The ABC's of Regency Costuming: How to Achieve the Proper Look


I wrote this article as a guest-blogger for my friend's blog Laughing With Lizzie. Thought I would share it here too!

My favorite part of being a Janeite and going to Regency events is of course the costuming. And I must admit I have trouble watching modernized adaptations of Jane's work because to me they are not the same without the amazing fashions of the late 18th/early 19th century.

In this blog post, I'm going to explore how to get the perfect Regency look, the different styles,  and some tips on where/how to get the pieces made.

First of all, as for every other era, the best way to achieve the perfect silhouette it to have the right undergarments. A good shift/chemise, and a pair of stays will work wonders even with the plainest of gowns.

My own undergarments are a simple set of short stays (they're the easiest ''corset'' you'll ever make, and the most comfortable) and a simple shift.

I made my stays and shift from the book ''period costumes for stage and screen'' by Jean Hunnissett. I know that Sense and Sensibility patterns also makes a good (and maybe easier to follow) pattern for undergarments. 

Then, usually you need one petticoat, or bodiced petticoat that goes over next, but I admit I often skip this step. Some of my gowns have a sewn-in petticoat. It's cheating but it works! 

Then the gown! There are a few different styles to chose from, and they are pretty easy to make. The easiest by far is a drawstring dress, because you can make it slightly larger and adjust it by pulling on the drawstrings. It's also my favorite style. So feminine! 

Three drawstring gowns. In the last picture you can clearly see the ribbons that serve as drawstring to tie it in the back. All my dresses were made from the book Period Patterns for Stage and Screen. 

There's also the Bib front dress (Blue dress on the left) and the crossover dress (red, right). The bib front dress has a bodice piece that attaches at the front, under the ''bib'' piece, which is then pinned/buttoned over, and ribbons, or laces are tied in the back to hold everything in place. The Crossover/wraparound does exactly this, it crosses over and ties in the back with ribbons or laces. 
Crossover (day version)

Back and front of a bib-front day dress. 

You also need proper shoes! As these are way more complicated to make than gowns, I like to order mine from American Duchess, who makes very decent and quite comfortable historical reproductions. She also sells proper 18th century reproduction silk stockings. 

Hairstyle is also important. I often refer to Locks Of Elegance, an awesome blog with hairstyle tutorials from various eras, including Regency. 

Then, you need decorations. Use your imagination! A simple ribbon at the waist can do the job nicely, but you can also add a chemisette, or a small brooch. Look at fashion plates of the time for inspiration!  Then for outdoor wear you need either a shawl or a spencer (a short jacket) or pelisse (long, high-waisted coat). 

My red spencer! Nice wool can be costly if you want a authentic look, but try to look at old, out-of-fashion coats and re-use the fabric. This spencer used to be an ugly 80's jacket with shoulder pads and big plastic buttons! But the fabric is this gorgeous red cashmere and wool blend with a satin lining, and curly wool cuffs. So I basically just cut into the coat and re-fashionned the whole thing using the Sense and Sensibility Spencer Jacket pattern. It's the only one of the S&S patterns I've actually tried but I liked it very much. It was put together very quickly and the instructions were easy to follow. 

Then, of course, you need something to cover your head, as no fashionable lady of the Regency era would dare go out without a bonnet or some sort of head covering. A turban, like in the previous picture, is an easy and alternative to a bonnet. It's also a lot cheaper as you can just learn to drape a pashmina or scarf around your head, and it's easier to carry in a suitcase without risks of crushing it. American Duchess gives a very good demonstration on how to drape it properly. Then you can complete the look with feathers or a brooch! 

As for a bonnet, you can get a plain straw bonnet base and decorate it (like the bergère hat in the picture with the pink drawstring gown), or make one completely from scratch. There are also a lot of options for buying them, but they can be quite costly. I made one a little while ago, quite simply. I bought a 1$ straw hat from the dollar store, Cut out the crown of the hat and trimmed the brim in a sort of crescent-shape. Added a gathered fabric crown, trimmed everything with ribbon and Voilà! The Merry Dressmaker made a nice tutorial for a very similar bonnet. And Here is another pretty good tutorial too. 

If you're looking to buy one there are a lot of options on Etsy, and Farthingales Costumes makes gorgeous ones too! 

And, to finish the look, you will need a good pair of gloves (vintage shops are the best for these!), look for leather or lace ones, or knit yourself a pair!  And a reticule, which is a small purse with a drawstring. Some of them can even be pineapple shaped! I sell some in my Etsy shop (Pineapple and non-pineapple, and knitting pattern too, along with linen caps and baby bonnets), if you're interested.

My friend M and me with our pineapple reticules at the 2016 promenade! My bonnet in this picture was also made from an old straw hat that I cut and trimmed with silk bias binding. 

The open-robe, which is another, more formal style. That one was made with a pattern from the book Patterns of Fashion by Janet Arnold.  

One more thing I want to mention is how I love working with saris for evening/formal regency wear.  They are easy to find, can come quite cheap over Ebay, are often made of pure silk and are already embroidered or decorated with lovely patterns. Also, they come in 4-5 m lengths, so you have more than enough fabric for one whole dress with one sari, and may have enough leftovers for a half-robe or accessories of you're very petite. The trick is to be smart about where you cut your pieces, and to take advantage of the lovely embroidery and borders that are already on the fabric. Plus, they are totally historically accurate, and look AMAZING!

Speaking of saris, here is my favorite dress of all my regency wardrobe. It was made with a orange embroidered sheer silk sari. It's a bib-front style. For evening wear, you need a formal dress like one of these, gloves (lace, satin or silk), and dance slippers. In this case it was a masked ball so I added the mask. 

Hope this article was helpful, and good luck putting together your own Regency outfit! 


  1. Hello Laura. I am a Pastor from Mumbai, India. I am glad to stop by your profile on the blogger and the blog post. I am also blessed and feel privileged and honored tog et connected with you as well as know you and about your interest in knitting. I love getting connected with the people of God around the globe to be encouraged, strengthened and praying for one another. I have been in the Pastoral ministry for last 38 yrs in this great city of Mumbai a city with a great contrast where richest of rich and the poorest of poor live. We reach out to the poorest of poor with the love of Christ to bring healing to the brokenhearted. We also encourage young and the adults from the west to come to Mumbai to work with us during their vacation time. We would love to have you come to Mumbai with your friends to work with us during your vacation time. I am sure you will have a life changing experience. My email id is: dhwankhede(at)gmail(dot)com and my name is diwakar Wankhede. Looking forward to hear from you very soon. God's richest blessings on you, your family and friends and also wishing you and your family a blessed and a Christ centered New year.

  2. Above pictures with with the different costumes are beautiful , impressive and modest. If you plan to come to Mumbai, I am sure you will add many more design. Looking forward to hear from you.


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