When and Where Not to Wear Boots in Regency England

During the Regency, a fashionable gentleman could be found wearing a blue coat, beige pantaloons and boots, or, at least, such was so according to fashion plates of the era.  Because of this, many authors seem to think such an outfit was suitable for all occasions.

However, one must recall, boots were not meant to be worn everywhere. The aristocrats possessed many faults, but they knew how to dress for the occasion.

For example, generally, a gentleman would not be caught dead wearing boots to church or dinner or to a wedding or to a ball. They also would not wear boots to call on a lady, unless he meant to take her riding or driving. It may be we authors feel boots are more period/era appropriate, or we do not like the idea of saying a man wore “pumps.” “Pumps,” after all, would make our hero less “masculine,” because, in modern times, women’s shoes are often referred to as “pumps.”

Just an FYI: “A “pump” is defined as a shoe or boot style with flat or low heels. The heel can be non-existent, or it can be as high as one to one and one-half inch heel. The overall heel is wider and chunkier.”
Read more: Difference Between High Heels and Pumps | Difference Between 

H. Eldridge’s 1802 painting of Thomas, Earl of Haddington. Public Domain

Jessamyn Reeves Brown is an historian of Regency Fashion. Her research into Regency footwear shows that “prior to the Regency, both women and men wore what we now call ‘court shoes’: high-throated pumps with curved heels and side pieces that tied or buckled elaborately at the throat. As dresses became less structured and suits less elaborate, shoes did too. Heels dropped rapidly through the 1790s and by 1800 were very small indeed, while material was pared away to a minimum from the uppers. Men’s dress shoes lost their heels even before women’s did, but some retained the fine buckles of the 18th century for the most formal of occasions. Men’s shoes also became basic black quite early in the century – almost no other color is seen after 1800. Both men’s and women’s shoes of the 18th century had flaps attached at the instep and outstep that came up over the throat and were held in place with a buckle (most commonly) or were tied in place with bows. These flaps were called ‘latchets,’ and they did not entirely disappear in the Regency.” Discover more fascinating details of men’s footwear on her Regency Companion Page.

I previously read a book (cannot recall its name) where there was an interruption of the wedding ceremony, and the narrative remarked on the sound of boots of wedding guests. As I am certain it was meant to be for storytelling purposes, the sound tapped away in my brain as I read this passage. It was truly very jarring.

I could be in error, but I seem to recall it was the House of Lords that said no visitors were allowed in wearing boots. Boots were not allowed at Almacks’. Even military officers had dress shoes.Most officers wore shoes as part of their dress uniform. One reason was it was thought boots would be harder on dance floors. They also hurt more if they landed on a lady’s foot clad only in a slight evening slipper (something similar to a ballet shoe). Most evening shoes were soft soled, Boots were hard soled and hard on floors.

I do not deny I have seen a few paintings of public assemblies in which military men are shown wearing boots. I do not know if those were painted from a real-life memory or imagination. I do know that at most local assemblies attendance was by payment of a fee, and all manner of people could join. Such was one of the reasons Almacks was founded. The “rich and famous” wanted to restrict attendance at the assembly to vet out people of lower classes. The assemblies at Almacks were designed so the sons and daughters of those “rich and famous families” could meet eligible people to marry.

Painting of George, Duke of Argyll, by H. Eldridge, 1801. Public Domain

There are those stories which say the Duke of Wellington was refused admittance to Almacks because he was NOT DRESSED properly. Some say His Grace showed up wearing boots and was turned away. There are also stories he arrived a few seconds after 11:00 P. M. and was turned away.

In Captain Gronow’s account the problem was Wellington was wearing trousers instead of breeches. According to Gronow, when Wellington was turned away, he pronounce the ruling by Almacks’s hostesses to be proper and completely understandable, and he, most assuredly knew the importance of a correct uniform.

I love Gronow, but we do have to consider he was writing his “Reminiscences” decades after the fact, and it was unlikely he was standing by the door and had heard the exchange at the time. So we’ll probably never know exactly what happened.

That being said, Gronow does have other wrong details in Captain Gronow: His Reminiscences of Regency and Victorian Life, 1810-1860. For example, according to one account of his life, Gronow was only stationed in Town (meaning London) during 1814. The women he lists as patronesses of Almacks for 1814 were incorrect. Also, one edition of his book was published with an illustration of dances from France and, ever since, it has been used to illustrate the fashions and the dance in England.

The Napoleon Series tells us something of Gronow. “Gronow, what can I say? Approach him with caution, even with Christopher Hibbert’s very helpful editing and annotations. R. H. Gronow (1794-1865) was one of those shadowy figures that drifted through the Regency and Victorian times. He rarely features in letters and diaries — but his memoirs, written in the 1860’s, seem to indicate he knew all the right people. Perhaps this was because he spent much of his time observing life around him, a commentator rather than a participant in events himself.

“There are three problems I have with Gronow. He wrote up to 40 years after events; he clearly wrote entirely for money; and there is no way of knowing if he was actually present at events that he writes about, or merely heard about them later. All in all, Gronow published four volumes of his reminiscences between 1862 and 1866, and they cover his life from 1810 to 1860. By the end of it he was rather scraping the barrel for suitably gossipy tittle-tattle to share with an avid public. Yes, the audience of the day lapped them up, and there lies some of the problems I have with Gronow. Clearly much of what he said is inaccurate, misdated, or just plain salacious gossip garnered from other sources such as Captain Jesse.”

Jane Austen’s World tells us: “The Patronesses of Almack’s guarded entry to the club like Valkeries prepared to do battle. No one, not even the Duke of Wellington, would dare to step a foot inside the establishment without a proper voucher, and, indeed, he was turned away once for wearing *gasp* trousers instead of knee breeches. But is this true? Please keep on reading.

“This passage from Social England Under the Regency by John Ashton (p 383) is quite telling:

The Duke of Wellington

Of course the Creme de la creme went to Almack’s, but numberless were the Peris who sighed to enter that Paradise, and could not. Capt. Gronow, writing of 1814, says: “At the present time one can hardly conceive the importance which was attached to getting admission to Almack’s, the seventh heaven of the fashionable world. Of the three hundred officers of the Foot Guards, not more than half a dozen were honoured with vouchers of admission to this exclusive temple of the beau monde, the gates of which were guarded by lady patronesses whose smiles or frowns consigned men and women to happiness or despair. These lady patronesses were the Ladies Castlereagh, Jersey, Cowper, and Sefton; … and the Countess Lieven.” (Note: At that time, two other patronesses included Lady Downshire and Lady Bathurst.) from Jane Austen’s World

Two major points on the issue of Boots: (1) So many of us are accustomed to informal clothes in practically any milieu, it is difficult for us to remember how boots were the sneakers of the day. (2) Also, when one is wealthy, one can afford to have different outfits for different activities. The ladies were said to have changed at least 3 times in a day, even if they never left the house.

2 responses to “When and Where Not to Wear Boots in Regency England”

  1. kimbelle1 Avatar

    What an excellent article on men’s attire. While it’s less romantic than thinking a man should always be stomping around like a beast until his lady tames him, it does make much sense!

    1. Regina Jeffers Avatar

      I wrote a scene recently where Darcy wore boots to church in Lambton. I debated about whether I should change it or not, but I left the boots because I thought he would want to appear more “like one of the guys,” for the story required him to fit in with the village folk. He was not in London and with the “ton” so he wore boots.

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