When I think of summertime, I think of ceiling fans, eating Italian ice, running through the sprinkler, and wearing frilly sundresses and flip flops. But then Southern Connecticut had a heat wave for two days last week that knocked me on my sundress-clad bottom; and in a small house with no air conditioning there was little motivation for us to do much of anything that would, in the end, only serve to make us hotter and more miserable than we already were. My daughter and I spent some much needed quality time in the hammock beneath the shady lilac tree reading to each other, sketching, and drinking pink lemonade. I also spent a lot of time pondering just how uncomfortable the summer months must have felt to those who lived in the 19th century, rather than the 21st.
There were no sprinklers to run through in Regency England, and certainly no frilly sundresses and flip flops. A Regency lady, despite the hot weather, was dressed in layers at all times, beginning with a chemise, which was the only undergarment available at the time (panties did not arrive until the 20th century, and pantaloons were not en vogue until the Victorian era).
Constricting corsets, often with stiff whale boning, were worn over the chemise, followed by a gown. Gowns were at least ankle-length, although necklines varied from moderate to positively plunging. More often than not, there were sleeves of varying lengths…and stockings…and bonnets…and gloves…and slippers. Oftentimes, half boots.
And can you just imagine packing for a seaside vacation? Forget about packing light. Nothing less than a trunk or two would do for all of the garments a lady would need for her trip: morning gowns, gowns for afternoon wear, evening wear, ball gowns, slippers, etc., and, if one was so adventurous, a gown for sea bathing. The image to the right shows a lady wearing a gown that buttoned down the front, lace-trimmed pants, and laced sandals. Hardly your typical 21st century beach wear!
As much as I adore the Regency period and its fashions, I can’t help but appreciate the fact that, now-a-days, one can wear pretty much whatever makes one most comfortable, especially in the summertime when the weather is at its warmest. I don’t know about you, but I think I’d find a trip to the beach a bit lacking if propriety dictated I had to slosh through the surf in a gown and pantaloons! (But it would certainly be an effective preventative for sunburn, wouldn’t it?)
I hope you’re all enjoying your summer! Thank you so much for reading.