Anyone who’s glanced at even a couple of days of my Twitter timeline will see a lot of Georgian and Regency fashion posts and retweets, with a bit of Victorian and Edwardian here and there. I’ve made a point of following fashion historians, museum curators, and fellow writers who have an interest in historical fashion. I love to look at pretty things. 🙂
But I’ve also found that examining what people wore gives me insight into their lives. Of course, there’s a bit of a bias if we look only at the pieces that have survived, because if something’s still holding together after 200 years, it’s probably been treated gently, which could mean it was a special garment, like a ballgown or wedding dress. It also may have belonged to someone with the resources to spread out the wear across a number of outfits. I suspect historical collections are somewhat weighted toward dress-up clothes that belonged to fairly wealthy people.
I’ve found a few places online where you can see large collections of Georgian and Regency era clothing and accessories. Of all of them, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is probably my favorite. This query will take you straight to their collection of clothing from the 19th century. Using the menu down the left side of the page, you can further restrict your search by geographic location, material, and object type — 19th century silk hats from France, for example. I probably should warn you that the Met site is dangerously addictive. The gorgeous fan to the right dates from the mid-19th century in France.
My second favorite go-to for historical fashion is the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. This query will bring back everything in their fashion collection between 1700 and 1890. You can further refine your search by object name, place of origin, material, and so forth. Their search engine doesn’t seem as powerful and intuitive as the Met’s, but you can still find some really cool things. (It’s just a bit more work.)
A smaller collection that nonetheless has some excellent pieces is at the Colonial Williamsburg Museum in Virginia. There’s very little search capability, but the collection is small enough to just page through. The cherry red silk gown to the right dates from the 1820s and is just one of many lovely items on their site. The color is so intense, even almost 200 years later.
There’s also the fashion collection at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’ve seriously got to make the time to go there in person. I know I’ll love it. I’m utterly obsessed with a 1760s court suit, particularly the purple embroidered waistcoat. (No image link here — linking to them is tricky.)
And I might as well make time for the “An Agreeable Tyrant” exhibition at the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington, D.C. I recently purchased the exhibition catalog just for the color pictures, but I love it even more for the essays and insights — oh, and the footnotes. That kind of attention to detail makes my hobbyist researcher’s heart go pitter-pat.