September Fashions from La Belle Assemblée
1812 and 1820
One of the seminal ladies’ fashion magazines of the early 19th century was La Belle Assemblée, published by Englishman John Bell, who followed the ‘franglais’ style of fashion publishing prevailing at the time. Launched in 1806, it was pioneering in its arrangement of the contents with a separate organised advertising supplement. Its first costume plates were black and white, but by 1807 Bell was using colour and, drawing on the talents of several skilled watercolourists and engravers, produced delicate, attractive images designed to appeal to the genteel Regency lady.
The first plate, above, ‘An Autumnal Pelisse’ for September 1812, displays the fashionable long, front-fastening pelisse coat that accompanied the uncluttered high-waisted neo-classical gowns still in vogue in the early 1810s. The pale blue shade used for this garment was a favoured colour at the time, deemed especially suitable for young women and also seen frequently in contemporary paintings.
The second plate, above, a ‘Walking Dress’ for September 1820, illustrates the major changes that occurred in fashion during the Regency era. Throughout the 1810s the pure neoclassical line declined in favour of a more decorative, ‘Romantic’ aesthetic. Here we notice the more structured female silhouette characterised by a firmer bodice, lowering waistline, shaped skirt with stiffened hemline and also the growing love of ornamentation in terms of patterned fabric and deep bands of elaborate trimming. A tendency towards historicism is also evident in the ruff-like collar, redolent of Elizabethan styles and an accessory complemented by the larger, ornate bonnets of the season.
La Belle Assemblée was published for 30 years, until 1836. Unfortunately the quality of its illustrations deteriorated toward the end, presaging the inferior images that would soon appear in numerous Victorian magazines. However this picturesque publication informed fashionable taste in Britain for thirty years and remains a much-loved and invaluable source for today’s dress historians, researchers and costume enthusiasts.