Leisure and fashion in the Regency period

 

Regency Dress from ‘Jane Austen In Style’ by Susan Watkins

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Triborough Reference Librarian, Debby Wale has found some Austen connections with Chelsea as well as some amazing Regency fashion images.

Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 at Steventon, Hampshire. Her father was the Rector of Steventon and Deane. At the age of thirty-six she emerged from relatively sequestered existence to becoming a published novelist. In 1801 the family moved to Bath. In 1809 the Austen sisters and their mother settled in Chawton and Jane Austen’s career as a published author began.

In Chelsea Past, Barbara Denny describes Jane Austen’s association with Chelsea as transitory, but letters to her sister Cassandra describes a musical evening. She lived with her brother Henry and his wife at 654 Sloane Street from Spring 1811 for two years. Between 1813 – 1815 she visited him when he moved to 23 Hans Place.

Chelsea by Thea Holme describes from Jane’s letters a party at Sloane Street with 66 guests and musicians arriving in two Hackney coaches.

Regency fashion was governed by a strict social etiquette. For women, there were outfits for every activity. Ladies might change several times a day to suit the hour or the occasion. Magazines such as Belle Assemble (La Belle Assemblée or, Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies) had fashion plates which were a guide to suitable attire for every circumstance.

Jane Austen was a prolific letter-writer and these letters give an interesting insight into her life. One activity suitable for a lady was walking. More promenade than serious hiking, there is a reference in one of her letters.

Your lilacs are in leaf, ours are in bloom. The horse-chestnuts are quite out, and the elms almost. I had a pleasant walk in Kensington Gardens on Sunday with Henry, Mr. Smith, and Mr.Tilson; everything was fresh and beautiful.

Jane Austen to Cassandra 25 April, 1811

These pictures from Chelsea Library’s costume collection give an idea of the style Jane or her characters, might have worn, or aspired to wear. They are from the magazine La Belle Assembléwhich Chelsea Library has more or less a complete archive.

Kensington Gardens Fashionable Promenade Dress, July 1811
Kensington Gardens Fashionable Promenade Dress, July 1811

Kensington Garden Fashionable Promenade Dress, July 1811
A round robe of jacconot muslin, with a bodice of violet sarsnet, trimmed with rich silk Brandeburgs of Austrian green, a half pelisse of fine transparent muslin, with Bishop’s sleeves, fancifully tied with green riband. A Hyman hat of purple brocaded ribband and lace, ornamented with a green military plume; a Chinese parasol of purple sarsnet, shot with green; gloves and shoes of York tan.

Walking Dress, 1811
Walking Dress, 1811

Walking Dress,  June 1811
A pelisse of pink sarsnet, lined with white, and ornamented with rich silk Brandenburg trimmings of correspondent pink, or pale brown; a high standing ruff round the throat,; a Persian mantle of pale blue, or white, thrown over the dress. A basket hat of straw, ornamented with a demi-wreath of half blown roses. Shoes of blue kid; gloves of York tan.

Promenade or Carriage Walking Costume, November 1811
Promenade or Carriage Walking Costume, November 1811

Promenade, or Carriage Walking Costume, November 1811
A fawn colour of amber velvet three quarters pelisse; faced and ornamented around the bottom and sleeves with Regency purple velvet and faced down the waist, shoulders and half way down the side of the skirt, with rich cordons of purple, terminating with a tassel; a purple velvet collar stands up, is rounded behind, and comes down to a point below the throat; the cuffs are of purple velvet, trimmed with fine blue lace. Over the sleeve is a demi-sleeve divided; between which division small purple ornaments, in the form of  aiguillettes, but without tags, are sometimes introduce when this dress is made of twilled sarsnet instead of velvet.

Promenade Dress, August 1811
Promenade Dress, August 1811

Promenade Dress, August 1811
A round robe of India jaconot, trimmed around the bottom with ribband; a mantle of fine India muslin, or white crape, with ficher front, ornamented with drawn ribband and tassel, and confined to the waist on the same side. A village hat of white chip, with a crown of blended crape and sarsnet, bound and tied under the chin with ribband, over a lace cawl, and raised form the face by a short wreath of French roses. Parasol and ridicule of purple and green shot silk; gloves of York tan; Roman boots of white morocco.

Regency Walking Dress, February 1811
Regency Walking Dress, February 1811

Regency Walking Dress, February 1811
A pelisse of scarlet Merino cloth, buttoned down the front and up the arm with small gold buttons; the collar and cuffs of purple velvet; but during the mourning, of black, striped with scarlet; an ermine tippet pointed in the back, and muffet of the same. A bonnet of scarlet cloth, turned up with velvet, and formed to come over the face; the veil passed through the front and brought round the neck. Boots of scarlet cloth trimmed with velvet.

Debby Wale
Debby Wale

Debby Wale, Triborough Reference Librarian

Chelsea Reference Library

 

Additional information

Resources held in Chelsea Reference library:

  • Jane Austen In Style by Susan Watkins
  • Chelsea by Thea Holme
  • Chelsea Past by Barbara Denny
  • La Belle Assemblee magazine archive

Online resources:
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – for more information about Jane Austen (you’ll need a library membership to access this database outside of the library) 

Glossary – fabrics

  • Jaconot: light weight cotton fabric
  • Sarsnet: noun a soft thin silk used for dresses, veilings, or trimmings.
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