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It’s easy to take modern day socializing in Britain for granted, forgetting how these customs stem from our ancestors. These days, almost anyone can host a dinner party, and you may be more inclined to take a trip to the pub rather than attend a Regency dance. However, things were much more complicated in terms of dating, dressing and partying for our Georgian descendants.

So what was it like to party in England during the 1700s? Were the social classes as divided as literature would have us believe? Did men wear wigs, and were women actually required to wear corsets? Here’s how partygoers wined, dined and danced in 18th century England.

Dining

Dinner parties provided the perfect opportunity for the upper-class to demonstrate their wealth to friends and acquaintances. Much like today, a typical meal consisted of two courses and a dessert. However, a course in upper-class Georgian society consisted of five to twenty-five dishes. Starter ranged from soups, creams, and pastries, followed by enormous meat dishes surrounded by accompaniments. Vegetables, fish and custard dishes were never placed at the center of the dinner table, rather like side dishes. British cuisine has seen a lot of changes through the centuries, but you could say our culinary habits aren’t that different today.

Dancing

As demonstrated in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the ballroom was a place of social interaction for both upper and lower class citizens, much like our bars and nightclubs are today. However, never was the social divide more prominent than during a ball. Individuals with wealth and status were not supposed to dance with lower class partners and vice versa. Poorer families hosted informal gatherings where they practiced the “hoedown” and other country dances, whereas high-society dances and balls were much more extravagant, prim and proper.

Dress 

It was customary for upper-class women to dress elaborately for parties, changing their entire outfit for an evening meal, whereas men would only re-powder their hair. You could argue that 18th century England was not too different from today in that respect! Women traditionally wore gowns known as “mantua” for formal occasions, but their outfits didn’t end there: upper-class women accessorized with ruffles, corsets, hoop petticoats, stockings and intricate embroidery. Hair was worn close to the head with a small linen cap that had lace streamers that hung either side of a woman’s head.

For men, a typical party outfit consisted of a full knee-length coat, knee breeches, a waistcoat, a linen shirt with frills and a high collar and linen trousers (or “underdrawers”) that showed the entire lower leg. Men also wore silk stockings and low to medium heels, topped with a shoulder-length wig and a wide hat called a “tricorne.”

Towards the end of the 1700s, fashion began to change. Women’s hairstyles were higher, with curls and frizz coming into fashion; the female waistline moved up to just below the bust, and hooped petticoats went out of fashion completely. Men stopped wearing wigs except in court, and coat skirts gradually decreased in size.

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