The Eye of the Beholder: Standards of Regency Beauty

Kristi here. In a recent fit of nostalgia, I’ve been watching some of my favorite shows from the eighties on Netflix. Aside from the huge difference in sound and film quality and the stiltedness of some of the acting, I was struck by the vast gulf that existed between what was considered beautiful then, and what it is now.

The fashioning of hair and clothes are obviously different – high-waisted jumpsuit with enormous shoudlerpad,s anyone? – but as I put on my analytical thinking cap, I saw it went deeper. The size and shape of the bodies and even the eyebrows is different.

If standards of beauty can change that much in thirty years, imagine how they could have altered in 200 years. What was considered beautiful in the Regency era?

natural-regency-makeupPale Skin

Pale skin was considered a sign of wealth as it meant you didn’t have to work outside. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet’s tan is remarked upon when she travels to Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle. Caroline attempts to use Elizabeth’s darkened skin to diminish Darcy’s attraction.

Curves 

The Regency ideal was a good deal plumper than today’s standard of beauty. Paintings and poetry from the day show an affection for plumper backsides and dimpled thighs. Again this was a sign of wealth. The plumper people didn’t have to work psychically and they had plenty to eat.

The appealing curves extended to the facial regions as well, with rounded, young looking faces reigning the day instead of the cut cheekbones of modern times.

1817 fashion plate
Notice the ruffles, embroidery, and sheer sleeves of this 1817 gown.

Delicate Clothing

Light colors, embroidery, and nearly translucent fabrics were the epitome of fashion. Yards of ruffles and ropes of jewels were the epitome of beautiful. The glittery adornments and delicate clothing were, once again, signs of wealth.

The more delicate appearance also extended to the hair, with wigs and enormous headpieces falling out of fashion, curls, feathers, and natural hair were prized. This signified that not only could your delicate hairdo withstand your lifestyle, but that you were healthy, as wigs had become popular in an attempt to disguise illness induced hair loss.

Shoes were also delicate, especially evening shoes. Men were known to still wear the occasional heel on a night out and more than one woman packed an extra set of dancing slippers in her reticule.

 

Beauty trends of the Regency era were obviously tied to what the wealthy could attain. Do you think that holds true today? Do you think the working classes of the Regency had the same opinions of beauty as the upper classes did?

 

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