Style and Society: Dressing the Georgians at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace
The 18th century was a revolutionary time in many ways, not least for what people wore. The rise of commercial spaces like assembly rooms, coffee houses, pleasure gardens and theatres allowed the latest fashions to be paraded outside of the traditional royal court, while industrial innovations made fashionable fabrics cheaper and more accessible.
This three-room exhibition brings together portraits, items of clothing, jewellery, wigs, fans, stockings, grooming implements and weaponry to vividly show the style of the era. On this occasion there is even a living embodiment of the times in historical tailor Zack Pinsent, who dapperly haunts the space looking like he just stepped out of one of the portraits (though he won’t always be there, unfortunately).
The centrepiece of the show is a striking dress: a Bath mantua in cream silk of voluptuous proportions that is recorded as having been worn at court in the 1760s. It is displayed complete with dainty matching shoes.
A particular highlight is a resplendent uniform jacket worn by George IV when he was Prince of Wales in 1804. It was inspired by the dress of the Hungarian hussar regiments that the prince had seen and coveted, and was made of wool, silk, silver lace and wooden buttons by JC Frank. The signature frogging (the looped embroidery on the front) and embroidery on the sleeves and collar are so intricately detailed that Mr Pinsent estimates it would have cost between £30,000 and £40,000 in modern currency to make, due to the labour involved.
Other highlights include a pair of flintlock duelling pistols in ebony and gold with exquisitely detailed craftsmanship by Nicolas Noel Bouret. An example of stitched stays from the 1780s is interesting, the equivalent of today’s bra.
With all the numerous accoutrements to outfits, precious metal thread embellishments, tassels, wigs, pots for various potions and portraits showing subjects in attitudes of utmost assured glamour, the Georgians certainly had style. The collection has been meticulously brought together but, for all its fanciness, it might have benefitted from more jewellery on display. Nonetheless, this is still a fun show.
Style and Society: Dressing the Georgians is at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, from 21st April 2023 to 8th October 2023. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.