What a Fashionable Lady Looked Like in Regency England

First, since the lovely ladies at Embracing Romance asked me to join them, and I was delighted to do so, I shall introduce myself. My name is Ella Quinn and I write Regency romance. I am published by Kensington, and am just finishing up my first series, The Marriage Game. The last book releases on November 10th. However, Lady Beresford’s Lover, released on July 21st.

lady beresford's lover_ebook

Which dovetails into my topic for today. Lady Beresford’s Lover deals with body image, and how a perfectly lovely woman can believe she is undesirable. Naturally, that meant that I really needed to get my research right about what was considered beautiful during the Regency era. What I discovered may surprise you.

If you are a Regency reader, you have no doubt seen the fashion plates that depict tall slender women.

Regency fashion imge

But was the idea of beauty really tall and slender. Not so much. In fact, not at all. Just a glance at the portraits of the day will show that none of the women considered Diamonds of the First Water were anything but what we would consider plump, or even a little on the plus side.


A little more research revealed that if a woman’s collar bones were showing, she was considered vulgar. And here is a quote from 1809, which shows one lady’s distress at the possibility that she might have lost weight. S. T. Coleridge Three Graves iv, in Friend 21 Sept. 94   Oft she said, ‘I’m not grown thin!’ And then her wrist she spann’d.

Why was it that being thin was so unfashionable? On one hand it meant that the person was too poor to afford sufficient food, or was suffering from ill health. Yet was that all? Upon reading some male literature, I discovered that gentlemen preferred women who were an “arm-full.”

As for being tall, well the cant term, ‘long meg’ says it all.

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Ella Quinn is the bestselling author of The Marriage Game series, published by Kensington. Her new series, The Worthingtons, will release in spring 2016. All of her books are set during the Regency. After years of residing in Europe and the Caribbean, she is living on a boat with her hero of over thirty years, a dog and a cat.

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18 Responses

  1. Victoria Vane

    I love looking at old portraits of “beautiful people”. It’s fascinating how the perception of beauty is constantly evolving. Just look at Marilyn Monroe from the 50’s vs Audrey Hepburn from the 60’s. I’m glad to see that pendulum seems finally to be swinging back toward fuller figures again.

  2. Alyssa Alexander

    Interesting about the collarbones! And I agree, Victoria. Nice to see things swinging back again.

  3. Crystal Cox

    Fabulous post ! I think some of the very thin women being shown as examples today were really starting to get scary. I hope that the trend towards healthy continues!

  4. allybroadfield

    Hi, Ella! I’m so glad to have you here with us. Your cover is fabulous, and I too hope we can move back to a healthy body image.

    • Ella Quinn

      Thanks, Ally! I’m glad to have joined you! I hope we can as well. I really want that for my granddaughter.

  5. Barbara Monajem

    Welcome, Ella. I’m so glad you joined us. The changing trends in fashion are fascinating — but what completely stymies me is that people usually *believe* whatever they are fed about fashion. I don’t understand how the trends change and people are therefore convinced to change their concept of beauty.

    • Ella Quinn

      Thank you, Barbara. I’m glad I joined as well! I quite frankly blame Twiggy and the rise of the super-model for a lot of it. Although, I think women in the US seem to follow trends more than anyone else. In France, for example, they wear what looks good. Most women only by one or two items of really good clothing a year, but they spend money on them and keep them for years.

  6. jessicajefferson

    I love looking through old fashion plates on the internet. I do love the contrast of the collarbone being unacceptable, whereas now the neckline sometimes plunges right down to the belly-button.

  7. redljameson

    Great post, Ella! I don’t admit this much because looking at me I’d guess many wouldn’t consider me a fashionista. But I love fashion so much I studied the history of it. It’s very interesting that Coco Chanel not only revolutionized fashion but what it meant to be feminine too. I think her goal was to free women from corsets and other restrictions and to feel comfortable in our skin, no matter what we look like. However, it became quite the fad to have the, ah, prominent collarbones that Chanel herself had. For me, I hope Chanel’s dream of every woman feeling comfortable, no matter her size, will come true.

  8. Maggi Andersen

    Hi Ella, nice to have you in the group! Love your cover! Regency women appeared to be quite curvy. They did justice to those low cut necklines