The Regency Red Carpet

Welcome to March – our month dedicated to what else? Spring fashion!

Here in the States, the fashion world is still abuzz over one of the top events of the year – the 85th annual Academy Awards ceremony this past Sunday.  Arguably second only to Paris Fashion Week in its world-wide influence on the art of dressing well, the Oscars red carpet is rolled out each year and the world tunes in to see which star will win the title of… Best Dressed!

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Whether it’s a celebrity rocking a wicked-long train or donning a small fortune in Harry Winston jewels, the world’s fashionistas take to the internet to find the most sought-after trends as showcased by their favorite stars on this one night. What colors are in for the season? What fabric is a must-have for the fashion world’s elite? Is there a new cut making waves in dress design? When you think on our world of social media and instant Twitter feeds from the red carpet, it isn’t a wonder that we all have an opinion on what’s fabulous for the new season. But in the Regency Era – without our social media and the endless stream of celebrities to guide the rest of us down the spring runway – what would have been seen on their “red carpet” of the day?

A commentary on the complete Regency woman’s ensemble would certainly take more than one post (or perhaps a hundred posts), but we’ll give you enough here to get you started on your own Regency fashion journey through the month of March…

A good foray into the art of Regency dress might begin with the always popular element of color. You may be surprised to learn that in the Regency Era, the influence of color was just as fierce as it is today. While soft pastels and bold jewel tones reigned on the Hollywood red carpet this year, the Regency Era had some similar shades (with lesser known names) that ranked quite high on the list of desirables. A Regency lady might wish to be found in varying hues of:

– Canary (a bright sunshine yellow),

– Coquelicot (a brilliant poppy red),

– Jonquil (a rich golden-yellow),

– Pomona (a light gray-green, one of many popular shades new as of 1812),

– Primrose (a sweet butter-yellow), or

– Puce (a deep brownish-purple).

 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

And alas – there were also the more lackluster colors of straw (an unimpressive corn yellow) and the ever-popular Drab (a dull -) that a Regency lady may find mixed somewhere in her wardrobe. (Color Links: Regency color swatches, The Jane Austen Centre, Bath – 2011) And though not an actual color (but a value), the elegance of white was exceedingly popular if your red carpet rolled out all the way to such a stylish affair as the ball at Netherfield Park.Despite the color choice for your gown, if you’d walked the red carpet during the Regency Era there would have been no doubt about the style of dress. An Empire waist was the preferred silhouette – with a typically square or wide-rounded neckline and bodice that ended just below the bust (giving the illusion of a high waist). The skirts were gathered and tapered (rather than being heavily draped with petticoats and layers of bustled fabric, as was popular until the turn of the 19th century). And though you may have had the proper cut and color selection down, that’s not where the fashion story ends. Depending upon the day and hour of your walk down the red carpet, there was likely a proper dress to accompany the occasion. (Here’s a stunning commentary on half-dress, court dress, and every little thing in-between: Click here.)

Let’s not forget some of our favorite red carpet delicacies – the accessories! Hollywood starlets of today still fancy high heels, though the sky-high styles of today aren’t nearly as towering as the heights that Regency Era women rose to while wearing pattens.  (Click here to read our own Mary Moore’s  January, 2013 post about pattens. It is a must read!) And though a selection of well-placed jewels around the neck and in the earlobes are still in fashion, you likely won’t find a single Hollywood star sporting the ever-popular Regency fan, reticule (small, drawstring handbag),  parasol or feather plumes of ostrich, goose, peacock or emu to complete her ensemble.  (Though artfully placed hair extensions, evening gloves, shawls and capes still make the occasional appearance.)

The one thing that is decidedly missing from our modern-day red carpet is the endless stream of bonnet-clad ladies that we’d have had waltzing past two hundred years ago. These Regency head pieces were must-have items often made of straw or sturdy fabric (such as velvet or muslin) with lace, fabric, and satin ribbon trimmings in popular colors. Bonnets might also sport an artful array of artificial decoration, including: birds, fruit, flowers, feathers, jewelry (such as a brooch or pin) and beads. And despite the fact that our current culture prizes the bronzed look, no Regency Era woman would have fancied venturing out in the sun without her bonnet, lest she tan or freckle unnecessarily! (For a complete tutorial on the art of the Regency head-piece, click here.)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

If you were playing the part of the Regency Era personal assistant, you’d probably have considered all of these items for the perfect Regency red carpet look. So now that you’ve got it all together, it’s time to take a stroll past the long line of paparazzi (uh, we mean artists with paint and easels ready) and have your fashion plate captured for that next edition of the popular Regency magazines. (For some great fashion plate images, click here to visit Linore Rose Burkard’s post from April, 2012.)

So… With all of this red carpet talk, who was on my best dressed list for this year? My vote for Best Dressed at the Oscars goes to… Click here. Who won your vote?

Welcome fashion, welcome spring, and welcome to all of you readers who have a heart for the same God that reigns today as He did more than two hundred years ago.

In His Love,

~ Kristy

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