History is the last thing we think about when we’re scrolling through an online shopping app in search of new clothes, but what we wear now — and what we don’t wear — says a lot about who we are and the times we live in. Just think about women wearing jeans today, something that wasn’t illegal in the U.S. until 1923, and how people wear jackets and t-shirts that let you know they’re a Marvel fan.
The same is true for Georgian era fashion, an era that spanned four British kings — all of whom were named Georges I to IV. The era lasted from 1714 to 1830 and saw tremendous changes in the way people lived and, naturally, how they dressed partly due to the start of the Industrial Revolution around the mid-eighteenth century.
Georgian Era Fashion Was Shaped by Neo-Classicism
If you’ve seen Bridgerton, you’ve seen a modern interpretation of the late Georgian era style that is sometimes called the Regency era. Note the narrow silhouettes that show more of the natural shape of the body compared to earlier styles and the Victorian era that would come after it. This move towards a less structured silhouette, especially for women, was brought on by the resurgence of neoclassicism — a style that harkened back to the days of ancient Rome and Greece. This made the Georgian era something of a stylistic callback to earlier architectural styles and fashion styles.
Why this happened can be traced back to France. France was a tastemaker both back then and now so what was fashionable in France was fashionable everywhere else. Though the Georgian era would begin with Marie Antoinette-like silhouettes, it sharply changed with the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power. In 1804, he made himself emperor and immediately renounced everything to do with the old regime, including its fashion.
In a painting titled The Coronation of Napoleon, you can see several female figures wearing a dress that features what would later be called the empire waistline. These waistlines sat high on the torso, just under the bust, and gave way to an A-line skirt at the bottom.
Despite the lavishness of court attire, which featured brightly dyed fabrics and gold thread, the fabrics themselves were lightweight and made of cotton, linen, or muslin. Most of these fabrics would come from India. Calcutta, India supplied England with cotton, hence the term ‘Calico’, and Dhaka introduced the world to baft-hawa, a muslin so fine its name literally means woven air. Baft-hawa was often worn by Josephine Bonaparte. Notice how sheer it is that you can see the outline of her legs.
Bonaparte also brought back statues and artifacts from ruins he encountered during his military campaigns, giving artists, architects, and designers more than enough inspiration to work with.
Men’s fashion also became more subdued, but was, in some ways, a little more revealing than we’d expect. Tight pants would often be worn and they would often be white. These were matched with tall boots, reaching just under the knee, a waist, and a dark-colored coat. Both men and women wore gloves.
But the fashions of the time were also informed by a style called “Anglomania“, an English countryside-inspired style that favored a laid-back and functional style that exemplified the “country gentleman” as power and wealth were inherently linked to landownership among the English at the time. Think of it as the Cottagecore of its time.
Anglomania informed the fashion of the rest of Europe and vice versa as the influence of Napoleon’s court and the landed English gentry merged in the world of fashion.
Georgian Era Fashion Was Very Risqué
Georgian era fashion was very seductive by the standards of the time, especially when compared to the eras before and after it. Women were walking outdoors during the day in dresses so thin and unstructured that they would be the underwear of yesteryears. It also saw the beginning of women starting to show their upper arms and shoulders. With some dresses, you could even catch a glimpse of the occasional cleavage.
Many satirists at the time drew cartoons of women having their dresses swept by strong winds into the crevices of their butts and thighs. It is said that some women would even dampen their dress fabric, which was often white, mind you, so that it could be a little more see-through.
Men were not exempt from the lasciviousness of the era’s attire. The tight pants they wore were made of leather and would come in the light cream to white shades popular at the time. The era would also give rise to that great father of Lord Byron-style romanticism: the Dandy.
Beau Brummel, a male fashion icon of the time, was famous for his crisp way of dressing which was inspired by military uniforms — unsurprising given that he was a lieutenant in the British army. His charms earned him the attention of then-Prince regent George IV.
How Georgian Fashion Influences What We Wear Today
The Gladiator sandal, a staple of hippie fashion and a constant companion of maxi dresses, was popular in the Georgian era as Greco-Roman-inspired shoes were in fashion at that time. The plate above shows a woman wearing strappy sandals instead of the closed, silk heels popular in the previous era.
The darker colors for men popularized by the likes of Beau Brummel still continue to dominate men’s attire today, especially business attire.
And lastly, dreamy Cottagecore and its daughter aesthetics all pull from the countryside Anglomania inspirations of Georgian era fashion — even if the association is mostly lost over the centuries, the general spirit is there.