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World of Costume

Dressing for a Regency Ball

How does one dress for a Regency Ball, Tea Dance, or Soirée?

Not long after I started learning Regency Dance at the end of December 2016, I attended my first Regency ball in March 2017 (and a soirée in February 2017). I barely knew the steps but I was so determined to transport myself into a bygone era. So I signed up and headed to Edinburgh for the inaugural Bicentennial Anniversary of the Quadrille in Edinburgh. It was certainly one of the best decisions of my life. Here’s how I, an amateur with no knowledge but passion for fashion history, prepared myself for a Regency ball.

Ready for the Jane Austen Ball in Winchester, 2017

Dress

Although Regency costume is highly encouraged (sometimes mandatory), it’s not easy to find costumes so it’s not uncommon for people to turn up in their best evening wear.

I rented a beautiful green dress from Mrs Bennet’s Ballroom for my first two events. After considering how many times I would be attending balls, I decided to check on Etsy and eBay for a Regency dress. The average cost of these costumes are usually £70-120. I was very lucky to find something less from Forever Jane Austen on eBay. Although she is temporarily not on eBay, you may be able to find her at the Jane Austen Festival Fayre.

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Keywords to search for: Regency dress/costume, Jane Austen dress/costume, empire-waist dress/gown

Other options to consider are Angel Costumes in London and charity shops. You never know if you’ll find a 1970’s or contemporary empire-waist dress that can pass as a Regency dress!

Shoes

I wore my ‘ballet slippers’ from Zara (£19) for my classes and events. When I attended some events that were outdoors, I realised that I needed an alternative. One of the lovely ladies I met at a Regency event told me she found some Regency-inspired shoes at Primark. I just happened to shop during a huge sale and ended up with a pair of pointed shoes for £3. I liked them so much that I purchased three more as I didn’t know if these styles would still be available in the future. Because these shoes are very flat and thin, however, I added insoles to protect my feet. I know women didn’t have padding in their delicate ballerinaesque slippers – at least not from what I could see – but if you want to enjoy dancing all night, I recommend getting something from a drugstore that’s flat enough to fit into the slippers. I also prefer having ribbons or elastics to keep my shoes on, especially if the dance requires nimble feet!

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Primark pointed shoes

Accessories

I googled images of Regency ladies at balls to see how they accessorised themselves. You can go simple or all out!

If you’re in the UK, English Heritage (various locations) is a great place to look for Regency accessories whilst supporting the museums! Here are two items I bought from there:

  • lace fan – You can also find these at the Fan Museum in Greenwich and the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. Just be aware that most of the women have the same fan so make sure you know which is yours! These come in white, ecru, and black.
  • faux cameo necklace – These come in miniature and small. Just bear in mind that the small one is quite heavy! These are also available at Historic Royal Palaces’ Kensington Palace.

Sometimes it was just easier to wear my cross necklace.

For earrings, I choose to wear pearl earrings or none at all. I made the mistake of wearing dangling faux-diamond earrings once which swung madly every time I had to hop.

A shawl is nice to have if it’s slightly cool but can be a hassle if you leave it on a chair and forget it! From what I’ve seen, something in a solid colour with tassels or woven in India are good choices.

For gloves, I happened to bring my elbow-length gloves. Some ladies opted for lace, and others didn’t wear any. I admit I took mine off at times because it could get so hot in the ballroom!

A reticule (your ‘purse’) is a must for convenience, especially if you don’t want to carry your iPhone, keys, money in a contemporary handbag. I  bought an elegant ivory reticule at the Jane Austen Festival Fayre and added a tassel from a V V Rouleaux in Bath. You may be able to find one in charity shops, eBay, Etsy, or make one.

Hair

YouTube, Pinterest, and Google are great ways to find hair tutorials for Regency events. Sculptures and paintings of women from the period are also useful. For the first two events I attended, I had no idea what to do so I simply pulled my long hair into a pony tail, plaited it, then wrapped it into a bun. It was only later that I noticed that one of the Campbell sisters had the same hairstyle.

For the Jane Austen Winchester ball in July 2017, I looked to Tea in a Tea Cup and Locks of Elegance for inspiration.

With waist-length hair at the time, I used heavyweight Bunhead hair pins to keep my buns in place and quite a bit of hairspray to tame flyaways. The only time I accessorised my hair was at the Jane Austen ball in Winchester when the theme was on Jane Austen being an English rose. I bought a papier rose crown from Accessorize and moulded it to appear like a crown. Other options are tiaras, diamanté combs, and flower bobby pins from Claire’s, Accessorize, etc.

How I did my hair (I’m not good at providing instructions):
1. Divide hair in the middle (vertically).
2. Split hair in the centre but horizontally this time. I went with the tip of my ears as a guideline. Move these out of the way.
3. Tie a ponytail in the back.
4. Create one plait.
5. Wrap it into a bun.
6. With the two side parts, twist each side from the middle line and then wrap the remainder around the bun. Alternatively, twist until the tip of your ears and start plaiting. Then wrap it around the bun.

In the future, I’m definitely covering more of my ears!

Makeup

Some opt for none but I kept makeup simple and neutral: brows, mascara, pink blush on cheeks and eyelids, fine eyeliner, and rosy pink lipstick.

~*~

Have fun and admire everyone!