Tuesday, March 7, 2017

From the Archives: Dressing the Regency-Era Plus-Size Lady

Tuesday, March 7, 2017
1802 British Vessels

Loretta reports:

The following questions about Regency era fashions for plus-size ladies appeared in the comments for my Fashions of May 1810 post:

“These historic illustrations are very pretty but it seems they do the same injustice that modern day models do. They portray ultra thin women. That might be okay for even an average size woman but what was the 'larger' lady to do? How was she supposed to know what a particular fashion would look like on her? Are there any illustrations of fashions for 'fat ladies'?”

The illustration at top is typical of Regency images of women.  As Susan pointed out in The Myth of the Regency Sylph, a plumper ideal of beauty (e.g, "A First Rate" in the print) held sway than what appears in fashion plates.  However, this doesn’t mean that the caricaturists didn't mock fat women.  The era was misogynistic to a horrifying degree.  Still, as the image below demonstrates, the caricaturists made fun of fat men, too, even when the fat man was the Prince of Wales.  But satirical prints were equal opportunity mockers, ridiculing skinny people as well. 

Fashion illustration, then and now, can be as exaggerated as caricatures, and thin women prevail—though, as slim as the women in my 1810 fashion post are, they’re certainly not the size 00 we see in today’s fashion magazines.  The less curve you have to draw around, the easier to display a dress design, apparently.

Inconveniences of a Crowded Drawing Room
So what did the not-sylphlike ladies do?  Anyone aspiring to the kinds of fashions shown in, say, Ackermann’s Repository or La Belle Assemblée, would have her clothes made by a dressmaker.  This person, known by the 1830s as a modiste, would not only make the clothes but, to the extent the client permitted, act as stylist as well.  A dressmaker who wanted a successful business would take care to dress her client in the most flattering way, a point I do try to get across in my Dressmaker series(The third book, Vixen in Velvet, directly addresses the challenges of dressing the less-than-fashionably-ideal figure.)

Illustration  credits:
Top: British Vessels. Described for the Use of Country Gentlemen,1802, courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.  Bottom: George Cruikshank, Inconveniences of a Crowded Drawing Room, courtesy Wikipedia.


ista said...

Thanks to the handy 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue I know about the Bum-Boat this caricature refers to (on the right). A Bum-boater was a person who rowed out and sold grog & greens to ships in port and was typically a woman.

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