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Tuesday 13 September 2011

Colours used in the Regency and Georgian ers

Colours used in the Georgian period and Regency
 - and, when known, date of introduction or when particularly fashionable.  Otherwise I have noted when it was definitely in use.  ‘The Ladies’ Monthly Museum’ and ‘Ackermann’s Repository’ are to be referenced in this.  Also ‘The Creation of Colour in the 18th century’ by Sarah Lowengard.  Some colours mentioned in Old Bailey online.
Thanks to Charles Bazalgette for making available his notes to extend this list.
The colours are broken up into the following sections; Reds/Pinks; Oranges/Yellows; Greens; Blues/Indigos; Violets; Browns; Neutrals
The swatches are as close as I can get....


described as chilli coloured elsewhere; so a brownish orange-red from 1809
blossom coloured is a pale pink certainly in use in 1813

Dark pinkish red. First recorded as a colour 1523 popular in 18th century.

Very dark, purplish red.

Poppy red, being the French name for the field poppy.  A bold colour and only to be used as trimming by young ladies. Height of fashion 1794-9 but used through the period; according to Austen in high fashion winter 1798-9

Peony red 1811

Pale Pink
One of the season’s colours of 1802

what it says on the label.

Pompadour aka Rose Pompadour
May have been named for the S. American bird the pompadore for its red-purple plumage rather than after La Pompadour. The colour name appears to have been used for a range of shades

A rather dark reddish pink; between red and magenta, the colour of Rosa rugosa.  Used from 1382.

Rose Pink
A pinker colour than rose, used from 1761.

Turkey Red
Named for the place not the fowl.  Derived from Madder and is a cool bluish red. The name refers to a particular process of preparing the madder that took 3 weeks or more. Colourfast and will not fade. First practically produced in Europe [in Scotland] 1780’s.  Became particularly popular in the 1820’s


Bright gold, 1823 onward

A bright intense yellow [close to acid yellow]

Evening Primrose
named for the flower, an American species, darker and richer than primrose. Height of fashion 1807-17 and just to be confusing usually referred to just as primrose.

named for the wild daffodil; a very pure yellow. The must have colour of 1801

A colour imitating the natural yellowish brown of the raw cotton woven into the cloth from Nanking also called nankeen. The name was used for a range of shades

Certainly a colour mentioned for cloth

Named for the flower, a pale and delicate yellow. Height of fashion 1807-17

Between yellow and orange, the product of the saffron crocus

golden beige, the colour of ripening corn, which is to say corn to make bread not sweetcorn.  A popular colour in 1802.


Bottle Green
probably what was later known as Rifle green; used in 1790’s

Bronze Green
A very dark green with a blue tint.

Corbeau coloured
A greenish black like a crow’s wing.     In use in 1790’s. Nearer black than green.

Emerald Green
Also known as Scheele’s Green and unfortunately very poisonous because of being made with arsenic! This was popular because it did not fade. AKA Paris green,  Schweinfurth green, Imperial green, Vienna green.  Having been already very popular in wallpaper this became fashionable in fabric 1817

dull olive coloured green

Parrot Green
Dark yellow green 18th century

Pomona Green
                                                 THE green of the Regency era.  Apple green by the name, but dark and rich. The rich bright green made by overdying yellow with blue [I hypothesise that this is what was in the Medieval era was known as Lincoln Green made by overdying weld or saffron with woad]. Name used from 1811/12 when it became fashionable

Rifle Green
The very dark colour green worn by the rifle brigades. Not used until after 1800 when the Rifle Brigade was first formed.

Saxon Green
Sage green.  Made similarly to Saxon Blue with the introduction of dyeing by fustic [a yellow dye].

Spring [green]
A brighter more yellow shade of Pomona green. Name coined 1766


Sky blue; name from 1820

Bright blue, a blue-cyan, the colour of bright blue skies 1820

Sky blue 1820

Celestial Blue
Name first used 1535; a light sky blue popular in early 1810’s

Another one described as sky blue, 1820

Dyed using the Indigo plant.  Dark blue, hint of purple

Marie Louise
1812, Calamine blue, which is to say a slightly more turquoise colour than Robin’s egg blue. Bluer and lighter than turquoise, bluer and deeper than aqua

Mazarine blue
A very deep colour, named for Cardinal Mazarin

Steel blue 1817.

