Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Eye-catching Oscar Fashion - Regency Style!

Even Anne Hathaway's gown appeared on a
'worst' dress list!
Photo courtesy of Disney ABC Photostream.
Debate about which were the best and worst gowns at the Oscars is rife on the internet; the strange thing is that I saw the several dresses appear on both lists: best and worst! I thought Helena Bonham-Carter's black dress with white gauzy underskirt was beautiful and suited her quirky character perfectly…and yet it appeared on a 'worst' dress list. Bah!

            All of which set me wondering about what the regency woman would have worn to attract attention and impress. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, young women took the business of attending a dance very seriously because it was a major opportunity to snare a husband.
A wonderful, diaphenous Regency gown.

            At a ball, a man was not obliged to dance but could watch from the sidelines to study the feminine charms parading around him. Amidst the elegant gowns, coiffured hair and graceful dancing, if a woman was to stand out and tempt her reluctant 'Mr Darcy' she had to look her absolute stunning best.
            Regency dresses must have been exquisite. Delicate, flimsy fabrics such as muslin or crepe de Chine were all the rage. Waistlines were high and necklines low, indeed doctors blamed the rise of consumption on insufficient clothing and exposing the chest, they called it 'muslin disease'. Although no prude, apparently Jane Austen drew the line at having too much shoulder on show and disapproved of "ugly naked shoulders."
            A popular colour for that first ball gown was white, although light colours such as pink, yellow, pale blue or green, were also good choices.
Best or worst?
Photo courtesy of Disney ABC Photostream.

           "As a lady's quality …was once determined by the circumference of her hoop… [Is] now measured by the length of her tail."
            Miss Bingley, Pride and Prejudice.
            Around 1800 it became fashionable for a dress to have a train, to avoid tripping the wearer whilst dancing the train was elevated with the aid of a small hoop or similar device, and let down again afterwards.
            Shoes were often made to match the dress and had silk soles, and were tied on with ribbons round the ankle a bit like a modern ballerina's pump. The shoe might be adorned with a 'shoe-rose', which was a rosette of ribbon attached near the toe.
            The best stockings were made of silk, and usually white or pink, and have clocks (embroidery) inserts. The stocking came just above the knee and were held in place with a ribbon garter although in the late 18th century a spring-garter (presumably an early form of elastic) was invented and proved very popular. 
When wearing a flimsy gown, a shawl was a vital accessory.

            Gloves were de rigour at a ball; usually white, but again pastel shades of lemon or lilac were acceptable and ingenious devices existed to keep elbow length gloves unwrinkled whilst dancing.
            Hair would be carefully dressed and curled, and often adorned with tall feathers. Not only did an ostrich feather make the wearer appear taller and indicated wealth (they were expensive) but they also bobbed in time to the dance, emphasising the dancer's grace and deportment.
            Ballrooms were often hot and stuffy so a fan was a vital accessory. Apart from cooling the owner, it could be used for flirtation, to signal in code, or even have an aide-memoire written on it for those tricky dance steps.
            It is salient to remember that once a beau had snared a bride, as a husband he would be more likely to notice the cost of a gown, than its cut! This takes me back to the Oscars. Who did you think was best dressed? Which gowns were your favourites, and which wouldn't you be seen dead in? Do leave a comment.

A Society Ball in 1819.


  1. Wonderful post, Grace. I tweeted.

  2. Thank you, Ella, glad you enjoyed it, and a big thank you for tweeting the link.
    G x

  3. Elaine Collier3 March 2013 at 08:33

    Hi Grace
    Still wading through my hundred or so recently bought books, Kindle and paper.
    Have finally reached through my mile high library and found your books.
    Will let you know when I've finished.
    Really looking forward to getting stuck in, or is it "swept in".
    Elaine Collier

    1. Wonderful, Elaine! It's nail biting experience, waiting to hear what someone thinks of my books - I truly hope you are 'swept away'.
      I can be contacted direct at
      kind regards,
      Grace x

  4. Oscar and fashion winner: Jennifer Lawrence topped the best dressed Pale
    and interesting: Anne Hathaway


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