A Day in the Life of an Upper Class Woman 1795-1815

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Hi, Maggi here,  the Georgian and Regency eras intrigue me for many reasons: the fashions, the lifestyle, the history, the food, the interiors,  the architecture, politics, royalty, and the theater, I could go on. I’ve added some great books to my library over the years. One of my favorites is Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion, 1795-1815, published for the exhibition Napleon el’Impero della Moda at the Triennale di Milano in 2010, which must have been fabulous to view. For those who haven’t discovered this wonderful book for themselves, I thought I’d share a little.

Napoleon 3.

As soon as fashion became available for everyone, ladies had to dress according to its dictates to be a part of the social scene appropriate for their class. Several changes of clothing were required throughout the day and evening.
Many women were well educated, but culture was not considered a necessity, and could be seen as detrimental if it encourages her to interfere in men’s affairs. As a result, a woman’s education was aimed more at running a household, controlling the servants, supervising the meals, caring for children and entertaining guests. They were also required to manage the household budget. If these tasks could be delegated to senior servants, women would fill their day with drawing, needlework and music, even if they had little aptitude or inclination for them.

Reading was also an important pastime, with a growing number of novels and romances which were looked upon with disapproval, but other than these, their choices were few, primarily dry tomes on religion and ethics. Magazines became popular because they offered light poetry, gossip, fashion, and quizzes, much like magazines today.
It was improper for a woman to wear her hair loose, so lace caps or turbans made from fine fabric avoided the necessity of dressing her hair while at home, especially if one was required to entertain an unexpected caller. This also allowed women to keep their hair wrapped in curls for the evening. Napoleon 5.

The early morning might be spent in writing letters to friends or relatives, or practicing the piano and harp. Clothing was worn déshabillé, loose and long sleeved in cool weather sometimes with a shawl.

For those who could afford it, horse riding was seen as an excellent form of morning exercise. Those who didn’t ride might opt for an outing in their carriage.
The higher ranking classes had an awareness of their social responsibilities. They visited the poor, the sick, the old and the lonely, and might bring them clothing, food or a little money, as Jane Austen’s heroine, Emma, does in her novel of the same name.
Shopping was another morning activity. The service a woman might receive was affected by her appearance, the quality of her dress, the servants who accompanied her, and the type of carriage she used.

Another change of clothes was required for the afternoons, when a woman would call on friends or pay her respects to her neighbors. During the day, a woman was required to keep her hat on when visiting. Napoleon 1

A special ‘at home’ day was put aside each week to receive callers.

At home, while the light was good, ladies would employ needlework: tapestries, embroidery, or mending of the household linen. If a visitor called, the lady of the house might continue with her needlework. Her visitor could have brought her sewing with her. Afternoon and evening salons were an important and influential social gathering where political or artistic views were shared. Napleon 3

In towns and cities, the early evening was reserved for the promenade. Fashionable people gathered in the parks, gardens, and cafes to see and be seen. Dress was of vital importance as this was an opportunity to flaunt one’s status and sense of style. Young men would show off their skill on a horse, while others rode in carriages. The quality of one’s carriage, the size, quality, and quantity of their horses was a status symbol, as a car might be for some today. In London, Hyde Park was a popular venue. (While I don’t have the space here to embellish more on this fascinating subject, I will at a later date.)

Napoleon 7

Dinner was the most important meal of the day. Even when a family dined alone, everyone dressed for the occasion. Ladies dressed their hair, displayed their jewelry, and wore dresses with short sleeves and deep necklines. People gathered to make music, sing, and play card games. In the country, because candles were so expensive, dinner was eaten as early as 4pm, and dining late more a part of the higher levels of society.

Theater, balls, and parties demanded their own fashions. Men and women wore their finest clothes, and the latest fashions. Balls were the best opportunity to mingle, as everyone was of a similar social standing, although a strict hierarchy was observed. The ability to dance was the mark of good breeding. A lady must know how to perform dances such as the quadrille. The waltz, seen as too intimate, was only accepted in England after 1816.
A ball might end as late as 7am.

And so to bed….  Before retiring, ladies must curl their hair and cover it with a cap. They would sleep in a chemise similar to the one they had worn during the day.



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Question: What time was dinner served in the country?

Georgian, Regency, historical Romance, maggiandersen.

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13 Responses

  1. ginaconkle2013

    Hi Maggi,
    What’s not to love about graceful, elegant fashions? Sometimes I’m glad I live in an era of “comfy” clothes (you can’t argue with yoga pants…which really are modern day sweatpants). But, sometimes I wish we dressed up more. That’s one of the reasons I watch the Oscars: fashion and style.
    Thanks for sharing this!

    • Maggi Andersen

      Yes, I’d love everyone to start wearing hats again. I love to see a man in a hat, lol.

  2. JoannaM

    I’m in love with this post. Thank you so much for it. That first picture is just so beautiful and elegant.
    And yes to hats and gloves, not only are they elegant but they protect from the harmful rays of the sun and premature aging 😉

  3. Maggi Andersen

    You’re welcome, Joanna. I’m delighted you enjoyed it!