From Ackerman’s to Almack’s ~ Dressmaking in Regency England

Much is made of the fashion trends and inspirations of the early 19th century, but have you ever considered what it took to turn those gorgeous Ackerman’s drawings into actual gowns?

With no sewing machine, no electricity for decent lighting, and no ready-to-wear size guide, creating clothing for the masses was no small feat.

1817 fashion plateThose of lesser means had to find time to make their own clothing, which meant they often had limited wardrobes and much plainer pieces. Those who could afford to purchase their clothes couldn’t just stroll down to Bond Street and come home with a new look. Purchasing a dress took time.

Selecting the Materials

Fabrics, trimmings, and matching accessories were not all to be found under one roof. While a dressmaker might have a selection of ribbons and beads to add to the piece, the cloth itself came from the linen-draper.

Since fabric making was one of the first industrialized products, inventory at these large establishments could be massive indeed. If a person were particularly indecisive, they could spend hours, if not days perusing the options.

Buttons, ribbons, and other embellishments could be had from the haberdasher.

Linen DraperSelecting the Design

Once at the dressmaker’s, it was time to scour the Ackerman’s drawings and determine the dress you wanted. Some dressmaker’s were also designers and could create unique pieces, but most were altering the drawn designs to best compliment their customer’s figures. Because all pieces were custom made, flattering a person’s individual figure was crucial.

Adorning from Head to Toe

Once the outfit was done, there was still the matter of accessories. Hats were purchased from the milliner. Stockings could be had from the hosiers. For the affluent, even their shoes were custom made. Custom boots were particularly valued amongst men, as they would hold up considerably longer than a lady’s fragile dancing slipper.

Some stores, particularly in less populated areas, would carry a variety of accessories from muffs and bonnets to slippers and reticules, possibly even fabric and ribbons. In the large city, shops could afford to be more specialized.

 

With all these stops and shops, it’s no surprise that a woman could spend an entire day or possibly even a week selecting a new look. Imagine the time and effort it took to select a new wardrobe, particularly for the upper classes that could wear upwards of four outfits in a single day.

What do you think? Would you like to go through all those steps instead of driving to your local Kohl’s?

 

 

Market Towns: The Mall of the Regency

Kristi here. Imagine for a moment that you are a resident in a small town in Regency England. You have a small garden, perhaps a farm. Maybe you are in trade and live in town. No matter where you live, one thing is sure: At some point you are going to want or need something and you’ll have to buy it from someone else.

Where would you go if you needed a few more chickens or a bushel of apples? The market, of course.

If you lived in a large town, such as London, there were several markets to choose from, open all week long. But, if you lived farther out, you had to travel to a market town.

New charter (1553) replacing the original charter (1196) and allowing the town of Stratford on Avon to hold weekly markets.  Click picture for more details.
New charter (1553) replacing the original charter (1196) and allowing the town of Stratford on Avon to hold weekly markets. Click picture for more details.

Market towns had existed in England for centuries. There were, in fact, strict rules as to which towns could hold a market and which couldn’t. Towns had to apply for a royal charter if they wanted to hold a weekly market. If a market town already existed within a day’s walk (there and back) the town could not hold a market.

Chichester Market Cross
The Market Cross in Chichester (Wikimedia Commons)

Many towns had a market cross in the middle of the designated area. The actual meaning of the crosses is unknown and theories are as varied as the cross designs. Possibly the religious landmark was to curry God’s favor on the proceedings. It could also have stood as a reminder to the vendor and the buyer to deal fairly with one another. Still another option is that it hearkened back to the original, informal markets that grew up on the grounds around the churches.

Whatever the reason, some of these market crosses became very elaborate, more along the lines of pavilions or buildings than mere religious icons on a tall pillar. Some towns even constructed their roads with the markets in mind. One example is Stow on the Wold in Gloucester whose narrow side streets were designed to make managing herds of sheep easier.

Since many people lived spread out across rural England, market days (typically Saturdays) were their only opportunity to acquire what they needed, unless they could go directly to someone local to barter or buy. Farmers and craftsman would bring their wares to town and set up stalls along the extra wide main streets.

Norwich market
Norwich Market, 1799 (Wikimedia Commons)

As leisure travel increased in the Georgian era, some market towns, such as Norwich, became fashionable shopping destinations. Permanent stores grew up around the market places, but transitional and temporary stalls were still used for the weekly market.

Today, many of these towns still hold a weekly market, though you’ll more likely find purses and technology accessories than a chicken and a sheaf of wheat.