Regency Era Fashion Chit Chat - August 1817 Ackerman's Repository
French Female Fashions
Paris, July 14, 1817
My dear Sophia,
You will receive this letter from the hands of Miss S. who has promised at my desire to visit and show you her purchases. You will not, however, be much gratified by the sight of anything but her bonnets, as she would not have her dresses made up. I shall endeavour to atone for the disappointment which this circumstance will cause you, by describing the few changes which have taken place wince I wrote last.
White is still in universal estimation, our promenade dresses are composed of nothing else. A cambric muslin pelisse made tight to the shape, very short in the waist, and rather scanty in the skirt, is considered the most fashionable dishabille: it wraps over very much, and fastens down the front by straps; it is cut what you would call half high, and has a pelerine of a moderate size. Plain long sleeve, rounded at the bottom, and finished by small tucks. Half sleeve, short and very full. I have not seen any thing for a considerable time so elegantly plain, or so well calculated for morning walking dress, as this pelisse.
Muslin round dresses and pelerines are also in considerable estimation for the promenade. Some merveilleuses, or as you would style them, dashers, have appeared in muslin trowsers. Lest you should be shocked at their indelicacy, I must observe, that very little more than the rich lace which trimmed them round the bottom was visible, and that very few ladies have conformed to this fashion.
Jaconot, book, and cambric muslin are all worn for the dresses I have just mentioned. The gown is finished round the bottom of the skirt by a double flounce of very rich pointed work, which is surmounted by a rouleau of clear muslin, over which is placed a flounce headed by a second rouleau to correspond. The body is cut extremely low all round the bust, which is ornamented by a rouleau and flounce to correspond with the bottom. The ruff, in which the throat is completely enveloped, also corresponds. The pelerine, of a plain round shape, falls something lower than the waist; it has no collar, but a ribbon run through it, fastens it round the neck, with a bow in front. The embroidery of these pelerines is in general of a considerable depth and great richness.
This dress is in high favour without the pelerine for dinner costume, and is the only novelty that I have to announce to you. The mania which our fashionables had for tucks is now transferred from their own dresses to that of their children, whose frocks and trowsers are covered with them. Bouillons are as much the rage as ever, one sees from four to six rows of them at the bottoms of dresses. Flounces are also much worn, and the fertile invention of the marchandes des modes has given an air of novelty even to them. Sometimes the bottom of a dress is ornamented with three or four, which are very deep, very richly embroidered, and drawn up in festoons. Sometimes there are as many as six flounces, which are set on at a distance from each other; these flounces, which are very narrow, are carefully small-plaited, and the space between them is filled either by a fulness of clear muslin, a letting-in of lace, or a rich embroidery. This last is considered more fashionable than either of the others.
One of our most fashionable corsets is I find of English invention, I mean the corset des Graces: it is much admired here, and is certainly the easiest and pleasantest stay I ever wore. It is also extremely advantageous to the figure, and as the French ladies pride themselves exceedingly on the elegance of their shapes, they give it on that account a decided preference.
I have little to say of full dress, for which crape and tulle are at present most fashionable: the latter is, however, adopted only for ball dresses, or by very youthful belles. There is no alteration in the form of full dress since I wrote last; but I think there is more variety in trimmings. Blond is high in estimation; there are sometimes as many as four rows set on very full round the bottom of a dress, and the bosom is finished by a pelerine to correspond.
A more fashionable and much more novel style of trimming is a double or triple flounce of blond festooned, and each festoon fastened by a single flower or a small sprig of myrtle. A great many elegantes sport bouillons of tulle, which are divided by white satin tucks: and embroidery is also very fashionable; it consists chiefly of small bouquets of roses and myrtle in chenille, which being much raised, has a rich and natural effect.
The mention of embroidery reminds me, that I have not yet told you what flowers are most fashionable; and never were the treasures of Flora in such request among belles of taste as at present. Beside fancy flowers, of which lilac roses surrounded with leaves are most fashionable, the blossom of the sweet-pea, larkspur, honeysuckle, geranium, blue-bells, gilly-flower, tulips, pinks, narcissus, roses, and poppies, are all worn either for bouquets, hats or ornaments for the hair. For the last purpose, full branches of roses intermingled with wheat-ears are in very high estimation, as are garlands of the other flowers which I have mentioned, placed at the back of the head.
The present style of hair-dressing is very unbecoming. I mentioned I believe in my last, that it was worn in loose curls on the forehead; it was then divided a little in front, and of a moderate fulness: it is now curled so as to entirely conceal the forehead, and the hind hair, which is strained back, and fastened up in a large loose tuft, displays the skin of the head.
The hair in half dress is much more becomingly arranged. A few loose light curls shade without concealing the forehead; part of the hind hair is disposed in a tuft, and the remainder, divided into two or three bands, is twisted round the head.
I must not forget to mention, that, besides the bonnets which Miss S. will show you, capotes of gros de Naples, and gauze, tulle, and satin chapeaus, are in favour for the promenade. The capotes resemble those of Miss S. but the chapeaus are formed in a different way: they turn up almost entirely in front; the brim is of a moderate size, and of a peculairly jauntee shape. They have frequently no other ornament than a rich lace, white silk, or tulle handkerchief, of a moderate size, doubled and pinned across the crown, so that the ends fall behind. These handkerchiefs, when in silk, are sometimes embroidered at the corners. Other chapeaus have a very narrow round brim, finished at the edge, and also round the crown, by a plaiting of tulle, and ornamented either with a bunch of flowers, or three down feathers placed upright in front of the hat.
White crape, gauze, satin, and tulle are all in favour for toques. Very little alteration has taken place in the form of these head-dresses since I wrote last; they are something higher than they were then, and wider round the top of the crown. Flowers are the favourite ornament for toques, except for court, for which they are generally adorned with feathers and precious stones.
I shall send you in my next a description of a singularly pretty ball-dress, which would suit your sylph-like figure to a miracle; and also some cornettes, which I imagine will be very tasteful, as they are the invention of one of our most distinguished elegantes. Adieu, my dear Sophia! Believe me always your attached
With my usual heedlessness, I forgot to enumerate the fashionable colours for the month. They are, pearl-grey, canary-yellow, peach-blossom, amaranth, azure, and rose.