1795–1820 in Fashion - Revival of Directoire/Empire/Regency Fashions

Revival of Directoire/Empire/Regency Fashions

During the first half of the Victorian era, there was a more or less negative view of women's styles of the 1795–1820 period. Some people would have felt slightly uncomfortable to be reminded that their mothers or grandmothers had once promenaded about in such styles (which could be considered indecent according to Victorian norms), and many would have found it somewhat difficult to really empathize with (or take seriously) the struggles of a heroine of art or literature if they were being constantly reminded that she was wearing such clothes. For such reasons, some Victorian history paintings of the Napoleonic wars intentionally avoided depicting accurate women's styles (see example below), Thackeray's illustrations to his book Vanity Fair depicted the women of the 1810s wearing 1840s fashions, and in Charlotte Brontë's 1849 novel Shirley (set in 1811–1812) neo-Grecian fashions are anachronistically relocated to an earlier generation.

Later in the Victorian period, the Regency seemed to retreat to an unthreateningly remote historical distance, and Kate Greenaway and the Artistic Dress movement selectively revived elements of early 19th century fashions. During the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, many genre paintings, sentimental valentines, etc. contained loose depictions of 1795–1820 styles (then considered to be quaint relics of a bygone era). In the late 1960s / early 1970s, there was a limited fashion revival of the Empire silhouette.

In recent years, 1795–1820 fashions are most strongly associated with Jane Austen's writings, due to the various movie adaptations of her novels. There are also some Regency fashion "urban myths", such as that women dampened their gowns to make them appear even more diaphanous (something which was certainly not practiced by the vast majority of women of the period).

  • 1 – 1857 cartoon

  • 2 – 1868 denial

  • 3 – 1882 nostalgia

  • 4 – Kate Greenaway

  1. An 1857 cartoon making fun of the contemporary distaste for early 19th century clothes.
  2. "Before Waterloo" by Henry Nelson O'Neil (1868), a mid-Victorian painting which deliberately does not show accurate women's styles of 1815.
  3. "Two Strings to her Bow" by John Pettie (1882), a later Victorian genre painting which uses the Regency period for nostalgia value.
  4. May Day by Kate Greenaway.

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