Jane Austen was writing her novels at the time Australia was being colonised, so the clothes people wore and the dances they enjoyed were essentially the same. Here are some ideas for selecting a costume for the ball.
The Regency style developed to give a degree of freedom, particularly for women – a distinct change from the very ornate Baroque style which preceded it. The light Regency dresses allowed ladies’ feet and lower legs to be seen and encouraged ease of movement when dancing. This was also reflected in the style of dance where the floor patterns became simpler and the movements more elegant and rounded.
This is an illustration from Thomas Wilson’s dance manual of 1811 shows the appropriate styles of dress, and the positions of the feet used when dancing in the elite ballroom.
The following offers suggestions, however, our ball is primarily about social dancing and does not claim to be an historical re-enactment. We welcome guests to the dance, and although it’s desirable to be suitably attired, it is not essential. Neat, modern evening dress is also acceptable. Flat shoes are the best footwear for this style of dancing.
Clothing for gentlemen became less ornate with a move away from opulent fabrics, elaborate embroidery and lace, into natural fabrics which could be readily laundered for a clean, crisp look. This simple yet elegant attire is shown in a painting of John Macarthur, one of the elite of the early colonial Australia.
Jane frequently included military gentlemen in her novels, and alluded to their splendid uniforms. This famous painting of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, held on the evening before the Battle of Waterloo, shows the officers and other gentlemen dressed for dancing. Read more..
In Australia, fine uniforms were also the order of the day, from the governor through to the officers of the British Marines and New South Wales Corps. It is possible that Governor Phillip, shown in the following painting, may have been acquainted with Jane Austen in Bath. Read more
One of the officers who served with Governor Phillip was Lieutenant-Colonel George Johnston of the Marines, shown here in a dashing red coat.
For most gentlemen attending our ball, costumes range from the historically accurate, through to something that reflects the era, to smart modern clothing. This photograph from our 2017 ball shows a handsome young man attired for the occasion with smart waistcoat and cravat, while the other gentlemen wears a specially made elaborate Regency coat.
There are hundreds of examples Regency dress on the Internet. Just type “Regency dress”, or “Jane Austen ball gown” and you’ll be amazed at how many appear!
This is a painting of Jane Austen herself in the typical Regency costume: white dress enhanced with a coloured ribbon.
This is an evening dress with gauze overlay from the website Jane Austen’s World. https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/regency-fashion-the-muslin-and-net-period/
In Australia, Anna Josepha King, wife of Governor King wore this beautiful gown at the balls in Government House, Sydney.
Check these sites for further information:
UK Regency Dance https://www.regencydances.org/costume1.php
Jessamyn’s Regency Costume Companion http://www.songsmyth.com/costumerscompanion.html
This was the era when the classic flat ballet shoe was developed (not the pointe shoe). Men’s shoes had a similar cut, often complimented with a buckle.
Here are some sites which feature Regency shoes:
Make your own shoes:
Making a costume
Here are some links on making a costume using easily acquired clothing:
Check the UK Regency Dance site https://www.regencydances.org/costume4.php
To make a costume from scratch, there are a range patterns available from Spotlight in Brisbane, or online. Here are a few examples:
A range of detailed historically accurate costumes are available from Laughing Moon Mercantile. Patterns for corsets and other undergarments are also available. http://www.lafnmoon.com/
Buying a costume
There does not seem to be anywhere in Australia to buy a costume. You may be able to have one made by a local costumier.
There is a range of sites online.
The Regency dance website in England has a page devoted to buying costumes
This site in USA specialises in Regency costume for men
Wish has some beautiful and inexpensive coats for men, but no Regency dresses for ladies. https://www.wish.com
Hiring a costume
These two places advertise Regency costumes:
Disguises at 659 Stanley Street, Woolloongabba QLD 4102, on the corner of Stanley Street & Merton Road. https://www.disguises.com.au/
Heaven Costumes advertises some Regency costumes for men. https://www.heavencostumes.com.au/catalogsearch/result/?q=regency