Written by Kathleen Baldwin
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?
As 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.