Language Arts 3-4 H
October 14, 2013
Social Culture Then and Now: Regency Era and Modern Times
Like the leaves in the fall etiquette is an ever changing aspect of society. In Jane
Austen’s time proper manners, fancy dress and formal speech were the utmost responsibility of everyone. All areas of life were exceedingly formal. To modern eyes it may have seemed too strict, but it was expected. People in the Regency Era behaved highly discreet. They almost always whispered when talking to friends in public. The dress and apparel in the Regency Era was typically extravagant, and often painful. A woman was not to appear before a man unless she looked perfectly dainty and delightful. This required much time and energy of the women and her servants. In
Austen’s time, one was required to speak to their superiors with absolute respect and reverence. This was strictly enforced. Although many people today are well behaved, formality has dramatically decreased in dance, dress and conversation.
The dance of the Regency Era a was most commonly English country dances, a
swarm of melodic steps, were bouncy and lively. They involved partners holding hands
and turning in circles. Only men could ask women to dance, and it was standard for men to dance with as many women possible as to not leave any women out.
Conversation with your dancing partner was mandatory while dancing. It was also acceptable for women to dance with each other. (Time Period and Culture) Today it is rare to ﬁnd organized social dances outside of ballroom dance competitions and performances. Most dancing now days, especially at parties is much different. For example “Twerking” (the new dance craze where one places there hands on there knees and forcefully thrusts there backside back and forth) would never have been acceptable at a dance back then because of its extreme crudeness and improper manners. Formal dress in the Regency Era displayed class, modesty, and social standing. An excellent example of formal dress in Pride and Prejudice is shown by this quote. Mr
Collins says to Elizabeth Bennet "Do not make yourself uneasy, my dear cousin, about your apparel. Lady Catherine is far from requiring that elegance of dress in us which becomes herself and her daughter. I could advise you merely to put on whatever of your clothes is superior to the rest—there is no occasion for anything more.
Lady Catherine will not think the worse of you for being simply dressed. She likes to have the distinction of rank preserved." ( Austen 29) In other words, Collins is saying that to support Lady Catherine’s vanity, Elizabeth should dress formally, but not so elegantly to outrank the apparel of Lady Catherine. This shows that class and vanity had a great deal to do with how nicely one would dress. Also, the desire to look superior would affect one’s dress. In Austen’s Era, clothing was extremely expensive. Everything
was made by hand. (The Renaissance Tailor. )The manner of dress clearly demonstrated one’s social standing. In contrast, clothing today is mass produced. And although there are people that dress in higher priced, brand named clothing, it is more difﬁcult to distinguish rich from poor by dress alone as both wealthy and poor wear similar styles ( “Jane Austen’s World”). Essentially dress now days is less about status and more about style, comfort and practicality. Also todays clothing is mass produced, for the most part unlike each custom made piece in the Regency era.
Not only dress was more formal but also conversation. This quote from Pride and
Prejudice shows how slightly straying from the strict rules of public conversation can make the