Recently, I had someone ask me about the cost of such items as court gowns for presentation to the queen and dresses for the London season. Another question came only a week or so later asking about food stuffs, etc. Therefore, in this post, I hope to provide a mixture of tidbits I have accumulated over the last decade or so of writing Regencies. I keep them all in a 600+ page file. LOL! Hopefully, they will assist others in search of details for their own stories.
A court gown could be anything from a hundred pounds or so to several hundred guineas. Keep in mind, this is not just the gown for presentation to the Queen. The price would also include shoes, stocking, jewels, a fan, gloves, headdress, possibly a cloak or outer garment. All this adds up. Court gown could generally only be worn once, but sometimes they might be constructed to be adapted and reused. I used that particular idea in my Realm series for Lady Eleanor Fowler and Miss Velvet Aldridge, the heroines of A Touch of Scandal and A Touch of Velvet, respectively. They were cousins and were presented on the same day. The cost of a court dress could run anywhere from £200 and upward to £500. Sometimes more.
Author Candice Hern on her Regency World website tells us, “The rules of Court directed that ladies should wear skirts with hoops and trains, and that white ostrich feathers be worn in the hair, attached to lappets which hung below the shoulders. These rules had been in place long before George III took the throne. In his predecessor’s day the skirts were enhanced with panniers that stood out very wide on either side, but leaving the front and back flat. The intent of such odd-looking dresses was to display a broad swath of beautifully embroidered fabric, some of which had pictorial or floral scenes that used the entire front of the skirt as a canvas. Side panniers had been replaced by normal round hoops by the time George III came to the throne in 1760. In the last decade of the 18th century, the fashion for wide skirts began to evolve into the slim, vertical line associated with Regency dress. Queen Charlotte, however, held firm on the rules of Court Dress, and ladies were forced to adapt those rules to the current style, which produced a very odd-looking garment with the high-waist under the bosom and a full hoped skirt.
“The presentations took place at St. James’s Palace at events called Drawing Rooms, where the monarch and/or his Queen received those attending Court. Presentation Drawing Rooms were held two or three times a week during the Season. Based on letters and diaries of the time, it was so stressful an experience that it was regarded more as a duty than a pleasure. The young woman to be presented stood sometimes for hours (one never sat in the presence of the Queen) waiting for her name to be announced by the Lord Chamberlain. She then walked to where the Queen sat and made a deep curtsy — which had been practiced and practiced while wearing the hooped skirt. A few pleasantries were exchanged, the young woman answering any question the Queen put to her, but no more. When the Queen indicated she was dismissed, the young woman made one more deep curtsey, and then had to walk backwards out of the royal presence (one never turned one’s back on the Queen) all the while dealing with the obstacle of her train so as not to trip over it.” Again, all these rules can be seen within the stories I mentioned above.
To determine the cost of a London season, one could estimate costs for materials and then add in an extra ten or twenty percent for production. For a full season, a young lady would required walking dresses, morning dresses, evening gowns, riding habits, shoes, boots, half-boots, gloves, stockings, undergarments, bonnets, shawls, muffs (when in fashion), parasols (when in fashion), fans, dominos, spencers, cloaks, pelisses, reticules, more jewelry, and all made to match or create an ensemble. A person could pretty much spend what you could afford. There would also be ribbons, handkerchiefs, perfumes, creams, powders, and all sorts of “extras” the young lady might wish to purchase during her season. These costs, naturally, did not include the entertainments, subscriptions, theater seats, lending libraries, ices at Gunters or the cost of a dancing master or music lessons.
The actual cost of gowns would depend not just on the modiste hired to construct the garment, but also the materials–gold and silver netting and embroidery, expensive laces, spangles, seed pearls, velvets, etc. Then, of course, there was the actual cost of a season: There was the cost of a house rental if one did not actually own a house and the cost of upkeep and staffing a house if one was available to the family. A woman’s bride clothes, obviously, she could not be seen in any of the same dresses she had worn during the Season. The cost could run a couple thousand pounds.
One must remember in the Georgian era, dress shops would be places where one could be fitted and to select fabric, but not buy off the rack, so to speak. Linen drapers were more apt to be patronized than “dress shops” as women of this era were skilled needlewomen.
If you require more information on fashion of the era, I might suggest, Jody Gayle’s Fashion in the Era of Jane Austen: Ackermann’s Repository of Arts. It even includes a listing of actual proprietors, dressmakers, and the like, as well as their addresses.
You might also choose one of Suzi Love’s series on the Regency Era. For example one might find Fashion Women 1810-1814 : History Notes helpful. [Note: many of the fashion books are specific to years.] I use many of Suzi’s history note books as resources.
Another excellent reference for cost of fabrics, shoes, hats, gloves and more is this invaluable book is English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century: A Comprehensive Guide with 1,117 Illustrations by C. Willett Cunningham. It even includes hairstyles.
In this book, the author does comment that the prices listed are those he found in advertisements and therefore were street or average prices. Fine modistes would charge much more.
On a side NOTE, clothes for a young lady’s Come Out would not be considered part of a trousseau. Presentation clothes were made for the lady’s presentation at court or presentation to society, as a whole. These clothes were, generally, not worn after marriage. Think about it: A woman would not know her expected married status until after she was engaged, so her trousseau might include a few things, but would not really be started when she was just being presented to society. She would not know her future status until it was set and then she could proceed as either about to become a duchess or a mere Mrs. So-and-So. Also consider what would happen if a young lady required more than one season to find herself a husband.
In the Regency, if one had a pound, it would be equal to . . .
