Regency Fashion History Resources… Books, Fashion Plates & More

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.

As sometimes happens, this blog post turned out stupidly long… so I put a cut in.

egency, Federalist, Early Republic, Gerogian, 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.

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6 Responses to Regency Fashion History Resources… Books, Fashion Plates & More

  1. Hi!!! I love your paper dolls! I am a very crafty person, and I adore your black and white ones because they give me a chance to color them all. I must have a village of paper dolls by now. My one complaint is that many of the older posts have no black and white versions. This makes me very sad because I really like some of them but I don’t want them unless I can color them. If you need to return them to black and white but don’t know how, there is this amazing app (for iPhone/iPod/iPad) called Superimpose that will let you make black and white things in color and color things in black and white. The only problem is that it costs 0.99 cents, but it is worth it. You could color your dolls with it! Anyway, I’m sure I’m boring you now, so just remember, I love your dolls, but I am very sad that some are not posted as ones I can color.
    -Someone Crafty

    • RLC says:

      Hello Someone Crafty,

      I’m so very happy you enjoy the paper dolls.

      The reason I don’t go back to redo some of old color only dolls has nothing to do with not knowing how to do it, I do know how to do it. I don’t do it, because it’s time consuming and since this blog is a hobby to which I can only afford to devote so much time.

      Redoing a color paper doll in black and white can take an hour or so, and that’s an hour I can’t spend fixing code, drawing paper dolls, coloring paper dolls or responding to comments like this one.

      However, erratically, paper dolls that have been posted in color and not black and white do show up. If there’s a specific post you’d like to see, let me know and I’ll see what I can do. No promises, but sometimes I’ve been known to go back and redo old dolls.


      – Rachel

  2. boots says:

    maybe it’s the intensity of the research that slows me down (to a stop, apparently). i do so much better when i am copying a design or just winging it without concerns about any kind of accuracy.

    unfortunately almost everything i have ever made has required some kind of adherence to accuracy (even when copying). i’m inspired by this post to challenge myself to make some dolls that have no precedent.


    : D

    • RLC says:

      I think there’s a balance for me between being accurate, the limits of my artistic skill and wanting to actually get things done. Sometimes, I think I draw so much fantasy and modern stuff, because it’s so much less time consuming than historical material and requires so much less planning. I don’t need to worry that I don’t have enough sources or I can’t figure out what a swimming costume looked like in 1856.

      I do want to do more historic stuff though… I’ve been thinking a lot about the 1950s lately, I confess. Particularly, the evening gowns of that period.

  3. Julie says:

    I feel a bit silly saying this, but before today, I didn’t know you had Fashion Doll Friday! And I unwittingly appropriated the term :/ Anyway, these are great resources!

    • RLC says:

      Don’t feel silly. I haven’t updated that series in… um…. two years? Something like that. I never made the connection between the names myself. I called them Fashion Doll Friday’s based on the idea that each one would be a series of outfits for a historical doll (a fashion doll) of her period. I originally conceived of doing a French Doll, a Regency era doll, an Queen Anne type doll from the 18th century and a 1950s hard plastic doll like Cissy. Of course… I never got past the Regency doll, but my intentions were good. :)

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