Most garments worn by people during the Regency period have long disappeared, well-worn and well-laundered until the fabric from which they were made became too threadbare or full of holes to appear in public. Any late eighteenth or early nineteenth-century clothing that has survived to this day likely resides in a the collection of a museum, lovingly protected from the touch of human hands. A devoted researcher could spend her entire life traveling from museum to museum, examining first-hand the scattered riches, and still never be able to see them all.
Those of us interested in knowing what such garments looked like, and understanding what it felt like to wear them, then, typically have to resort to more indirect means: most often, printed reproductions, either in secondary sources on the period, or in primary sources from the period itself.
One of the most fascinating primary sources about genteel women’s clothing in the Regency are the fashion plates that appeared in the monthly periodical, Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufacturers, Fashion and Politics (1809-1829). Each issue featured two color fashion plates, accompanied by detailed written descriptions of their fabric and styling.
Catching sight of the originals of these plates, though, can be almost as challenging as viewing the actual period garments. Issues of Ackermann’s are to be found in many an academic library, but as I understand, many issues have been subject to vandalism, with industrious thieves in the days before heightened library security stealing into the stacks and slicing out the precious plates from their bindings.
Complete editions of the entire Ackermann’s periodical run owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art have been scanned and are available to download in various formats through archive.org (see Jennifer Jermantowicz’s handy index here). But if you’re only interested in the prints, it can be a bit tedious to go wading through long articles on such subjects as “On the Orthography of the Surname of the Composer of the Messiah,” or stories about “The Viccissitudes of a Half-Guinea” (vol. 13, issue 73, Janaury 1822) and the like.
Various researchers have put up individual Ackermann prints on the web, and quite a few Pinterest boards can be found devoted specifically to Ackermann plates. And Artist EKDuncan has uploaded a complete set of plates to her web site (see links at bottom of page, below the prints for 1828). But such prints rarely include the text descriptions that accompanied them in the original periodical.
Does anyone know if there is a web site where you can find the fashion plates AND the text descriptions of their costumes, together? If no such thing exists, I believe I may have a weekly blog post (and perhaps a Pinterest board project) on my hands…
Photo credits: “Morning Dress,” and “Full Dress,” Ackermann’s Repository vol. 13, issue 73, January 1822, page 52. Courtesy of EKDuncan.