Regency vs Victorian Clothing – Historical Nuggets Part I

Regency vs Victorian Clothing
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This month marks the first to come of the new ‘Skyla Investigates: Book-inspired Historical Nuggets’ series, in which I look into different historical or book related topics. And unfortunately, no, chicken nuggets will not be involved in this process. I will be picking topics that I know little about so this journey can be as much about myself learning as you might too. In January we will be looking at the differences between Regency vs Victorian Clothing. Deciphering the different fabrics, designs, purposes and inspirations between the two. At the end I will decide which era I would rather wear from day to day and my probably feeble reasons for my choice.

The Regency Era

The Regency era only spanned from 1811 to 1820. However, even in such a short period of time, there were quite a few different outfits to choose from. Famously, the ‘Empire line’ dresses were trending at this time and will be my focus for today. With their high bodice that sat just below the bust, they gave the illusion of an extremely high waist. It also allowed room for those of us with a muffin top to have a more flattering looking shape overall. This design was most flattering on those with a slightly smaller at the top and wider at the bottom body shape as it flowed elegantly in all the right places. Although they had a flowing middle, the majority of the time a corset is worn underneath. This emphasised and accentuated the bust and waist to create an even more hourglass look. Corsets themselves are an entire tangent that I will swerve towards another day.

  An example of the Regency era is Pride and Prejudice, written in 1813 it is in the centre of it. In the film adaptation, Keira Knightley wears an assortment of different Empire line dresses. As she was not a peasant, her outfits tended to be made of better-quality material. These were much more glamorous than your average everyday dress. The shape of the dress didn’t change much even if the material or person wearing it did. Regency era dresses customarily were made of lightweight and draping fabrics like muslin and fine linen or cotton. In The Garden of Promises and Lies, Empire line dresses were featured heavily. This is one of my main reasons for delving into the typical shape and fabric of the dresses.  

The Late Victorian Era

  Late Victorian era I will be referring to is 1870 to 1901 as that is when the ‘Natural Form’ dresses came into fashion. This time period is also referred to in both the City of Time and Magic and The Haunting of Hecate Cavendish (coming 23rd of July!). The Natural Form typically has a ‘bustle’ on the rear. Although it looks uncomfortable to sit in, generally the bustle sat just above the buttocks to allow for comfortable and elegant sitting. The dresses worn at the time were commonly quite uncomfortable anyway, so what’s a small bustle at your rear? These dresses were additionally designed to keep you warm as you gracefully roamed the many halls of your manor house by being made of materials like silk, taffeta and wool. In contrast to the lighter and more flowing empire line design, you could absolutely take an evening walk in the brisk winter months with little to no trouble. A good example of Natural Form dresses are in the television series ‘Ripper Street’, particularly the glorious bustles!

Another reason I chose the late Victorian era is a part of the trend was to have a crinoline underneath your skirts. A redeeming part of crinoline was that you could use the toilet without having to show even an ankle! I enjoy seeing the transition from looking like you are wearing a teapot cozy in the 1860’s to having a slim and elegant dress in the 1870’s. Clothing trends changing significantly every decade still holds true to this very day.


Personally, I think this design of the Natural Form looks far more flattering and elegant than the Empire line. Albeit less practical and not ideal for dog walking or gymnastics, the visual appeal is much more. Plus, who doesn’t love a good bustle? Additionally, I do not have the shape for an Empire line. They do make me look like I have taken a very deep breath and am holding it in. In the battle of Regency vs Victorian Clothing, Late Victorian takes the cake. Please join me next month for another dose of historical nonsense and nuggets of information you never knew you needed.

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