"The look" was Classical, inspired by toga-clad goddesses in ancient Greek and Roman statues. Clean, simple lines; the favorite color of the era was white; high waistlines just under the bosom. As the decade wore on, the trains of these gowns disappeared, while decoration increased, with printed fabrics, embroidery, ruffles around the hem, etc.
Hair and Makeup - the age of towering powdered wigs had passed away with the previous generation. Hair was natural, often worn short by chic women, with a fringe of curls around the face. Long hair was worn arranged in neat chignons for day. More elaborate arrangements for evening decorated with jewels, silk or real flowers, strings of pearls. Face-framing ringlets typical. Blond was in, and women used henna or lemon juice to lighten their hair. Women of the earlier Georgian period used makeup heavily (think "Dangerous Liaisons") but by the Regency, the natural look was in. Makeup was subtle, if used at all. Rouge, the most common cosmetic, was used on lips and cheeks. And yes, they had toothbrushes and tooth powder or paste to keep their breath fresh for all those long luscious kisses in my books.
As to the complexion, the Regency miss wanted her skin milky white. Being "tan" was for peasants.
Undergarments - The essential Regency undergarment was the chemise, also known as the "shift," a sleeveless, mid-calf length slip of white cotton or muslin. Beneath it one only wore a pair of stockings, knee-high, in silk or wool, held up by ribbon garters. Over it, one wore stays, the Regency version of a corset. Full-figured women might choose hip-length stays to shape the torso, but usually "stays" merely hugged the ribcage to support the bosom. Stays were made of a sturdy canvas cloth, often faced with silk, reinforced inside with whalebone, which had a bit of give so they were not terribly uncomfortable compared to the corsets of the preceding early Georgian and following Victorian periods. They typically laced up the back.
Finally, the lady donned one or more petticoats over her chemise, tied at the waist with "tapes" in the front or back. This was for warmth, modesty, and to help give shape to her gown. Petticoat length matched the length of the gown she would be wearing--floor length in most cases, but shorter for walking dresses.
Casual or "Undress" - Also called "deshabille." The Regency lady spent a good deal of her day changing clothes, each outfit growing more formal as the day wore on. The first outfit of the day was "morning dress" and would typically be worn till about noon--loose, casual, inexpensive fabrics, no fuss. Worn for breakfast, getting her day organized with the housekeeper and/or her personal secretary, and receiving visits from close female friends, who, in turn, would be wearing "visiting gowns." Still informal, but a slight bit more dressy since the friend was the one who had ventured out in public. Walking dresses fell into the undress category. If the lady opted to go out for a "brisk constitutional" she donned a walking dress. The English were two hundred years ahead of the current craze for walking, the perfect low-impact aerobic exercise. Walking was encouraged for health even during the Regency. The skirts of the walking dress were shorter and the whole dress was cut to allow greater freedom of movement.
"Half-Dress" - Mid-level formality worn from the early afternoon to early evening. Some examples, going from less to more formal: Promenade Gown--could be casual or half dress, for strolling in the park at the fashionable hour (5:00 p.m.), paying afternoon calls on acquaintances, or shopping in the fancy shops of Bond Street. Carriage Dress--a bit fancier than Promenade, worn while driving in the park showing off one's "equipage" (carriage).
Dinner Gown and Opera Gown-these sound like they would be extremely formal, but they're still not as elaborate as "full dress." A lady dressed for dinner even when dining at home. The gown would be elegant, but not overly rich. Going to the opera in the Regency was not the ultra-formal affair it had been in earlier years and became again later in the Victorian. What determined formality was the length of the skirts (no train), the richness of the materials used, and the amount of decoration on the gowns. Accessories (hats, jewels) could help fine-tune the level of formality the woman wanted to achieve with a particular outfit.
Incidentally: the way dresses were purchased was that first you had to go to the "mantua-maker" or "modiste" (or if you were quite an important customer, she would come to your house). You would first select the patterns of the gowns you wished to have made from her illustrated pattern books, then she would take your measurements. Next you would go to the "linen-drapers" (fabric store) and pick out the fabric you wanted for each gown. The fabric would be delivered to the mantua-maker's shop, and she and her team of seamstresses would get to work making each dress by hand. You might need another fitting once the gowns were almost ready; once completed, they would be delivered to your home.
A woman could save a lot of money by buying the pattern and sewing her gowns herself. Children's clothes were often sewn at home, and genteel ladies often sewed clothes for the poor of their parish.
Formal or "Full Dress" - Eveningwear for balls, soirees, court occasions. A couple of ball gowns could cost as much as the rest of the woman's entire wardrobe put together, which was why it was so very expensive for a young lady to have a "Season," as there were such occasions constantly and new gowns needed for each of them. These extravagant gowns featured low-cut necklines and featured train in the first half of the period.
Outdoor Wear - Coats - If Regency women were always "catching their death" in cold weather, it was because it was highly unfashionable to cover up a gorgeous gown with a sensible coat. Instead they preferred some sort of delicate 'wrap' such as a Kashmir shawl. A "Spencer" was a tiny bodice-hugging, longsleeved coat like a bolero jacket. Very chic! In the coldest months, however, the Regency miss had a number of choices:
Pelisse - general term for a light overcoat. Could be of tailored kerseymere (used for men's tailcoats) or even light, flowy muslin. Could be an open or closed garment, with either arm-holes or sleeves, floor-length or just below-the-knee.
Redingote - a long, fitted outdoor coat with a belt, often trimmed with fur
Mantle - large, long, shapeless cloak with arm slits and a hood Cape - also popular, or hooded cloaks known as Capucins.
Accessories Reticule - the lady's purse. The name comes from the French word "ridiculous." Dresses of the earlier period had been provided with pockets or chatelains; since pockets would have ruined the sleek, clean line of Regency gowns, women needed someplace to carry their stuff.
Shawl - THE Regency must-have accessory, best if imported from the Kashmir region of India. The best quality scarves were so fine they could be pulled through a wedding ring. Paisley designs based on ancient Indian fertility symbols. The shawl was used for warmth but even more importantly, as a prop to help a young lady stand with it artfully draped over herself in alluring "attitudes."
Bonnet - endless varieties, but the most popular was the "poke" bonnet which hid the girl's face behind a long brim that looked rather like a huge duck bill.
Betsy - a detachable sort of collar made up of lace ruffles could be worn with different dresses. Fashionable way to keep your neck warm.
Tucker or Fichu - a bit of muslin or lace "tucked" into the low neckline of a gown during the daytime for added modesty.
Gloves - usually white or tan, of kid leather for outdoor or satin for evening
Fan - another must-have accessory for the Regency woman. (Though men could carry fans, too.) Came in all shapes and sizes. For example, an opera fan had an opera glass built into the handle.
Parasol - sun-shade umbrella of a delicate material on a cane skeleton. Handles could be of bamboo or fancier ones of ivory.
Shoe Slippers - basic shoe pattern looked like a ballet slipper (without points, of course). Could be made of kid leather, satin, or velvet.
Mules - backless slip-on shoes with a slight heel
Half-boots - an ankle boot. Of sturdy leather for outdoors or velvet/satin for evening.
Pattens - a metal contraption strapped onto the lady's shoes in inclement weather, to lift her above the mud, snow, or rainwater in the street.
Bridal Gowns - The fanciest style and fabric of gown one could afford, not necessarily white. Veils were worn but did not cover the face, instead, trailed down the back.