Color My World With . . .

I received another question recently from a follower of this blog regarding the use of color in the Regency era. The question dealt with the idea of young women in the Regency making their society debuts in white gowns and then questioning how much “color” might be found in a Regency ballroom if such was true. She had just read a passage about the swirl of colors as the couples waltzed. Naturally, the young ladies making their come outs would not be waltzing until they received permission to do so by the patronesses of Almack’s Assembly Rooms or some other such plot twist. [For more on Almack’s check out Rachel Knowles’s piece HERE.]

In reality, the Regency era employed a variety of colors with (excuse the pun) very “colorful” names. Some of these colors were only around a social season or two. At this point, I might recommend Emily Hendrickson’s The Regency Reference Book, but as it is out of publication, I am not certain it is still available any where. However, she does offer a CD-ROM for $18.00 on her website. According to Ms Hendrickson, some colors were dictated by events of the day (i.e., battles won, which allies assisted in the cause, etc.)

A lovely source which is still available is Sarah Waldock’s post on her blog, Renaissance and Regency Ruminations. She provides a list of colors used across the Regency and the longer Georgian era, accompanied by swatches.

You can find the post here:

This color list was primarily prepared by Sarah, who also dyes fabrics using old techniques and formulas, augmented by information provided to her by Charles Bazalgette, who recently published a biography of his ancestor, Louis Bazalgette, entitled Prinny’s Taylor. It is important to keep in mind most of the colors on this list came primarily from colors used for garments and accessories, rather than interior decor. Which is not to say such colors were not used for interior design purposes, just that the sources of these color names are based upon garment colors.

The earliest reference I’ve found to navy blue is 1814. (from the OED). Navy blue might have been already in use at the time because the reference refers to a vat of dye.

Forest Green dates to 1810. Forest Green was used by Sir Walter Scott in reference to a color called “Lincoln green.”

Some of the names of colors used in house paint were very odd. 

Farrow and Ball (founded in 1946) used to have a sample cards for historic colors with names such as “dead salmon” and “mouseback”. If one is interested and requires inspiration for the correct color , they have archived paint colours HERE.

A person may also discover color names in the descriptions of fashion prints in the magazines. Some color terms, such as “mauve” date from after the Regency. Colors and fashion details were also named after events. A fashion color was “stone.” I never could quite decide if it were Bath stone, field stone, or  flagstone. Fruits and flowers were also often used. Navy blue, obviously, was the color of the British naval uniform. “Navy bean” attested from 1856, so called because they were grown to be used by the Navy. However, I do not know when the term became a color rather than a noun. Those are the type of things which can have an author pulling out his or her hair in frustration.

There were common Regency/Georgian terms for various hues within each color.

Greens for instance were:

Bottle green

Bronze Green

Corbeau coloured

Emerald green

Olive (green)

Parrot green

Pomona green

Rifle green

Saxon green

Spring (green)

Another excellent source is C. Willett Cunnington’s English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century. There is a Glossary of Obsolete Colour Names on pages 439-440. The table provides the obsolete name and a date (the approximate year the term was first year) opposite a second column which provides the corresponding modern name in the Dictionary of Colours, issued by the British Colour Council.

Here are a few of my favorites.

Aurora (1809) – Chilli 98

Morone (1811) – Peony Red 37

Naccarat (1800) – Tangerine 55

Pomona (1811) – Sea Green 102

Spring Green (1810) – Cossack Green 105

Navarino Smoke (1828) – a shade lighter than London smoke

Pensee (1829) – a dark purple

Adelaide (1831) – Steel Blue 44

Clarence (1811) – Saxe 45.

Maria Louise (1812) – Calamine 167

Devonshire Brown (1812) – Mastic 167

Egyptian Brown (1809) – Mace 73

In the Regency period, there certainly are more colors for white/cream/shades thereof than for red/pink/orange.

It is a doorstopper of a book, but has hair styles, hats, prices on yardage, undergarments, pix and more! If you require assistance in knowing what was worn in a particular time period, this book is an excellent source.


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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