Women in the early Georgian period were powdered, perfumed, and patched. They wore extravagant towering wigs, and massive, elaborate gowns. Stiff brocades and embroidered silks of the Georgian period were replaced by lightweight fabrics in plain, subdued colors. At the beginning of the 19th century, the fashion drastically changed to the elegant Regency style.
Ladies' clothing of the early 1800's were characterized by the Empire waist dress and long flowing skirts following classical Greek lines; the styles worn by characters in Jane Austen novels. In this period, fashionable women's clothing styles were based on the Empire or Regency silhouette.
The waistline was often defined by a wide sash tied in a bow at the back of a dress and accentuated by a crossover gauze bodice or muslin neckerchief above. Properly dressed ladies wore Spencers (long-sleeved jackets cut beneath the bosom) or pelisses (long-sleeved jackets cut three-quarters down the length of a skirt) out of doors, along with a broad-brimmed hat tied under the chin with a ribbon.
In different continents, such styles are commonly called “Directoire” (referring to the Directory which ran France during the second half of the 1790s), “Empire” (referring to Napoleon’s 1800–1804 “consulate” and/or 1804–1814/1815 empire), or "Regency" (most precisely referring to the 1811–1820 period of George IV's formal Regency).
Although lawn and batiste were used, muslin was the fabric of choice. The thin muslin clung close to the body and emulated styles worn in ancient Greece. The classical influence extended to hairstyles. Often masses of curls were worn over the forehead and ears, with the longer back hair drawn up into loose buns or Psyche knots.
Regular wearing of white gowns was a sign of social status as white soiled so easily. White gowns generally were kept for evening and in the day pastel or colored robes were thought more suitable.
This white undershirt, made of a flimsy fabric, was used to fill in a neckline, giving the appearance of an under-blouse for day wear. Women often changed clothes in preparation for the evening meal and possible entertainments to follow. There were also further distinguishing styles such as afternoon dress, walking dress, riding habits, travelling dress, dinner dress.
Evening gowns exposed the neckline. They were more extravagantly trimmed and decorated with lace, ribbons, and netting. Younger ladies usually wore softer shades of color, such as pinks, light blues, or lilacs. The mature matron could wear fuller colors, such as purple, black, crimson, or deep blue.
Very young ladies, just coming “out” were advised to wear white but their dresses could be embroidered with colored threads or draped with overskirts. If the necklines were a little lower, a demure young lady might wear a bit of lace in the opening for modesty.
Jewels glittered in the deeper necklines, and the sheer fabrics were covered with patterned shawls. Ball gowns might be made of silk, stain, lame, or crepe. Shoes were flat, like ballet slippers, of fine kid leather, as were gloves, worn in many colors. Fans were large and made of fabric on bone or wood.
One of the problems of the simple classical silhouettes was their very simplicity. Between 1804 and 1807 the classical robes evolved into an eastern exotic feel with Etruscan and Egyptian decoration with woven or embroidered borders along the hem, in panels down the front, on the bodice, or throughout the fabric.
European and military influenced decoration after 1808. The Napoleonic Wars meant that a soldier's uniform had high visibility and military style details were featured and copied. Frogging, braids, cords, velvet and other trims lent a topical, jaunty, dashing air to many a garment, especially outdoor wear. A swan's down tippet, a long, thin and/or a velvet evening cape kept the lady appropriately attired until reaching her destination.
Wouldn't this lovely crimson gown make one feel "just the thing" when stepping down from the carriage?