Walking Dresses were worn to see and be seen. They are often referred to as Promenade Dresses, a very literal definition of their purpose. The fashionable Regency woman was seen walking in the parks or in the shopping districts during the London Season (spring and early summer); at the popular seaside resorts in August and September; and in the countryside at their own estates or at house parties during the fall and winter months. Walking Dresses differ for each location and season of the year. Because they were meant to be worn outdoors, the full costume of the Walking Dress always included a head covering of some kind, an outer garment or wrap, and gloves. Bonnets, caps, and veils were worn to cover the head, and were often the means of the most dashing or frivolous fashion statement. The following prints from various fashion magazines of the day show a variety of Walking Dresses and their accessories. Note the large plumes on the bonnets and the use of artificial flowers and veils. Notice also in the accompanying magazine texts that hats and bonnets sometimes get more detailed descriptions than the dress, indicating the importance of head gear. Depending on the season, various outer garments or wraps were worn. The short spencer jacket can often be seen, as well as the longer pelisse. Variations of the cloak and artfully draped shawls are also often shown. Also notice that although an outer garment may be seen in a variety of colors, the dress beneath is almost always white.
Ackermann's Repository, August 1812
"Promenade Dress" "A plain jaconot or imperial cambric muslin round dress, formed high in the neck, and trimmed round the bottom, up the front, collar, and sleeves, with fullborders of plaited muslin. A white satin hussar cloak, ornamented with deep capes and antique floss trimming and tassels. A Lavinia hat of fine moss straw — a small cap of lace beneath, ornamented on one side with a small bunch of flowers, and tied with cerulean blue ribband on the other. A rosary cross and bracelets of the coquilla nut. Boot, or Roman shoes, of blue kid. Gloves a lemon colour; and parasol of correspondent shot sarsnet, with deep ball-fringed awning.We are indebted to the unrivaled taste and invention of Mrs. Gill, of Cork Street, for these, as for many others of the most elegant specimens of British costume which embellish this work."
La Belle Assemblée, November 1812
"Morning Walking Dress" "Short pelisse of deep lilac, shot with white; back broader than they were worn last month, and on each hip a Spanish button. It is made with a collar up to the throat, and trimmed round with rich fur; sleeves long and loose, with a fur at bottom to form a cuff, rather shorter in front than behind, and two Spanish buttons are placed just at the bottom of the pelisse in front, which fastens with a loop crossing from one to the other. The bosom is ornamented in the same manner; a belt of embroidered ribband round the waist, and a gold clasp in front. A bonnet of the same materials as the pelisse, crown a helmet shape, front very small, and a wreath of laurel round it; three white feathers are placed at the back of the bonnet, and fall over the front; broad ribband, same as the bonnet, is pinned plain under the chin. The hair is brought very low at the sides, and a single curl on the forehead. Buff gloves, and dark brown kid boots. Large silver bear muff."
Ackermann's Repository, June 1809
"Walking Dresses" "Standing Figure -- A Venetian spencer of violet satin, or sarsnet, with a row of small round buttons embroidered in silver, with a pendant loop to each; confined at the neck with a silk cord or silver tassel. Beaver hat of the same color, rather small, turned up in front, with a silver bottom and loop. Worked muslin dress and skirt, to shoe the feet and ankles. Black silk slipeprs and York tan gloves. "Sitting Figure -- Muslin under-dress, with full loose sleeves; a Tunic à l'antique of yellow crape, trimmed with broad lace round the bottom; yellow silk head-dress, with short veil. Purple mantle, lined with white. York tan gloves.
"Child's Dress -- Swedish coat of grey cloth or silk, clasped down the front with silver ornaments; short open sleeves. Hat of same colour, turned up and silver loop."
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Adapted from the collection of Candice Hern. Candice Hern is the author of several Regency Romance novels and an avid collector of period fashion accessories. Her newest book, Lady Be Bad, part of her popular Merry Widows series, will be released in August. Visit her website for a sneak peak at this book as well as selections from her other novels. Larger images of the gowns seen here can also befound at www.candicehern.com.