March 1816’s fashion plates feature some quite unusual headdresses and trimmings. In fact, the sleeves and the trim around the upper robe of Plate 16’s Evening Dress are “composed of novel materials, which we are not allowed to describe”!! Regency novels often feature scenes of young ladies poring over fashion plates to choose styles for their own new gowns, but such reticence in description suggests that the plates were as much about directing viewers to the gown’s creators (in the case of March’s plates, one Mrs. Gill, of Cork-street, Burlington Gardens) as they were to inspiring viewers to copy them.
The model for this month’s Evening Gown stands beside a classically-designed pedestal, which seems quite suitable, as the gown in some ways resembles an over-decorated column. The white satin underskirt is trimmed with a deep flounce of blond lace; the French gauze overdress features elaborately twisted white trim, interspersed with blue knots or florets. The headdress also mimics the look of a classical column: a Circassian turban, with long ends hanging from each side over the ears and down below the bustline. It’s topped with an aigrette (a new word for me!), a head ornament made either of the feathers of an egret, or a spray of gems resembling the same. I don’t spy any feathers atop this model; the copy says this aigrette is composed of rubies intermixed with pearls.
Mrs. Gill’s Carriage Dress, plate 17, also puts me in mind of classicism, although this time classicism at one remove: the classicism of the university. Doesn’t that Polish cap, with its silk tassel and square shape, put you in mind of a graduate student proceeding down the aisle to claim a diploma? “Uncommonly novel and pretty,” the copy describes it.
The dress that accompanies it is almost as unusual, with its pink striped silk overdress and bodice which looks more like a contemporary balconette bra than anything I’ve seen before in a Regency-era dress. A high body of jaconet muslin covers the rest of the lady’s front. The copy doesn’t say what the brown fringe on the dress’s hem and running down the sleeves is made from; it looks almost like a fuzzy caterpillar, running down her arm, doesn’t it? I’m guessing this is an outfit designed for an open, rather than a closed, carriage—with so much trim, you’d definitely be aiming to be seen!
This month’s “General Observations on Fashion and Dress” runs to fashion news runs nearly four pages long, and is followed by almost as many pages reporting on “French Female Fashions.” Somewhat ironic, given the copy of the “General Observations” chides that “we are too much indebted to our Gallic neighbors for the modes and materials of fashionable attire.” In England, “pelisses continue very much in favour,” although mantles are, “though slowly, gaining ground.” Wellington mantles, “just introduced,” the “barouche wrap,” and the “Richmond spencer” are popular, as is the Cobourg hat. In fabrics, French striped silk (for morning dress) and French spotted silks (for evening dress) are increasingly in vogue. In France, chintz is “entirely exploded”; cambric, muslin, and sarsnet have taken its place for elegant morning dress. Both writers talk of fashions shifting far more quickly than I had imagined—changes taking place over a month, or a few weeks ago. By the time you have a printed copy of Ackermann’s in hand, the styles it details might well be out of fashion!
The fashionable colors in France this month are purple, damask, rose, green of various shades, and jonquil. Lots more details in each column; I leave you to peruse at your leisure!
And this month’s needlework patterns: