.
Another option for the well-dressed lady during cold weather was the pelisse. A pelisse was an over-garment similar to a coat, but with a high waist and long skirt, following the same fashionable silhouette of women’s gowns. Below is a picture of a pelisse that may have been worn by Jane Austen herself, followed by a fashion plate of the day.
And of course, I also had to create a virtual paper doll version of Margaret Dashwood, from Margaret Dashwood’s Diary:
During Jane Austen’s day, the immense powdered wigs and towering hairstyles of the Georgian era fell out of fashion. Instead, women wore their hair in more natural styles, often inspired by the classical statues that many during the era viewed on their grande tours of Europe.
Hair was either upswept with curls framing the face, or with curls tumbling onto the shoulders. Some– like the notorious Lady Caroline Lamb, for example– even wore their hair in a short, cropped bob.
For married or older ladies, caps were worn constantly, even indoors, with turbans an option for more formal occasions. For younger women, tiaras and diadems were worn for balls and other more dressy affairs. Girls might also wear strings of pearls, or ribbons in their hair– as I have Margaret wearing above.
This was just a brief dip into the fascinating, inspiring world of Regency fashion, but I hope you had as much fun as I did! For anyone wanting to know more about Regency era fashions, I can highly recommend Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen, by Sarah Jane Downing.