A Young Lady’s Time Travel Guide to Regency England

A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin
Written by Kathleen Baldwin

Part 1

So you think you’d like to travel back in time to the Regency era? You’ve read about all those dashing dukes and handsome viscounts and you’re all agog to jump into a time machine. Very well, but you’ll need this handy guide.

Ask yourself this question: are you unexceptional enough?

You heard me correctly. Unexceptional. During the Regency era it was a high compliment for a young lady to be deemed unexceptional. The Beau Monde, the beautiful people of fashionable society, tended to dress alike and behave like the rest of the flock.

Woe unto those who didn’t conform.
I’ve written a book about young ladies who did not fit into the Regency mold, A School for Unusual Girls. Take it from me; it did not go well for exceptional young women. They were shipped off to schools to a reform their manners. Rumors of harsh punishments and torturous training devices at these schools abounded among the Beau Monde. So watch your step!

First and foremost, you must not stray too far from the norm. It simply is not done, especially if a young lady is still of marriageable age. One mustn’t be too tall, too short, too brainy, or too brightly dressed.

The gentle reader inquires, “What about turquoise blue?”

For a ball? Are you mad? Subtlety, my dear, subtlety is the key. Picture me fanning myself vigorously to show my agitation.

Speaking of fans…

Beware the Danger of Fans

Do not, I repeat, do not purchase a fan to take on your journey back in time. That would be risky, indeed.

There is an entire language of the fan that every proper young lady must study before she is licensed to wield one of these dangerous devices.

This is absolutely essential training. Otherwise you may think you’re simply fanning to cool yourself down, but the gentleman across the ballroom thinks you are signally him for an assignation in the garden. You flirtatious vixen! And should you accidentally tap the ruddy thing against your cheek, oh heavens above, you’ve just told the gentleman that you are in love with him.

What Clothes Should You Bring?

Dress Changed for Part 1 blogAs mentioned earlier; no strong colors, the paler your ensemble, the better. Consider bringing a flimsy white cotton or silk nightgown. Tie a length of pale pink ribbon under the bust and it might serve as an everyday gown.

In the space of a few years, British aristocracy went from dressing in intricately engineered, highly ornate gowns like the ones Marie Antoinette used to wear, to dressing in simplistic Grecian gowns as did Empress Josephine. This might have had something to do with the guillotine lopping off the heads of so many ladies who wore those big gaudy gowns.

It is a trifle odd that Regency folk were so strict about the morals of their young ladies but then dressed them in nearly transparent muslin reminiscent of nightclothes. One Season it was all the rage to dampen one’s chemise (underwear) so that more of the young lady’s, ahem, charms might show. Unfortunately, that year turned out to be a brutally cold winter. Many women died of pneumonia and other lung ailments and so the craze ended abruptly.

I’ll return with more help for you brave time travelers. Until then good luck on your journey! And may you fall blissfully love with the most eligible handsome duke or earl at the ball. If Regency literature is any indication, there seems to be an abundance of the handsome devils.

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12 thoughts on “A Young Lady’s Time Travel Guide to Regency England

  1. Love this article! It’s informative yet so clever. Keep up the tongue-in-cheek articles. Looking forward to the next one.

    1. Hi Carole! Glad you dropped by, and happy you liked my tongue-in-cheek. Where does that expression come from, I wonder?? We never say tongue-between teeth. Hhhmmm, oh dear, now I have to know. You may have sent me down an entomological rabbit hole.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Maura. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Twas all in good fun.

      Times were actually even more different than I make them sound. The Regency was a peculiar little period in British history. Which may explain why we love to write about it so much.

  2. Hi, Kat! No, I wouldn’t go back in time. The changes that have happened in my lifetime are crazy enough. So I’ll just stay here. I would be in trouble because I like red! Happy dancing for you and your book.

    1. Hi Vicki! glad you stopped in. No, I can’t picture you in the Regency era at all. Too restrictive. Plus what would you do without all your outlandishly fun handbags.

  3. I especially enjoyed the illustration showing the Marie Antoinette get up next to the Regency. Dramatic change indeed. Hard to believe women would wear wet clothes in that climate in those drafty old homes. Fashion requires a little madness, it seems.

    1. Ah, we’ve a wisewoman in our midst. “Fashion requires a little madness” I may have to quote you, Gretchen. That’s too true.
      It does boggle the mind, doesn’t it. Tragic, that a significant number of them died of pneumonia all in the hopes of snagging a rich husband.

  4. Well, here are the actual numbers:
    “There were only 167 male peers in England in 1710, rising to 220 in 1790 [though that doesn’t count Scottish and Irish peers] in contrast to (although we are not comparing like to like) the perhaps 110-120,000French nobles in about 25,000 French noble families in 1789…”
    Not many aristocrats at all; you’ll probably just have to pig it along with commoners like Bingley.

    1. Chris, I can’t stop laughing. “Pig it along,” indeed.
      I hadn’t heard that one. Love it!

      I believe most young ladies would be quite please to do just that since both Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy, although commoners, were quite well situated in life and, as such, considered a welcome part of the Beau Monde.

      Now, my dear brilliant statistician and lover of irony, riddle me this. How many females were there among the peerage to flutter their collective eyelashes at this pathetically small number of male nobles?

      Your answer may explain a great number of things historically.

  5. Oh dear! I’d be in ever so much trouble. My raunchy outspoken tongue would have be shipped off to your clever school, which I can’t wait to read about. I think I shall stay here in my time as the Beau Monde would banish me.

    Can’t wait to read this book!

  6. Very clever! I’ve always wanted to know about the Beau Monde in those days. My family’s common and Irish to boot – I wouldn’t have even made it in the door at one of these events, much less had to worry about whether or not I was signalling a certain gentleman with my fan! The closest we’ve ever been to the nobility was a great-grandmother who was a lady’s maid to a socialite in New York City. It’s such a fascinating period to read and think about though!

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