Purple Things I Love: Purple Ball Gowns

Welcome back to Austen Promises!

Here’s a link to last week’s post, in case you missed it. 🙂

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An excerpt from Matches Made at Netherfield

For Darcy, who hated social occasions in general, and being on display in specific, the receiving line was torture. While he thought the residents of the Meryton area were pleasant enough people, they had no class, and their country manners often grated on him. They expected him to make small talk, and were offended when he chose not to. He was aware of the general opinion held about him, that he had a tendency toward arrogance. It irritated him, but he did not feel the need to justify himself to people of so little consequence in the world. The only pleasant part of this duty he was now performing was the smile of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. He took her hand when she approached, bowing low over it. When she was directly before him, it was easy to forget her poor connections and lack of fortune, for she shone like a polished jewel.

Elizabeth curtseyed her greeting. “Mr. Darcy.”

“Miss Elizabeth. I am delighted to have you join us. I am eagerly awaiting our dance.”

Elizabeth tilted her head and examined his face. “I will own to a bit of surprise to hear it. Until you asked for the set, I had thought you disliked me. I cannot read your expressions well enough to decide if you are sincere or not, so I will simply thank you for the honor of asking me and let it go. So, thank you, Mr. Darcy. I greatly enjoy dancing, and I am certain to enjoy ours.”

Darcy smiled at her forthrightness. It was one of the things he liked about her: she was direct, with no artifice. “Until later, then.” He watched as she walked away, turning to greet Miss Mary and the rest of her sisters, and then more of the guests.

Finally, the musicians began to play, and dancers began to line the ballroom. Darcy found Elizabeth just where he thought he would, standing beside Miss Lucas and in sight of Mrs. Bennet along the side of the room. He bowed to her and her friend.

“Miss Elizabeth, are you ready to dance?”

“I am, sir.” Elizabeth put her hand in his outstretched one and threw a quick smile at her friend as he began to lead her to the set. At first, they were quiet. Elizabeth waited for Darcy to begin a conversation, and Darcy was too absorbed in watching her to even attempt it. Finally, halfway through the first dance, she spoke. “Come now, Mr. Darcy, we must have some conversation. A very little bit will do.”

Darcy smiled at her evident exasperation. “What would you like me to say? I can speak on any topic you wish to encompass.”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes, smiling inwardly when she heard his soft chuckle. “The music is very fine. There. I have started us, now you may comment on the number of couples or the size of the room.”

“I agree, the music is very good and the musicians accomplished. We have two lines of dancers; perhaps the ballroom ought to be bigger to accommodate them all.”

“Indeed, I think you may be correct.” They were silent for a while longer, until the first dance ended. As they stood waiting for the next to begin, Elizabeth decided to thank Darcy for his warning to her father. “I know I have said this before, Mr. Darcy, but I thank you for your warning about Mr. Wickham, and I am even more grateful to you for informing my father about him. As a result of your warnings, there have been changes made in our home that should have come about long ago. My youngest sisters may not appreciate them, but I do.”

Darcy was uncomfortable with her praise. “It was nothing, believe me. I told you before that I vowed to stop him whenever I could; speaking to your father was simply keeping that promise.”


I don’t usually write descriptions of things like ball gowns into my books. I like to leave the details to the readers’ imaginations. I know that, for an unwed lady in the Regency, white ball gowns were the style, and if I recall correctly, color was added in the details … embroidery, sashes, ribbons, etc.

That being said, this blog feature is about purple, so I chose one of my books, read a bit of it, and decided to look at purple ball gowns this week. <3

I looked first at Google, which came up with all manner of purple ball gowns with empire waists in this set of results. As you can see, there are a lot of color variations, and since Elizabeth is not a widow, I decided not to look at darker purple gowns right away. My reasons were that (for one), as I understand it, dark purple was a half-mourning color. I don’t believe ODG would have worn that color to a ball as an unmarried woman, period, no matter how much she liked it.

Another reason is that, if she did wear color, it would have been a lighter one. This goes back to the mourning thing. I have read some regular Regencies – even some JAFF – where she chose to wear jewel tones, but I’m not certain how common that was. I think our Lizzy liked to fit in, rather than be a fashion maven. But, I’ve been wrong before. LOL

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It was difficult coming up with a gown that would have come close to what Elizabeth might wear in 1810 or 1811. Fashion is so much different now, and people are not afraid to show skin, or even boobs! I finally settled on this gown (affiliate link), but for Lizzy to wear it, she’d have to have it modified. If you click either the link in the previous sentence or the image of the gown, you’ll see on the Amazon page that the back is like a keyhole. ODG would cover that with something, I’m sure; lace or even a piece of material. Still, this gown covers her shoulders and cleavage.

In the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, Caroline wears a ball gown that JAFF folks love to denigrate, because her shoulders are bare. However, a look at the fashion plates of the time proves that many ball gowns did have straps that left the shoulders open to view. I chose a more conventional gown for Elizabeth, but that doesn’t mean she’d not have worn something else.

Many of those fashion plates also show gowns that expose quite a bit of cleavage. The one I chose does not. I’m not trying to say ball gowns of the era always covered a girl’s chest. This is just the best example of an empire waist gown I could find. I think it’s beautiful and that Lizzy would happily wear it.

There. Now that I have defended myself and my choices, I can move on. LOL

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I chose this gown for myself. I have a body shape that does not lend itself well to form fitting clothes. I’m basically a beach ball with limbs, and my tummy sticks out ahead of me. This gown drapes from the bust and flows over the tummy. I’m not saying I’d look good in it, but I’d be comfortable. Of course, I’m most comfy in clothes that drape from my shoulders and don’t form to my chest, either, but those are extremely difficult to find.

My other option for myself was this dress (affiliate link), for the same reasons. I went with the other one because it had gathers and this one does, but they’re different. I’m not even sure I can explain the difference. These gathers are … flatter. The front of the dress doesn’t flow as much as the other one did.

Have you ever worn a formal ball gown? What was it like? Feel free to describe it for me!

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