Remember that English Dance was common up until 1870 and is believed to date back to about 1400. That's a 400 year span of costume possibilities. I've made myself dresses that give a nod to the era of Marie Antoinette and as far back as the Renaissance eras, but I attribute the revival of ECD to Austen’s books. That puts us right around the beginning of 1800… say 1810 or 1820. Easiest period to make or fudge, but hardest to buy.
Fudging the time period:
Or... buy a long suit jacket at thrift store, crop off the front from the waist down but leave the back as tails. Then buy plain baseball pants and pair them with soccer socks. Will try and find a picture of one of the two gentlemen who have done this... I should note that while this looks very dashing, a suit jacket can be overly warm to dance in. A billowy shirt paired with a vest can be a good bit cooler than the jacket.
Making your own gown:
Patterns: Any Joann’s or Hancock’s will have pattern books: Simplicity, McCalls, Butterick, and Burda usually each have at least one empire waisted dress with poufy sleeves. For anything with undersleeves, I’d recommend making undersleeves with a fabric that has a good bit of give… helps with the ability to raise your arm. I’ve heard good things about the Sense and Sensibility patterns, too.
Fabrics: Thrift stores are wonderful. Bedsheets and curtains can make wonderful dresses, and are much less expensive than what you’d find at a fabric store. I prefer cotton-poly blends (no wrinkles!), but the satin bedsheets are always fun (even if they're incredibly inaccurate).
Purchasing a dress:
There is a plethora of Renaissance dresses available, but there isn’t much in the way of Regency dresses. You can find some on online costume stores, but you’ll have to hunt through the historical section of any given costume store because there is no consistent method of labelling the Regency dresses (and there’s probably not much guarantee of the quality of the fabric). Handmade dresses are easier to hunt through because they are more likely to be labeled Regency or Austen dresses, but the prices will be quite high. Please feel free to comment on this post if you discover any “finds” that others might find useful.
One of our own dancers, Susi Matthews, designs and creates costumes and whatnot. Let her know you're interested by writing to her at email@example.com. :)
Costume Store possibilities:
(all of these will require some modification, be it cutting off the sleeve extensions, shortening a sleeve, cutting off a train or a collar…)
Fantasytoyland: Juliette, Maiden Juliet, Princess Bride, Avalon, Camelot, Lady Marion
CostumeDiscounters: Lady Capulet, Emerald Juliet, Vampira
Amazon: Katarina, Renaissance Queen, Renaissance Queen II, Black Chemise with a bit of trim..., Lady costume, Medieval Queen, Maiden Suede, Charades Princess of Monaco Discount size L and Size S, Charades Maiden of Verona, Charades Camelot, Elegant Empress, medieval maiden
Local Costume rentals: ?
The concert dresses at Tote Unlimited might be a nice option… they produce empire waist dresses, and you pick your color, your neckline, your sleeve type.
Consider some of the Victorian and steampunk attire for finding a coat. Remember, high waistline, and lower tails. Perhaps something like this tailcoat. If you have skill with a needle, find a thrift store, buy a cheap coat, and crop the front of it. Vest should be slightly longer than the coat so as to be visible underneath, but not by much. The vest shown with it should work. Wearing a blousier shirt and the vest would make it so you're less likely to overheat when dancing, rather than attempting the full ensemble.
You CAN actually order a cravat online... They come in an array of colors.
I'd imagine the mid-calf baseball pants rather than full trousers would also aid in keeping cooler, but I must admit a lack of personal experience.
More suggestions: if you found something I did not, please go ahead and comment. :)