Prussian Blue
A dark blue with a touch of green to it

Saxon Blue
A soft greyish-lavender tinged blue. Made by dissolving indigo in oil of vitriol [sulphuric acid] now mostly called smalt blue


Damson coloured, very dark purple

A pale greyish purple

Pale tone of violet; first used to describe colour 1775. Popular 1802

A reddish purple, very very dark

Princess Elizabeth
Soft pale blue with hint of lilac

brownish reddish purple, the name is from the French for ‘flea’ and refers to the colour of coagulated blood inside that parasite.  In 1805 it was THE colour. Initially popularised by Marie Antoinette. Also popular in 1802

probably a dullish purple rather than the bright colour we think of today.

Blueish purple; used as colour name from 1370.  So synonymous with purple that Isaac Newton used it in describing the colours in the spectrum. Early use of the name seems to imply that it was a blue colour.

Stifled Sigh
Aka soupir étouffe which according to Dr Johnson is the palest of lilacs 18th century.


French beige; more a light brown than a beige per se. 1825

Dark brown, the colour of a Carmelite monk’s robe.

Cinammon coloured
What it says on the label

Devonshire Brown
Named for the notorious Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Regained popularity 1812. ? light tan brown

Name dates from 1686. a yellowish brown on the browner side of nankeen; patterns in drab were often made by patterning the fabric with different mordants and overdying in one colour, whereat the different mordants produced different colour responses from the dye, but all toning. Nowadays called mode beige, a very dark beige.

Dust of Ruins
Described as squirrel.  A drab tan then? 1822.  Possibly a colour akin to the reddish dust of the ruins at Karnak following on from all things Egyptian

Egyptian Brown
Described as mace,the rich reddish brown used in Egyptian tomb paintings to depict  male skin colour, all things Egyptian becoming fashionable with the French ‘archaeology’ there.   1809

Hazelnut coloured

Paris mud
Colour designed by Marie Antoinette’s designer based on the colour of Parisian mud.

Snuff coloured
What it says on the label

Terre d’Egypte
Brick Red; 1823, possible a deeper shade of dust of ruins?


Silver grey

One of the season’s colours of 1802

Iron grey
Dark grey, considered suitable for mourning as much as black [shown in mourning fashion plate]

Cream, first recorded use 1601 when referring to the colour of an animal’s coat as very pale cream; a pale palomino colour. Used for fabric in Queen Elizabeth I’s wardrobe.  AKA Isabelline

Off white with cream tint

Russian Flame           
Pale beige 1811

Dark blueish grey; Pale slate is mentioned in describing a fashion plate 1811


  1. Brilliant idea! Thank you for posting all the colours.

  2. Thank you! glad you find it useful.

  3. Love the names of the colors - thank you so much for posting. Quite a resource!

  4. Thanks Julia! yes, I, too, love the names... thanks too to Charles Bazalgette, descendent of Louis Bazalgette, tailor to Prinny, who provided some of the obscure Georgian ones like Corbeau! I've done my best to get the colours as close as I can to what they should look like, using [when available] fashion plates of the period and extrapolating if they seem faded.
    It's worth knowing that reds and yellows tend to be more fugitive in coloured prints than blues, though it depends on the colours used [Naples yellow is immensely fugitive, the chrome spectrum is not.]
    I hope I have Stifled Sigh accurately, tracking down any reference to what it looked like was challenging; but I'm relying on Dr Johnson's powers of observation!

  5. Isn't that pretty much the color wheel?

  6. Liza, the range of colours may be close to what you can get on an extended colour wheel, but the whole point of this post was to give what colours were available and more important the Georgian names of them. This is partly for sheer interest because of some of the wierder names, and partly because it is then a resource for writers who want to use authentic colour names in their novels. Because it's more romantic.
    Also there is not the full range; the brightest pure, undiluted colour does not become available until 1851 [IIRC] with the invention of aniline dye. Most bright colours were also pretty transitory.

