More On Nankeen Fabric and Boots in the Regency

Dames a la Mode, Lady’s Museum, 1804

There have been a few questions about Nankeen fabric and its uses in the Regency, so here’s a bit more information about it.

Special thanks goes to Sabine, who found these references in a couple German books, and translated for me…

From “Der Sammler,” 1809:

“The nankeen is made quite far from here in the Chinese city of Nankeen (Nanking), precisely in the district of Fong-Kiang-Fu. The cotton, from which this fabric is made, is brown and it appears that it only grows in this part of the country.

The colour of the Nankeen is natural, and hence never fades.

Most people in Europe do believe that the fabric is dyed, but this is a mistake. Due to the belief that the Nankeen is an artificial colour, Europe has sent an order to have the fabric dyed in a deeper brown, because lately the fabric became paler in colour, but that actually wasn’t related to any dye or lack of artificial colour pigments.

When the Americans started to do business with China, the inquiries/orders for Nankeen almost doubled, but they weren’t able to produce that much, because they were lacking the brown cotton in such quantities. They decided to mix the brown cotton with the common white cotton and the colour naturally became paler.

But when the demand for Nankeen recently dropped, they stopped mixing the white cotton in and went back for pure brown cotton, the fabric was dark like before. The colour is highly durable and it seems as if the fabric is in use for two or three years, it becomes even darker.”

Powerhouse Museum, 1804.

Another mention of Nankeen comes from “The Mirror of the Graces; Or, The English Lady’s Costume,” 1811:

Again nankeen boots are mentioned in “Memorials of the Thackeray Family,” written in 1879, but referring to 1808:

There are many references to the wider uses of Nankeen fabric, easily found with a quick search through Google Books. This cotton, whether produced in China or Europe, was used for waistcoats, trousers, traveling dress (as referenced above), and of course the shoes, gaiters, and boots, which were worn by both men an women.

Dames a la Mode, Journal des Dames et des Modes, 1813 – Nankeen (spelled “Nankin” here) gaiters worn over shoes.

To be sure, this variety of daywear boot was more fashionable than practical, but where ladies suffered getting their feet wet in the past, there are crafty ways of waterproofing our fabric boots today that means you can still wear them in the wet.

One of these ways, albeit quite space-age in nature, is to spray them with Rustoleum “NeverWet.” This stuff is pretty mental – it creates a completely waterproof barrier, but it also means you can never dye the boots.

A period-accurate way to make your canvas shoes water resistant is to wax them. Thanks to Talia for this video:

There are a variety of spray-on waterproofing products, too.

So when it comes to outdoor use of Nankeens, don’t be afraid! Ladies of the past wore them outdoors, in the streets, and tromping through the countryside, and so can you!

Dames a la Mode, La Belle Assemblee, 1815

Now all that being said, the pre-order for Nankeens is open until March 16. We’ve collected less than 20 orders so far, where we need to collect more like 70, so please consider helping our home-grown kickstarter for this style, and order your pair in advance (you also get $20 off). Place orders here:

Nankeen Regency Boots by American Duchess


  • Abigail Dupree-Polston

    March 4, 2017 at 4:54 PM

    I thought I remembered an American Duchess post on nankeen! Trying to learn more about it for clothing rather than shoes, but your posts are always so helpful. It is particularly interesting to envision the dresses described in "Memorials of the Thakeray Family"… they seem like incredibly boring, durable garments. I suppose that was the ticket when traveling at the time!

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