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?

22 thoughts on “Fashion in the Romantic Era

  1. hi, that’s a precise base. There is many mistakes but the important is here.

  2. MiaMarlowe says:

    Sandy, thanks for stopping by! I like to use fashion as a way to define character. How a person chooses to present themselves to the world says a lot about them.

  3. Sandy says:

    I love the plum dress. Crotchless panties, oh my! lolbr /br /Yes, I think fashion is very important for the story.

  4. MiaMarlowe says:

    Mina– I know what you mean. Manolo Blahnik means very little to me, but talk to my niece who works in the fashion industry in NYC. She#39;s all about the shoes!;-)

  5. MiaMarlowe says:

    Ashlyn–Given how involved dressing was in that age, it#39;s not surprising a tryst often wouldn#39;t include nudity. br /br /As for the crotchless panties, it was because it was too hard to remove everything for a trip to the loo.

  6. Mina says:

    but that dress is very pretty!

  7. Mina says:

    Sometimes I get annoyed reading too much fashion–it takes me out of the story. This is especially true for contemporaries that constantly pitch name brands at me. I end up putting the book down, thinking, quot;These are not my people.quot;

  8. Ashlyn Chase says:

    I#39;ve learned so much about history from you, Mia. I love how they used to just flip up their skirts to have a tryst and rarely got undressed all the way.br /br /But crotchless panties were invented way back then? Wow! Who knew?br /br /Ash

  9. MiaMarlowe says:

    Suzi–Thanks for stopping by, Suzi. Much as I hate to admit it (being a jeans and t-shirt afficianado myself) I think clothes are important to every culture. We use it as an unspoken clue to a person#39;s income, status and how they feel about themselves.

  10. Suzi Love says:

    Loved your post as I love the Romantic period- neither Regency nor Victorian.br /And clothes were so important to them then weren#39;t they? Showed their wealth and status.br /Suzi

  11. MiaMarlowe says:

    Susan–When I sang professional opera, I sang quite a few roles that required me to wear a corset and bumroll (and hit high C#39;s while doing it!) so I empathize with my historical heroines. The problem was that people went crazy with lacing them so tight, women sometimes broke ribs! But as long as a corset isn#39;t laced severely enough to alter a woman#39;s measurements, they aren#39;t too bad.

  12. Susan Macatee says:

    Great post and love the clothing pics! I write in the American Civil War/Victorian period and agree that those hoop skirts that were the height of fashion during the war were ridiculous. Between the skirts and the corsets, I don#39;t know how women functioned in public at all. I did use the clothing in my story, especially my time travel where a modern-day woman had to wear the fashions of the day, and boy did she complain! But as a reenactor, I had fun walking around in a hoop skirt playacting. Just wouldn#39;t want to live in one.

  13. MiaMarlowe says:

    Nynke, you know, you#39;re right. Women do tend to dress to impress each other. Attracting men is sometimes a side benefit.

  14. Nynke says:

    I would love to wear that purple gown (if it weren#39;t doll-size, of course)! br /To me, characters#39; clothes are important as a means of immersing myself in their world and imagining what it looks like. And pretty dresses are always dreamy :).br /As for the goal of dressing up: I guess it#39;s also always to look good (or proper) for other women – most men are far less particular about the details…

  15. MiaMarlowe says:

    Anonymous–I love purple too. I#39;d already decided on a plum gown for my heroine even before I found this lovely pic.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Love the purple gown! Yes, fashion is just important to me as the story. I think it shows how the character feels about herself, the world. And, purple#39;s a very bold color. ;-)

  17. MiaMarlowe says:

    tsueversteeg–Thanks for dropping by. Clothing may not make the man, but it certainly reveals who he is, or wants to be. Ditto for women.

  18. MiaMarlowe says:

    Anonymous–Evidently, yes, early 19th century men did want doll-like consorts, at least as the mother of their children. br /br /But don#39;t throw stones only at European fashions. Consider the Chinese custom of footbinding. In order to achieve the tiny feet so desired by future suitors, a little girl#39;s footbones were broken and cruelly bound. The point, as I understand it, was to create an elite class which had to be supported by servants since aristocratic Chinese women often couldn#39;t even walk unassisted on their 3 inch feet.br /br /I have no idea who dreams these things up, but fashion history is rife with such idiocy. br /br /I#39;m interested in what fashion says about women#39;s roles. How a woman dresses, or is forced to dress demonstrates her standing in her society. Consider some cultures today whose women are hidden by layers of fabric, unable to show their faces in public. Some are motivated religiously to conform, but I can#39;t help wondering how many rebel inwardly. br /br /Just as some women finally rebelled over strict corseting.

  19. tsueversteeg says:

    In romance, the clothes are essential. Very informative post. Thanks :)

  20. Anonymous says:

    So men wanted women to be caged, confined, limited in movement and more of a doll than a person? Who decides what looks good to the opposite sex?

  21. MiaMarlowe says:

    Thanks, Abigail. In every age, the goal is always the same. How do we look good for the opposite sex?

  22. Always Abigail says:

    Love the clothes

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