Regency Era Fashion Chit Chat - February 1819 Ackerman's Repository
French Female Fashions
Paris, Jan. 20
My dear Sophia,
I must begin by wishing you, and the dear little circle whom you amuse with my letters, a happy new year. I wished for you incessantly on the new-year's day, and am certain you would have been highly amused by a visit to the shops of Paris, which displayed on that day every possible temptation to the buyers of new-year's gifts; and every Parisian, even those I am told of the lower ranks, is on that day a purchaser. I believe indeed that there is no country in the world where the coming in of the year is welcomed with more pleasure: it is the business of the day to visit and congratulate one's friends, and to purchase little remembrances for them; and these are offered with a grace and cordiality which you cannot help being delighted with. But in panegyrising the French, whom you do not care a straw about, you will think I forget the fashions, which you are dying to hear. Patience, ma belle, I am going to begin.
Our promenade dresses are now mostly composed of levantine. Velvet spencers have disappeared, and cloth dresses are no longer to be seen. Round dresses and redingotes of levantine, and pelisses of white satin, are universally adopted by all tonish elegantes. Round dresses are made extremely plain; the skirts, I think, increase a little in width, and the waists are something longer. The body is made up to the throat; it fastens behind, is tight to the shape, and generally ornamented with a pelerine. Plain long sleeve, made rather loose; it falls considerably over the hand, and is confined by a narrow band at the wrist. The only trimming worn with these dresses, is a plain band of satin of the same colour, which goes round the bottom of the skirt, and a little edging of satin to the sleeves.
Redingotes, which you would suppose from the name were a travelling dress, are in reality pelisses; they are lined with white sarsnet, and are sometimes wadded. The most fashionable at present are very much gored, so that there is scarcely any fulness in the skirt at the waist; it is ornamented from the waist to the feet with bows of satin, to correspond in colour with the redingote. The body is made tight to the shape; the fore parts wrap across, and there is a very small standing collar, to which a deep lace ruff is affixed. There is usually a full sleeve of satin, confined down the arm by narrow bands of levantine; and the bottom of the long sleeve is finished either by a narrow trimming of satin, or a full quilling of blond net.
The white satin pelisses are exceedingly elegant, but in appearance much too light for the time of year: they are lined with white sarsnet, generally wadded, and made in the form of a loose great-coat; the sleeves are exceedingly large; the fronts wrap over very much, and there is a high collar. A broad rich trimming of swansdown goes entirely round the pelisse, and edges the bottoms of the long sleeves.
Now for head-dresses, which have decreased so much in size since I wrote last, that I should not wonder in a few months more if our bonnets were to become as preposterously small as they have hitherto been large. At present they are of a moderate and very becoming size; hats in particular are very jauntee. The materials most fashionable are, down, satin, beaver, velvet, and pluche. The crowns both of hats and bonnets are always very low; the brims of the latter are variously ornamented. Some have spaces cut round the brim, through which a roll of satin or crape is passed: others are finished with a double pointed lace, disposed in very full plaits; between this double row of lace is a wreath of roses, which is partially seen: many have the satin lining of the inside turned up round the edge of the brim, and cut in points; others have a flat feather trimming, passed through spaces in the same manner as the roll of which I have just spoken; and some bonnets, particularly beaver, have no trimming round the edge at all. The most stylish of these latter are ornamented with gold bands and tassels. Satin hats have in general roses round the brim, and also round the top of the crown; the others are either ornamented with a full bow of ribbon, or else a large knot of hard-twisted silk, the ends of which have tassels like little bells. As to hats, they never have any ornament round the edge of the brim, which is always very small, and turned up at the sides. I have seen one this morning, the shape of which was a little outre, but yet rather becoming. There was scarcely any brim just over the forehead, but it was much broader at the sides; it turned up very little; the crown was very low, but the front of it was entirely concealed by ostrich feathers, of which there were three placed upright so as to droop in front, and three more put in a standing position so as to fall over the left side. Ostrich feathers are very generally used for hats, but not at all for bonnets.
The prettiest dishabille I have seen is composed of white chintz, and worn with a petticoat of the same material; the trimming is a very full puffing of muslin, which is formed into scollops by little bows of narrow ribbon placed between each puff. The robe is made quite loose, with a falling collar, and this trimming goes all round it; it is confined to the waist by a sash of broad ribbon. The sleeve is very long and loose. The bottom of the petticoat is trimmed to correspond.
The morning cornette now forms a very expensive part of the dress of a tonish elegante, from the costly lace with which it is trimmed: it is composed of fine muslin, and has a small dome crown; the front of the head-piece is ornamented with four rows of beautiful narrow lace, which come no further than the cheek: the lower part has only a single row, which goes all round. These expensive little caps are sometimes worn under a small hat for the morning promenade; and when that is the case, the hat is put very far back, to display the beautiful lace border.
Coloured satins and spotted silks are a good deal worn in dinner dress. Gowns are cut rather high round the bust, so as to display only a little of the upper part of it: the trimmings most in favour are, only a single row of broad silk fringe, which in general is of the same colour as the dress, or else three rows of blond lace set on at a little distance from each other, and tacked in such a manner as to give each flounce the appearance of a slight wave. Sleeves are always short, and there is mostly a white satin undr-sleeve, confined to the arm by a band; it is but just visible under the loose short half-sleeve of the same material as the dress.
For grand costume, white crape is at present in considerable estimation; but velvet robes, which are worn open in front, over white satin petticoats, are equally tonish, and certainly for more appropriate to the time of year. These robes are cut low round the bust, have very short sleeves, and are trimmed either with swansdown or narrow gold cord: they have a narrow band of satin round the waist, which fastens in front with a clasp of diamonds, pearls, or coloured stones.
Toques and turbans are the usual head-dresses in full dress. Toque hats are still worn by a few elegantes, but one sees thm very seldom. A little while ago no lady was dressed without a white British lace veil, which was thrown carelessly over the back of her head: a fortnight ago this fashion was universal, now it is nearly exploded.
The turbans most in favour are composed of fine India muslin chequered with gold; they are of a shape a little resembling the Chinese, but more becoming; there is a good deal of gold cord twisted through the muslin: a large knot of this cord, to which a pair of tassels is affixed, is placed to the left side.
Nothing can be more unbecoming than the style in which toques are made. I mentioned to you, I believe, in my last, that they were peaked at the ears as well as in the middle of the forehead. At that time the peak in the forehead was the deepest; now those of the ears are preposterously long, and encroach also on the cheeks. As you know that softness is by no means a general characteristic of the French belles, I leave you to judge what an unbecoming and even fierce effect these disfiguring head-dresses must have upon their features: they are now in universal request, but I suppose in a week or two they will give place to something else.
I had almost forgot to mention to you a new fashion, and one which is eagerly adopted: I mean les evantails a surprise, which ought rather to be called the changeable fans. They are composed of crape, which is cut to resemble lace, and spangled: in the middle of the fan is a small picture, which may be varied so as to show four subjects, two on each side. These toys afford a pretty Frenchwoman an opportunity, which she knows how to use, to display all her graces to the utmost advantage. The play of her countenance, the easy eloquence of her motions, the many retty things she has to say on each of the different subjects which the fan presents, all combine to render her for the moment an attractive, and even dangerous, object to s susceptible heart. But these changeable fans, and my eternal habit of digressing, have scarcely left me room to tell you, that the colours most in favour are, celestial blue, slate-colour, deep rose-colour, fawn, and ponceau. Nothing, however, is more fashionable than white.
Adieu! Believe me unchangeably your,