Recently, I was asked by Fashion Doll Fridays had ended and when the Flora paper doll might get some stylish outfits. The answer is… probably never on the Flora outfit front, but Fashion Doll Fridays ended when I stopped doing such a regularly scheduled blog. The historical paper dolls are the hardest to draw, because of research and planning time.
I’m a librarian and I’m compulsive about research, plus I collect fashion history books. Sometimes this is a good thing… I have books I can use, but sometimes this means I get wrapped up frustrated when I can’t figure out what shoes looked like circa 1845. I don’t mind adapting, but I like to be pretty darn sure that what I’m drawing is correct, or as correct as I can be given constraints of time and/or skill. So, I don’t do as many historical paper doll sets as I would like.
However, it recently occurred to me that people who like paper dolls, usually also like historical clothing. Therefore, I thought I would post about some of the sources I used when I was drawing Flora outfits and then people could, armed with research guides (as we say in the Library biz), draw their own. And submit them to the Showcase and everyone would be happy… Especially Flora.
Regency, Federalist, Early Republic, Georgian, Empire, Napoleonic Era… The Terminology Confusion
So, here’s the thing… The era from the late 1790s until the mid-1820s has a lot of names. Depending on the country you are in and the exact year period, you could be dealing with Late Federalist (until 1801) or Early Republic (which either goes until 1865 or until 1815 depending on your source) in America, the Regency (1811-1820) or Late Georgian Era (1714 to 1830) in England. or the Directoire (1795–1799) or Empire Period (1800-1815) in France, or the Napoleonic era (19794-1814) in Italy. I tend to use the term Regency or the term Empire since most people associate the period with Jane Austen’s writings and she wrote in the Regency. I also have noticed that the term Empire has come to mean a raised waist on any dress and I don’t think it conjures to mind, for most people, the actual style I am referring too. I avoid the American terms as well, because America was never a leader in fashion trends in this period. There’s also something annoying about having to caveat every-time I talk about the era, so I have chosen to go with which term I think most people know the best.
Is this a gross over generalization? Well… yes. Does it bother me? Not really.
You should, however, know all of these terms because they do get used to specify countries of origin for different styles. In the 45 odd fashion books lying around my house, the terms I have seen used the most are Regency, Empire, Napoleonic and Federalist. Your mileage may vary.
Books about Empire and Regency Fashion, Specifically…
A lot of fashion books mention the early part of the 19th century (call it Empire, Regency or Federalist, see above), but not very many focus on it exclusively. These are three of my favorites that do.
Napoleon & the Empire of Fashion: 1795-1815 by Cristina Barreto (ISBN:978-8857206509) was written to accompany an Italian museum exhibit. I confess that I didn’t buy it for the essays… (some of which lose something in translation, I think), I bought it for the beautiful photos of fashion plates and clothing. Incredible photos. It’s pretty pricy on the secondary market right now, so I’d recommend using your local library.
Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen by Sarah-Jane Downing (ISBN: 978-0747807674) is a skinny little book, but gives a fantastic overview of the clothing and manners of the period. I use it for the sections on fabric and color.
Ackermann’s Costume Plates: Women’s Fashions in England, 1818-1828 edited by Stella Blum (ISBN: 978-0486236902) is one of the few books of plate reprints that isn’t grossly over priced. It’s easy to find on the secondary market and is mostly in black and white. It deals with the often ignored transition from Regency into Romantic. Each plate has some descriptive text which answer questions like… what is this dress supposed to be? Ackermann’s Repository was THE fashion journal of its era.
Primary Sources for Empire and Regency Fashion History
Primary sources might be museums with costume collections or books published in the actual time period or fashion plates. All of these sources can be combined to be excellent ways to discover what people wore in the early 19th century. The “trick” to finding materials is often to learn how to search museum holdings. Try words like “dress” or “gown” or even “ballgown” and then limit by years if you can. Some places have an advanced search function which allows you to put in a range of “creation” years into your search. Remember that every museum or library will organize their collections a little differently. You can try some of the different period terms mentioned above to see what you get as well.
Ackermann’s Repository Series 1 and Ackermann’s Repository Series 2 and 3 are digitized copies of the famous Ackermann’s Repository of Arts. It’s an incredible resource, but sometimes the plates aren’t included in the scans, as owners would sometimes cut them from the books or they would be cut by people to be sold separately. The descriptive texts are worth the price of admission however.
The mirror of the graces; or, The English lady’s costume, first published in 1811 was a etiquette book published by A Lady of Distinction. If you want to know what is proper to wear when, this book will tell you. You can buy a reprint, but it free online, so why bother?
Casey Fashion Plate Index consists fashion plates from LAPL and they have extensive Regency fashion plates holdings.
Victoria and Albert Museum is one of the largest costume collections in the world.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is another museum with one of the largest costume collections in the world.
Fashion Plate Collection from the University of Washington contains Regency and Empire fashion plates, along with many others, it should be noted.
There’s a lot of pretty shady fashion history on the internet, but these are a few sites I find both really useful and not poorly constructed or difficult to navigate. I have very low tolerance for sites that are hard to navigate.
Candice Hern’s Regency Fashion Section is an excellent resource from a well respected romance novelist. I confess openly that I haven’t read any of her novels, but her website is wonderful.
Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion for Shoes is an excellent guide to… well.. shoes.
Regency Fashion Glossary might have some horrible background images, but it makes reading the primary source materials above a real breeze.
Undressing your Heroine and Undressing your Hero are great, since women and men’s clothing of this period had a bunch of layers which are clearly described in these two excellent articles.
The Age of Nudity is an exhibit from Kent State University on regency dress. They also have an excellent costume collection that is fun to tool around in when you have a few minutes.