Fashion in the Romantic Era
The novella I’m working on now for the IMPROPER GENTLEMEN anthology (July 2011, Kensington) is set in the 1830’s–the heart of the Romantic era. This little slice of history is jammed between the popular Regency period and the reign of Queen Victoria.
One of the first things I like to do when I start on a new story is fill my character’s closets. I think this lovely plum gown and capelet will work well for my heroine Rosalinde’s evening wear.
As you can see, waistlines were back in fashion–no more girlish empire styles. A woman’s figure was on display, which meant a return of the corset, a whalebone reinforced body shaper. Young ladies from 17 to 21 aspired to a waist size that matched their age. The corset was worn over a chemise (a slip like garment) with no bloomers, knickers or undies of any sort. Later, slit crotch drawers would be added and still later in the Victorian era, an all-in-one would replace the chemise and drawers. (For a fun interactive dress-up game, check out this Victorian/Tudor link.)
The skirts were wider than the Regency, but hadn’t reached the ridiculous circumference of the Victorian’s yet. There was no need for a wire crinoline. A few petticoats would give the fullness needed. The bottoms of the skirts were often embellished with flounces and excessive laces.
Necklines were cut off the shoulder in order to make the shoulders appear wider and the waistlines correspondingly narrower. The gigot, or leg-of-mutton sleeves were very popular.
Shoes of the period were flat and plain, rather like ballet slippers. The most popular hairstyle featured a neat center part with curls around the sides of the face.
Fashion often demonstrates how women are viewed. After the relative freedom of the Regency, society began to put more strictures on women’s behavior. Fashion began shaping their figures with a vengeance. Later in the Victoria period, sleeves were cut to restrict arm movement and for a brief time, foot movement was limited to a six inch gait. It demonstrated female fraity and dependence on the men in their lives. In the Romantic period, we hadn’t gotten to those extremes, but a woman’s level of freedom was definitely changing. For the worse.
I’ll use my heroine’s wardrobe to show how she feels about herself, her world and her place in it. What do you think? Do the fashions in a story matter to you?