  7. What a wonderful and extensive listing, Sarah! Although for me, sadly, it leans more towards Regency, than Georgian. Would you be so kind as to please supply where you sourced the actual color tiles? Are they modern color tiles which you have then matched to historical color descriptions? And are these colors (and their names) for paints (applied to canvases and walls) /fabrics/etc or a more general color scheme? Why I say this is because what might be termed a paint color for a wall, and even for painting on canvas doesn't necessarily equate to fabric color. TY for sharing. :)

  8. These are colours for cloth, Lucinda. I matched, where I could, painted fashion plates with modern paint swatches or made my own swatches in Paintshop Pro using the colour sampler; some I had to go on description and guesswork! I don't guarantee them to be 100% accurate, but then, in the era, one dye batch and the next was unlikely to match in any case, since the conditions were not highly controlled in a way that they are now. Even in my own childhood, before computers, two bolts supposedly dyed with the same dye might have some variation, so I figured that my best guess probably came as close as anything... It does lean heavily towards the 'Long' Regency largely because there's much less data for anything earlier, and, too, because the fashion of colour also took on more prominence with the court of Marie Antoinette.

    For paint colours you need to check out Patrick Baty
    Patrick is the country's leading paint historian
    I'm glad you enjoyed it, thanks for dropping by!

  9. All this time I thought Nankeen was a fabric :-) Great resource of colors available and what people called them. Thanks for posting.

  10. All this time I thought Nankeen was a fabric :-) Great resource of colors available and what people called them. Thanks for posting.

  11. Nankeen was a fabric, but it usually came in the range of yellows which gave the name to the colour

  12. I was reading "Isabella" from the Chawton House site and a lady and her maid are arguing about the difference between bleu celeste and bleu foncee. It was published in 1823 but would that argument make sense in the Regency period?

    1. What an excellent question! Bleu celeste is presumably a pretentious way of describing celestial blue, a very old colour name, and popular all through the Regency. I have not come across bleu foncee in the fashion plates. Bleu foncé is French for dark blue so it isn't any fanciful name, so yes, the argument would make sense in the Regency. Two rich blues, not the usual pastels, but perfectly acceptable for a married woman, or as a bodice around 1813 when darker contrasting bodices were very much in vogue, or for a pelisse or as trim on a paler blue.

  13. Do you know what "sad" coloured would be as in sad coloured dress in Georgette Heyer Sprig Muslin?

    1. sorry, I missed this, it must have gone into spam! I su spect it was something which had washed to a faded sort of colour - and also white muslin will go greyish in the wash in time, which is one reason white was a luxury colour, as well as needing to be kept clean by a lot of leisure it also did not last very well as pristine white. I've always thought it was a blue which wasn't colour fast and had gone grey, however.

    2. In the Renaissance (sort of Shakespeare's time) "sad" could mean just serious rather than our modern meaning of sad. In colours and fabrics, "sad" meant dulled or dark. So a "sad" green would be a dull or dark green, etc.

    3. Many thanks for this expansion. An interesting expansion; and totally correct for the Renaissance.
      I suspect in context in 'Sprig Muslin' the explanation would be closer to losing colour due to washing too often, because of the period of the work. Grey was also half-mourning so 'sad' in that context might well have been Heyer's famous wit playing with words, so that it mourned its former colour, however, that's more a gut reaction to knowing the author very well than colour lore.

  14. Iron grey may have been suitable for mourning because there were defined stages to it. The first 3-6 months or so were considered "deep" mourning, and only black was truly appropriate. After that, a widow might transition to dark grey, then lighter shades. The first colors considered appropriate were purples, again from dark to light. The entire process took about 2 years or longer, requiring several new wardrobes in each palette.

    1. and I wager it was a right royal pain, and I use my words advisedly as everyone also had to mourn various royals and they dropped like flies between 1810 with Princess Amelia through to the death of George III in 1820

  15. Very informative with insightful context into the colours & period.

    1. thank you, I took the time to research it from a number of sources and I believe it's the most extensive list available.