Life and Style: Five Useful Items of Fashion for Regency Ladies

The arrival of the New Year presents ladies with the perfect opportunity to re-assess their wardrobes. The ambitious lady, unless she has the advantage of a grand inheritance or wealthy (and generous) relations, knows that her wardrobe must be carefully cultivated and well-managed.

She cannot afford to purchase a bonnet in the hopes of making it over into something passable, or to acquire items and accessories that will quickly become unfashionable and distasteful. Of course, fashion changes quickly and one must adapt. But to spend a large proportion of one’s pin money on a dress you can only wear once, without even the option of re-working it, is foolish. A wardrobe should work to a ladies’ advantage. Each item should be carefully selected, serve a specific function, and preferably be adaptable.

Behind The Past regrets that it cannot foretell all the fashions that will come and go in the coming year, or how a lady should respond to them. Such knowledge would be a gift indeed! However, to aid ladies in the evaluation of their wardrobes, we have compiled this list of the following staples. The selected items should broaden the scope of outfits available, or simply be indispensible in some important way:

  1. Detachable Sleeves – These are an essential item, especially if a lady has limited finances to dedicate to her wardrobe. Detachable sleeves can carry a dress through both summer and winter, or update a look and make an outfit last a Season or two longer. There are also detachable under- and over-sleeves. Under-sleeves, for instance, could be used to add extra warmth under a thin, light fabric. They could also be made out of a particularly detailed or delicate material, such as lace, to add interest to a plainer dress. Net over sleeves, covering a shorted puffed sleeve and extending down to the wrist, are becoming an increasingly popular evening style.
  2. The Tucker – This thin blouse-like item, also known as a chemisette, has also become indispensible as necklines scandalously descend. Tucked around the neckline of the dress, covering the chest, it is worn during the day for the sake of a lady’s modesty. However, it can also be worked on and decorated, and so could provide interest to an outfit. If one needs to economise and have a plainer dress, one can still make it eye-catching and pretty with this simple item. Indeed, in this age of elegance, it is an advantage not to look over-done.
  3. Flesh Toned Pantaloons – Another essential item for a lady’s modesty, especially if she is inclined to follow the fashion for thin, light, muslin gowns. An explanation would, in this instance, be improper. Behind The Past trusts that ladies of style and sense can understand the utility without further, inelegant, discussion.
  4. The Bandeau – The bandeau is a highly variable item, worn as a headband. It can be a plain band of fabric for day wear, or a band which is highly detailed or embellished with beads, jewels and feathers for the evening. The style calls upon our Romantic feelings and draws upon our Classical ancestors. It can be used to co-ordinate an outfit. After all, if a lady has some fabric remaining after completing a dress, she could use it to make a matching bandeau. That would afford her a very ‘put together’ look at no extra expense. It can also be used to frame or add colour to a face, or to tame unruly hair.
  5. The Lover’s Eye Brooch – While not exactly an essential, this is certainly an interesting item. If one has a love affair that needs to be concealed (or just wants to make people think you do) have a brooch made up with shows only their eye. Only the couple in question will know the truth of the matter, everyone else will be left to wonder. However, in the interests of honesty, it is highly likely that this is often an item of sentimental and mourning jewellery that has nothing to do with shocking lover’s tales. This is a good thing. A true lady will always avoid a scandal.

Links and References

Hern, Candice, ‘Lover’s Eye Brooches’, Regency World:

‘Regency Fashion: The Bandeau Hair Accessory’, Jane Austen’s World:

‘Regency Fashion: Detachable Sleeves’, Jane Austen’s World:

Weston Thomas, Pauline, ‘Regency Fashion: 1800s Costume History’, Fashion Era:

Please note that Behind The Past cannot accept responsibility for the content of external links and websites.


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