Fashions for December 1808 & 1815

Finding fashion plates that are clearly for Christmas is essentially impossible as it does not seem that designs were specifically made for the season. Greenery, as in mistletoe and other evergreens, were popular as home decor, but as for the theme of “red and green” which we are familiar with today, it does not seem to be a thing in the past. Rather, the garments tended to include more coats and other outerwear, although even this was not an exclusive trend for the winter months. These two examples from magazines published in December struck my fancy. Enjoy!

Walking Dress from La Belle Assemblée, December 1808—

Hand-colored engraving on paper, by John Bell. It was relatively common in La Belle Assemblée to have the design shown from the front and the back, a perk for the dressmaker. Also note that the description includes tips on how to alter the dress for the desired occasion. Aside from the green color, this outfit isn’t exactly Christmassy, and for a walking outfit in winter, it doesn’t seem all that warm to me! Still, it is beautiful and I suppose if the petticoat or stockings are thick, and the walking was done inside or on a sheltered porch, the lady wouldn’t suffer too much from the elements.

Description from the magazine:

“An antique frock formed of white or coloured crape muslin; embroidered (for full dress) round the bottom, bosom and sleeves, in a border of silver ivy leaf and berry; and worn over a white satin slip. For less splendid occasions, it is ornamented with lace, let in at its several terminations. It is made high in the neck for the last mentioned style, with a full rucked collar; but in the former is so constructed as partially to display the back and shoulders. The Highland spenser is formed of double-twill sarsnet, lined throughout with bright amber; the colour, Spanish Fly. It is cut low round the throat, and finished with an irregular frill or collar. The waist of the spenser is plain in front, and rather extreme in length. The scarf is gathered into a silver dash on one shoulder, flowing partially over the back, and one end crossing the figure in front. The whole is trimmed with spotted ermine, or a rich silk trimming of Chinese floss. The traveller’s cap, formed of the same material as the spenser, turned up with spotted ermine, or full puckered sarsnet the same as the lining of the scarf. Gloves of York tan, and shoes of dark green velvet with amber-coloured bows.”

SARSNET – A thin twilled fabric which uses different colors in the warp and weft, thus allowing the fabric to subtly change colors as it moves. Though it is sometimes spelled sarsenet or sarcenet, the fashion magazines of the Regency period almost always use the spelling sarsnet.

Evening Dress from Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, December 1, 1815; plate 33—

A hand-colored engraving on paper. The creation of Mrs. Charlotte Bean, a milliner and dressmaker of Albemarle Street, Piccadilly. Mrs. Bean was a court dressmaker to “Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Kent and also the Princess Charlotte of Saxe Coburg by special appointment” designing a recorded twenty-six dresses and pelisses for Princess Charlotte’s wedding trousseau in 1816.

Original description from the magazine for Plate 33:

“A crimson satin slip, underneath a frock of three-quarters length made of the silver-striped French gauze; the slip ornamented at the feet with clusters of flowers, and a narrow border of white satin edged with crimson ribbon: the frock has a border of white satin, edged to correspond, and is drawn up in the Eastern style, confined by a cluster of flowers. The body of the dress has open fronts, with a stomacher, which are severally trimmed en suite: short open sleeve, to correspond with a quilling of tull around the arm. Head-dress à la Chinoise, composed of pearl; the hair braided, and ornamented with a wreath of flowers. Ear-rings and drops, pearl; necklace, the French negligé. Gloves, French kid, worn below the elbow, and trimmed with a quilling of tull. Sandals, white kid.”

The trimming with white flowers and green leaves gives this gown a decidedly festive air. Very Christmassy! The three-quarter length frock is “drawn up in the Eastern style” on the bottom (a reference to the Oriental style, à la Chinoise, which was so popular during this period). The slit “confined by a cluster of flowers” matches the enormous, and quite life-like flowers adorning the hem, bodice, and hair accessory. To top it off, the evening gown features a “necklace, the French negligé” which did not refer to intimate apparel, but rather a necklace of irregularly set beads or pearls.

QUILLING – A type of craft technique that involves rolling and shaping thin strips of material into decorative designs. The shapes are adhered in place, usually added to a larger design. Paper is most commonly used, but other materials have the potential to be quilled as well. In this fashion plate, quilling is of tull (or tulle) and this is a common fashion technique, however, very rarely seen on the edge of gloves.



Sharon Lathan

Sharon Lathan is the best-selling author of The Darcy Saga, a ten-volume sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

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I definitely prefer the evening dress! I love the green of the walking dress but it seems far too fussy and not very suitable for most walks!

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