Spring is trying to get sprung here in chilly North Norfolk, the daffodils are blooming, the pheasants are courting... It all makes me think of Spring bonnets which led me to browse through my collection of Regency fashion prints to see what I could find.
But then I got distracted by some truly weird and wonderful designs, so I thought I would share some of them with you instead.
All are by the inventive and prolific Mrs Bell who had her own dressmaking establishment and used the pages of publisher John Bell's La Belle Assemblee to publicise her wares. Mrs Bell is a bit of a mystery. She seems to be related in some way to John Bell but the link has never been found.
To start there is the deeply unflattering Walking Dress of 1809 on the right. No wonder she has a veil - I would pay good money not to wear this!
For the truly uninhibited there is this Bathing Place Evening Dress of 1810, frilly unmentionables and all. (Left) Considering that this was a time when ladies drawers were considered a daring innovation it must have taken an iron nerve to appear in these.
There was something about the seaside that got Mrs Bell's creative juices going. She invented a Bathing Preserver which was a sort of oilskin over-garment that a lady could wear before taking to the water to save her from the dubious delights of the bathing costume provided by the bathing machine proprietors. Although I have seen a picture of the bag this was carried in I can't find a picture of the Preserver itself. Perhaps the sight was considered too exciting for the pages of a magazine.
You were not spared Mrs Bell's inventiveness on your way to take your dip in the sea either. Below right is an 1809 Bathing Dress. It is not intended to be worn in the sea, but note the fetching seaweed trim and the snazzy striped booties.
If you are talking a walk around the London parks, instead of along the clifftops, why not frighten the ducks in this tartan Walking Dress of 1811 (below left)? It is difficult to imagine who might look good in this outfit but presumably it chimed with interest in Scotland and Highland romance. I would imagine Bonny Prince Charlie would have run screaming at the sight.
Mrs Bell flourished for some years with designs ranging from the practical to the elegant to the downright bizarre. She seems to have started off in Upper King Street, Bloomsbury but moved to 26, Charlotte Street, off Bedford Square - a much smarter address - in 1814. By 1817 she was at 52, St James's Street, right in the centre of fashionable club land and just around the corner from Almack's.
I would love to know how many of these eccentric "inventions" as they are frequently captioned were ever purchased and worn or whether they were like the extremes of modern catwalk fashion designed to get people talking about the designer.