With the French Revolution of 1789 to 1799 came an equally radical change in fashion. Out went the hooped skirts, the tight lacing and the heavy silks and brocades. In came a more casual style based on what previously had been described as ‘undress’ or negligé’ i.e. the type of clothes you might were when relaxing in the privacy of your own home. Wigs and piled-up, elaborate powdered hairstyles gave way to simpler styles, a trend that was encouraged in Great Britain by the introduction of the Hair Powder Tax in 1795.
By 1805/06, the ladies of fashionable Europe wore simple gowns based on classical Greek and Roman designs. Skirts no longer swept the floor but came just to the ankles, permitting a glimpse of pretty ankles in embroidered stockings. Even shoes had changed to what we would call ballet slippers. Gentlemen exchanged their long-skirted coats, waistcoats and high-heeled shoes for a more comfortable style based on British riding dress; a tailed coat and short waistcoat and worn with buckskin breeches and top boots
It is interesting to contrast the stolid British style of the print top right with the French flair demonstrated in the middle plate from Debucourt’s Modes et Manières du Jour. Clearly the courtly hand-kiss survived the revolution.
Sadly, the light gowns of Regency fashions were not to last. By the mid-1820s waists began to drop and by the end of the decade narrow waists were once again all the rage. As shown in the bottom plate, they were bizarrely emphasized by huge sleeves that had to be supported by sleeve puffs tied about the upper arm and wider skirts held out by layers of petticoats . It would be almost one hundred years before women’s clothes returned to the comfort of the revolutionary era.