Images of Regency-era free people of colour

I was at a convention in one of my Regency gowns, and someone asked, “What did black people wear?”

The answer is that the clothing expressed a wide range of styles depending on a person’s station and where they lived but— since I think that question came from a place of wanting to do historical cosplay as something other than a servant… Here are some Regency-ish* era free people of colour living in Europe, the West Indies, and the Americas.

*I’m cheating a little and going about ten years past the Regency in both directions.


I would just like to add that a well-tied cravat is a thing of wonder.

Related post: Don’t blame the homogeneity of your novel on historical accuracy. That’s your choice, as an author.

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20 Responses

  1. Lila

    Cravats are all very well, but I’m in awe of the headdress sported by the lady at bottom left.

    Seriously, thank you for this.

  2. Kier Salmon

    I’d like to know who these people are and who the artist is. I’m happy to see the careful concentration of images; but I was just thinking about this in light of the movie “Belle” and my feeling that it is mis-representing the actual attitude towards dark skinned people in Regency England. “Belle” was a bastard and portionless. I don’t have enough knowledge to decide how much how she was treated had to do with those two factors and how much had to do with her dark skin. Thanks for tracking down the pictures.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

      I updated the pictures to add captions, so you should be able to mouse over them.

      Dido was a bastard and portionless because her mother was a slave. You can’t separate that from her race.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

      Um, no. She was from Martinique, but her family was a wealthy white family that owned a sugar plantation.

      The word “creole” to describe her family is probably what is throwing you. People often assume that means mixed race, but it usually means someone with foreign heritage born locally. That said, the meaning varies from place to place. In Josephine’s case, though, it means that they were a white family who lived in Martinique.

  3. Julie

    I’m curious about the gentleman on the right in the second row. That casual pose and the bust behind him suggest something about him, but I don’t know what…

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal Post author

      The only reason I didn’t include Chevalier St. George is because the portraits of him were way, way out of the Regency. But yes, he’s fabulous as is Dido. I cannot WAIT for the film about her to start playing in the US.

  4. Angela

    These are wonderful. In Louisana, creoles who are of mixed blood especially with African blood thrown in the mix are known as Creoles of Color to distinguish them from the French or Spanish Creoles of the same area. With that said, in Santo Domingo – now Haiti –les gens de couleur libres were those people who were mixed or pure African that were born or bought their freedom. That being said, I do believe, and correct me if I am wrong, Jane Austen in one of her unfinished books had an octoroon as one of her characters. Also, in Vanity Fair, wasn’t one of the male character’s father trying to marry him to an heiress who was an octoroon or a creole of color? You left one other person off you may want to check out…George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (11 October 1778–29 February 1860

    1. Angela

      Forgot this bit, that before the revolution in Santo Domingo, many of the gen de couleur libres were wealthy landowners, merchants and craftspersons.