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Fashion: Gown Colors

The hues worn by unmarried ladies versus married ladies during the Regency

The colours unmarried ladies wore, specifically during the Regency, were distinctive from those married ladies wore. It would not do for either’s reputation to wear the wrong colour.

Unmarried ladies wore white or light pastel. The occasion determined which colour was chosen, such as opting for a slate grey for riding but a lilac for calling on neighbours.

White was the most common of all, but so long as the colour hue chosen was pastel, the palette choices were varied. Unmarried ladies would never have worn dark colours, so if Miss Sissystockings is said to be wearing green, that green had better resemble the light shade of a green apple or she’ll be the talk of the town, and not in a good way.

Allowed: ivory, rose, yellow (canary or daffodil), peach, lavender, lilac, apple green (Pomona Green), blue, drab (buff brown), puce (purplish-pink or brownish-purple).

The most popular colours among these were ivory, canary, rose, and lilac. Regardless of the colour, such as green or blue, the tint would be a light pastel, never ever dark. An unmarried lady could get away with wearing a darker accessory, though, as long as the gown itself was white or pastel, such as wearing a darker colour open robe, shawl, pelisse, etc.

Married ladies wore darker shades. While they could wear whatever colour they could afford when it comes to dyes, the shade should be darker rather than the pastel of the unmarried ladies. While married ladies could wear light colours, it would be encouraged to add splashes of bright or dark colour in the way of a shawl, gloves, embroidery, or other adornments.

Something our heroines would have considered that we might not is that the dye colour chosen would be different once applied to the material and laundered. For example, puce would look purplish-crimson at the shop but once the material was dyed and laundered, the gown would be mauve. This would have been known by our heroines and the colours chosen with that in mind. When we’re “shopping” for gowns for our heroines or imagining while we’re reading what they might have worn, if we see a bright red coquelicot colour swatch, we should then adjust the tint to a faded rose. The married lady would wear the crimson shade, but the unmarried lady would wear the primrose tint.

Another point our heroines would have considered, or more to the point, the heroine’s lady’s maid, is how the colour would look in certain light. A colour’s hue and how it affects a lady’s complexion changes if it’s in natural daylight, a candlelit ballroom, or a candlelit drawing room with ample shadows. A hue that brightened the skin during the day could sallow the skin in the evening. This was one reason ivories and primroses would have been the most popular choices for evening wear.  

Hands down the best page to bookmark for colours, hues, names, and more is Beatrice Knight’s Regency Color Compendium: Just keep in mind when looking at all the wonderful palette choices that those shown are for all ladies, married or unmarried, so choose your colours wisely from among these based on the lady’s marital status, as well as the occasion (riding? Walking? Calling? Assembly dancing? Private ball dancing?).


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