Fashion in the Regency Era
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Regency England has long been a source of fascination for modern audiences, from the marriage tales of Jane Austen to the mystical introspection of the Romantics. The era, which spanned from 1795 to 1837, marked a large transition in British society, ushering in brand new technologies and attitudes as postwar optimism and the Industrial Revolution brightened the minds of British citizens. This period is often typified as one of indulgence and luxury, an example set by the Regent himself; according to Professor Cheryl Wilson at Stevenson University, this included “an appetite for scandal, for sex, for delicacies, for literature, for clothing and material goods, for knowledge, and for all things new and fashionable” (2007). Fashionability indeed was an increasingly valuable trait in English society, and included not only popular clothing (as fashion is thought of today) but also certain manners, ways of speech, and physical activities. Clothing, though, is the element of Regency fashion that appears to get the most attention, as Regency dress has become an iconic image associated with the 19th century, both for men and for women. This is not without good reason: Regency dress communicates an incredible amount of information about the state of English society in the early 19th century, from the transformation of values it was experiencing to the sociocultural institutions that dictated everyday life. In the Regency period, fashion was used as a form of social currency by which members of society demonstrated adherence to popular values and attitudes; fashionability thus became a tool of the aristocracy to maintain their status and increase power over the lower classes.