Lord, lady, lace, and empire waists: how to emulate regency fashion for Birthday Ball

By Siobhan Elizabeth Ball

Elm Staff Writer

Although it feels like the semester just started, Birthday Ball, Washington College’s biggest event of the year, is quickly approaching. This year, the festivities take place on Saturday, Feb. 25 to celebrate the birthday of George Washington, who according to WC’s website, “lent his name, donated 50 guineas to our founding and served on our first Board of Visitors and Governors.

The event’s theme, which was unveiled at the end of the fall semester, is “The Queen’s Ball.” While this might be a head-scratcher when considering how to dress on theme, it draws visual cues from the regency era of Britain, a period in English history that encompasses the works of Jane Austen, the rule of King George III, and the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

In today’s culture, the most prominent example of this period is Netflix’s hit show, “Bridgerton,” which centers the eponymous Bridgerton family as they search for love amongst the noble youth in London’s high society. 

Ellen Mirojnick, the costume designer for “Bridgerton,” told “Vogue” that she melded regency silhouettes with modern-day sensibilities to create the show’s costumes.

“We paid a lot of attention to the scooped necklines and how they fit the bust, as opposed to having a [straight] line that doesn’t allow you to see the body. This show is sexy, fun and far more accessible than your average restrained period drama and it’s important for the openness of the necklines to reflect that,” Mirojnick said.

If you are stressed over how to emulate this feeling, take the advice of one of the show’s leading ladies, Simone Ashley, who plays Kate Sharma, who said in an interview with Elle Magazine how she has “learnt that the most important thing is to just wear what makes you happy.”

For those committed to dressing on theme, however, look no further for inspiration on how to work your own style into the regency era.

The leading ladies of “Bridgerton” are often seen wearing empire waistlines, or waists that extend from the bust, long dresses, and statement sleeves like bell and puff arms, which can add an edge to a simple silhouette.

Luckily, most of these styles are easy to find in stores. With the resurgence of early 2000s fashion, empire waist dresses are available online at stores like UNIF and Cider. Additionally, statement sleeves are back in popular fashion thanks to the dress brand Selkie, who has a number of dresses that would fit right in to “The Queen’s Ball.”

If you wear a long dress, you can skip the heels and save yourself from sore feet. Flats, boots, and even sandals all work with a floor-length skirt.

If dresses are not your style, sharply tailored suits with elegant waistcoats might have you mistaken for Lord Bridgerton. While a suit might seem like a boring option, it can be easily upgraded with interesting accessories like belts and boutonnieres, which are easy to come by at local second-hand stores like Empty Hangers and Nearly New Shop.

You do not have to dress outside of your comfort zone to fit the theme. One of the biggest costume elements are hair accessories — tiaras, feather headpieces, fascinators, and ribbon headbands

If you want to emulate the time period in a subtler way, popular regency prints and textures include florals, lace, satin, and muslin.

Of course, you cannot forget that one thing which will make you feel like an honorary Bridgerton character: opera gloves. A staple of regency fashion, long gloves can dress up your look while keeping you warm in the February weather.

However, the most important thing to remember is that Birthday Ball is a time to have fun. Regardless of what you wear, relax, enjoy the experience, and make some unforgettable memories as the Diamond of the Season.. 

Photo by Mikayla Silcox.

Photo caption: Freshman Luisa Pellettieri replicates a regency feel in her elegant, deep orange Birthday Ball dress.

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