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Regency Ladies Reading

Fashion plates, like fashion magazines (and some corners of instagram…) today, sell not only aspirational fashions, but also aspirational lifestyles.

There is a series of Costume Parisien fashion plates, stretching from the 1790s to 1820, that shows an fashionable lifestyle that I can very much see myself ascribing too…

I call it Regency Ladies Reading*.

Costume Parisiene, ca. 1795,  Bibliothèque des Arts Décoratifs.
Costume Parisien, ca. 1795, Bibliothèque des Arts Décoratifs.
Costume Parisien, ca. 1800, Bibliothèque des Arts Décoratifs.
Costume Parisiene 1801,  Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1801, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisiene 1802,  Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1802, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien, 1802, Bibliothèque des Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien, 1802, Bibliothèque des Arts Décoratifs

1810-11 was by far the high point of the style. The fashion illustrator hit on a post he liked, and built numerous outfits, all modelled by ladies intent on their literature, around it.

Costume Parisiene 1810,  Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1810, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1810,  Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1810, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1810,  Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1810, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1810,  Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1810, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1811,  Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien 1811, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisiene 1810,  Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisiene 1810, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisiene 1811, Bibliothèque de Arts Décoratifs
Costume Parisien, 1812
Costume Parisien, 1812
Costume Parisien 1812, NYPL digital archives
Costume Parisien 1812, NYPL digital archives
Costume Parisien, 1818
Costume Parisien, 1818

*Somewhat inaccurately, because the fashion plates originated in France, and some predate the English Regency. I suppose I could call it ‘Empire Ladies Enlarging Their Minds’….

15 Comments

  1. Carole Kingham says

    The blue one with yellow gloves either has a very strategically placed edge or necklace . Love them all!

  2. You should make yourself a Regency-looking removable fabric cover so that you can go to event looking stylish while reading, say, Wyrd Sisters. 😀
    (Okay, totally projecting my own ideas on you here.)

    • Book cover, I meant. Fabric slipped in, I’m not sure whether it should be fabric or something else. Also bad formatting. Note to self: Don’t comment while cooking green beans. 😀

  3. Kathy Hanyok says

    Thank you. What a lovely collection! They all ate saying “Just one more page!”

  4. “And to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

    Mr. Darcy would approve. 🙂

  5. P.S. Seems ironic (and perhaps a little sad) that so many people can be observed in nearly the same pose today – only with a phone instead of a book.

    • Elise says

      theguardian.comI have been thinking a lot about this fact–I love to read, and yet I read (news, blogs, articles) on my phone. And I read on the Guardian about how reading on our phones has actually *diminished* our ability to read books! Even when we are reading books on our phones! I found the link and it will put below.

      Anyhow, this touches on what kind of role model I want to be for the kiddo…and yet the news right now is so compelling! Maybe my version of this look would be a lady, wrapped in beautiful directoire fabric, compulsively reading a newspaper!

      https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/oct/03/before-the-internet-broke-my-attention-span-i-read-books-compulsively-now-it-takes-willpower

      • Lauren says

        E-readers ‘saved my life’ on this front. Actually it rings more true to just say they saved my life! The light is completely different than on a phone or computer, blue light filter or not: they’re wonderful for reading yourself to sleep. Mine is connected to my library account, and I also download free classics from Amazon and other places.

        I don’t exactly know why I’m more motivated to read on an e-reader–I’ve spent most of my life collecting books–but all I know is that I’m much closer now to my pre-internet reading habits. I’d encourage anyone to borrow or buy a secondhand reader and try it themselves!

        • Elise says

          It is really nice, isn’t it, to hold something slim, and to fall into a good book. I do like mine a lot, except that non-fiction (with its accompanying graphs and tables) doesn’t translate. The other problem is that the kiddo calls me out on it–“that’s a screen”, when I tell her “no more screens”.

          Still, you inspire me to put down my phone and pick up my “book”. It is a different tactile experience, to be sure, although it still feels lovely to touch and hold–in a different way. Thanks, Lauren!

  6. JessieRoo says

    The lady in the fawn dress with a red shawl looks so sassy, all I can think is that she must reading A Vindication Of The Rights Of Women.

  7. I don’t comment frequently but I am amazed by the…ahem…seductive nature of the second and fourth fashion plates! Is the first a depiction of a Marveilleuse? I’ve never seen a fiche pulled back so strategically.
    Also, I am surprised by the lower waist in the sixth fashion plate. I can’t recall seeing anything like that before for this time period.

    • Gillian Stapleton says

      The waistline was up, down and all over the place within a 20 year window. In one of Jane Austen’s letters, she mentions ‘lengthening the waist of your gowns’, presumably a way for thrifty women to keep up with the trends.

  8. I do t know about the rest of you peasants, but I always wear a snake necklace and a nun’s veil while reading trashy novels.

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