Wikipedia summarizes 1820s women’s fashion, writing:

“During the first half of the 1820s, there were slight gradual modifications of Regency styles, with the position of the waistline trending successively lower than the high waistline of the Regency (just below the breasts), and also further development of the trends of the late 1810s towards giving skirts a somewhat conical silhouette (as opposed to earlier more clinging and free-flowing styles), and in having various types of decoration (sometimes large and ornate) applied horizontally around the dress near the hem. Sleeves also began increasing in size, foreshadowing the styles of the 1830s. However, there was still no radical break with the Empire/Regency aesthetic. Skirts became even wider at the bottom during the 1820s, with more ornamentation and definition toward the bottom of the skirt such as tucks, pleats, ruffles, or loops of silk or fur.

During the second half of the 1820s, this neoclassical aesthetic was decisively repudiated, preparing the way for the main fashion features of the next ten to fifteen years (large sleeves, somewhat strict corseting of the natural waist, full skirts, elaborate large-circumference hats, and visual emphasis on wide sloping shoulders). Rich colors such as chrome yellow and Turkey red became popular, and fabrics with large bold checkerboard or plaid patterns became fashionable, (another contrast with the previous fashion period, which had favored small delicate pastel prints). A bustle was sometimes also worn. Belts accentuated the new defined waist.

Dresses were often worn with a round ruffled linen collar similar to a soft Elizabethan ruff.”

The Vintage Fashion Guild writes about 1820s fashion:

“As the Romantic era arrived, clothing became more complex and increasingly structured. The previous design simplicity was replaced with decorative excess. Horizontal hem treatments added focus to skirts. Wide lapels created shoulder emphasis and the sleeves and shoulders were further emphasized with extended wings.

Surface ornamentation, color and print positively abounded. Three-dimensional effects in trimmings were achieved with padding. The waistline dropped much closer to its natural spot and was often accentuated by a wide belt. Pelisses and Spencer jackets continued to be worn for warmth.”

Mr. and Mrs. James Dunlop

Fig. 1 - Thomas Lawrence (British, 1769–1830). Mr. and Mrs. James Dunlop, ca. 1825. Oil on canvas; 270.5 x 182.6 cm (106 1/2 x 71 7/8 in). Worcester: Worcester Art Museum, 1958.120. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Albert W. Rice. Source: Worcester Art Museum


Fig. 2 - Artist unknown. Woman, 1820-1826. New York: The Costume Institute, Plate 034. Gift of Woodman Thompson. Source: The Costume Institute

Ackermann's Repository Promenade dress

Fig. 3 - Unknown (British). Ackermann's Repository Promenade dress, ser. 3, vol. 9 (June 1827). Source: Pinterest

Rose-Silk Walking dress

Fig. 4 - Designer unknown. Rose-Silk Walking dress, ca. 1820. Silk. Source: Pinterest

Evening dress

Fig. 5 - Designer unknown (American). Evening dress, ca. 1820. Cotton. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.300.2978a, b. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; A. Augustus Healy Fund, 1926. Source: The Met

Evening dress

Fig. 6 - Designer unknown. Evening dress, 1829. Bath: Fashion Museum. Source: Pinterest

Portrait of the Princess Marie de Valois

Fig. 7 - Alexandre-Jean Dubois-Drahonet (French, 1791-1834). Portrait of the Princess Marie de Valois, 1828. Oil on canvas. Naples: Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte. Source: Pinterest


Of 1820s men, Wikipedia writes:

“By the mid-1820s, men’s fashion plates show a shapely ideal silhouette with broad shoulders emphasized with puffs at the sleevehead, a narrow waist, and very curvy hips.

A corset was required to achieve the tiny waistline shown in fashion plates. Already de rigueur in the wardrobes of military officers, men of all middle and upper classes began wearing them, out of the necessity to fit in with the fashionable gentry. Usually referred to as “girdles”, “belts” or “vests” (as “corsets” and “stays” were considered feminine terms) they were used to cinch the waist to sometimes tiny proportions, although sometimes they were simply whalebone-stiffened waistcoats with lacing in the back. Many contemporary cartoonists of the time poked fun at the repressed nature of the tightlaced gentlemen, although the style grew in popularity nonetheless. This was the case especially amidst middle-class men, who often used their wardrobe to promote themselves, at least in their minds, to a higher class — hence the dandy was born.

The emergence of wool as a primary fabric choice for men’s outer garments led to a revolution in tailoring that allowed fit and finish to be of the utmost importance as opposed to ornamentation. This revolution allowed for an idealized classical silhouette to be materialized in men’s fashion.”

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand Périgord (1754–1838), Prince de Bénévent

Fig. 1 - Baron François Gérard (French, 1754–1838). Charles Maurice de Talleyrand Périgord (1754–1838), Prince de Bénévent, 1808. Oil on canvas; 213 x 147 cm (83 7/8 x 57 7/8 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012.348. Purchase, Mrs. Charles Wrightsman Gift, 2012. Source: The Met

The Marquis de Lafayette

Fig. 2 - Rembrandt Peale (American, 1778–1860). The Marquis de Lafayette, 1825. Oil on canvas; 87.6 x 69.5 cm (34 1/2 x 27 3/8 in). New York: The Met, 21.19. Rogers Fund, 1921. Source: The Met


William Archer Shee (1810–1899), the Artist's Son

Fig. 1 - Sir Martin Archer Shee (Irish, 1769–1850). William Archer Shee (1810–1899), the Artist's Son, ca. 1820. Oil on canvas; 76.2 x 62.9 cm (30 x 24 3/4 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 15.30.48. Bequest of Maria DeWitt Jesup, from the collection of her husband, Morris K. Jesup, 1914. Source: The Met website

The Calmady Children (Emily, 1818–1906, and Laura Anne, 1820–1894)

Fig. 2 - Sir Thomas Lawrence (British, 1769–1830). The Calmady Children (Emily, 1818–1906, and Laura Anne, 1820–1894), 1823. Oil on canvas; 78.4 x 76.5 cm (30 7/8 x 30 1/8 in). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 25.110.1. Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900. Source: The Met website


Historical Context

Wikipedia: 1820-1829

Map of Europe, 1820. Source: David Rumsey

  • 1821 – High-quality cotton is introduced in Egypt.
  • 1820 – Slavery in the United States: The Missouri Compromise becomes law.
  • 1825 – The world’s first modern railway, the Stockton and Darlington Railway, opens in England.
  • 1823 – William Webb Ellis “invents” Rugby football
  • 1820 – Mount Rainier erupts over what is today Seattle.

Primary/Period Sources

Resources for Fashion History Research

To discover primary/period sources, explore the categories below.
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Fashion Plate Collections (Digitized)
NYC-Area Special Collections of Fashion Periodicals/Plates
Fashion Periodicals (Digitized)
Etiquette Books (Digitized)

Secondary Sources

Also see the 19th-century overview page for more research sources... or browse our Zotero library.