240 Pence (or) 20 Shillings
There were 12 Pence to a Shilling.
5 Shillings was a Crown (a silver dollar sized coin in Jane Austen’s time).
4 Crowns was a Pound.
Guinea (always gold) was 21 Shillings (a super pound).
Guineas were replace by sovereigns (20 shillings) in 1817, but high end stores continued to price items in guineas.
Jane Austen mentions some prices for inexpensive fabric in her letters, but it could run up to a couple pounds an ell (a former measure of length equivalent to six hand breadths) used mainly for textiles, locally variable but typically about 45 inches and the dresses needed several ells.
The information below comes from 2008, so it is that year’s conversion rates, which was nearly $2/£1.
To convert to the Regency era, with 5 shillings to the crown, such would make a pair of silk stockings a little over two crowns. One can find a complete explanation of Old English Money (post 1066 but pre-1971) at British Life and Culture. There is even a conversion calculator to take pence, crowns, and two bob bits to modern currency (just to give you an idea of how much something comparatively cost).
From The Guardian on old English coins . . .
I found a post a while back that listed prices for various items during Jane Austen’s time. Two sources are cited, so there is a documentation trail, FWIW. (What the Heck is a Pelisse?)
Silk stockings — 12 shillings (£20.38 or $40.24 in today’s currency!)
Woolen stockings — 2 shillings 6 pence (£4.25 or $8.39)
A white silk handkerchief² — 6 shillings (£10.19 or $20.12)
A pair of gloves² — 4 shillings (£6.79 or $13.41)
A simple white dress — 5 shillings (£8.49 or $16.77)
A fan — 5 shillings (£8.49 or $16.77)
Simple shoes 6-11 shillings (£10.19-18.68 or $20.12-36.89)
Walking boots 2 pounds (£67.92 or $134.12)
Cotton fabric — 1 shilling per yard (£1.70 or $3.36)
Enough cotton fabric for a dress — 6 shillings ($20.12)
Velveteen fabric — 2 shillings 10 pence (£4.81 or $9.50)
Enough silk fabric for a dress — 1 pound 6 shillings (£44.15 or $87.18)
**Shawls — if real silk or Kashmir could run £200-300
Shoes — men’s shoes went from 10 /6 to several pounds for boots so I
think the ladies shoes will be in the same range.
A silk purse– a coin purse sort of thing– 2 s
some gloves 2/6
Some good references:
From Jane Austen’s World, we find The Economics of Pride and Prejudice or Why a Single Man of with a Fortune of 4000 Per Year Is a Desirable Husband https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2008/02/10/the-economics-of-pride-and-prejudice-or-why-a-single-man-with-a-fortune-of-4000-per-year-is-a-desirable-husband/
Kristen Koster has a Primer on Regency Era Fashion, which may be helpful for some: http://www.kristenkoster.com/a-primer-on-regency-era-womens-fashion/
I also recommend the books Candice Hern references in her article: http://candicehern.com/regencyworld/court-dresses-overview/
Shillings and pence unless specified as guineas. Guineas went out of production in 1817 but stayed around as prices for luxury goods for a century or two.
CLOTHES Worked Lace and Muslin Dress Richards & Co 37, Oxford St, 3 doors below Newman St. LBA-1808 June 1808 one – 16 –
CLOTHES Twill Sarsnet Dress Richards & Co 37, Oxford St, 3 doors below Newman St. worth 1 guinea LBA-1808 June 1808 one-sale – 9 –
CLOTHES Twill Sarsnet Dress Richards & Co 37, Oxford St, 3 doors below Newman St. worth 1 guinea LBA-1808 June 1808 one-worth – 9 –
CLOTHES Lustre (dress/cloth) Richards & Co 37, Oxford St, 3 doors below Newman St. LBA-1808June 1808 one – 12 6
CLOTHES Fancy (Dress/cloth?) Richards & Co 37, Oxford St, 3 doors below Newman St. LBA-180 June 1808 one – 15 –
CLOTHES Cambric (dress/cloth?) Richards & Co 37, Oxford St, 3 doors below Newman St.; 21shillings LBA-1808 June 1808 one 1 1 –
CLOTHES Elegant Dresses Forrest & Co: Dresses w/ beautiful border on Leno, Cambric and clear muslin; 16 to 60 shillings LBA-1808 June 1808 one – 16 –
CLOTHES Elegant Dresses Forrest & Co: Dresses w/ beautiful border on Leno, Cambric and clear muslin; 16 to 60 shillings LBA-1808 June 1808 one 3 – –
CLOTHES Christmas Ball Dress(preowned) Repositaire a la Mode, 34 Wigmore-St CavendishSq-Mrs. Barrymore TLT-1819-12-25 1808 one – 12 –
Clothes for the fashionable will be much more. A court gown could cost 300 -1000 guineas.
Wow! What an accumulation of knowledge! Loved this article. I actually have one of the books you mentioned, English Woman’s Clothing, but would love more, of course in hard copy which is expensive. Thanks for all of your hard work.
The English Women’s Clothing was my go to book recently for both a situation in my book for what colors were popular when. I, as you may well imagine, have a post on “colors” coming up soon. LOL!
Great! I’ll be waiting!
It’s hard to believe that you would pay more for stockings than a simple dress or shoes! As for all that money for a court outfit? I suppose it’s similar to a wedding outfit nowadays? Although at least now it’s possible to economise (I borrowed my dress!) Thank you for this fascinating post!
I find it quite disconcerting when I learn a young couple spends $10000+ on a wedding. Why not put that down on a new house instead? I suppose my generation was “too practical.” Although I am certain, others would think me old and stuffy.