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Court dress, Heideloff gallery, 1794-95

Court dress, Heideloff gallery, 1794-95

Female gowns worn at court during the Regency era looked ungainly. Instead of the lovely columnar silhouette of the Grecian-inspired draped gown, court gowns at this time made their wearers resemble the upper half of an extravagantly decorated apple or a pregnant cake topper.

These custom creations, made with sumptuously expensive materials, adhered to the rules laid down by Queen Charlotte, who presided over the royal drawing rooms until her death.Earlier Georgian gowns flattered a lady’s waist, with corsets that made the waist seem miniscule. As waists rose, the silhouette of the gowns became grotesque, swallowing a lady’s figure in a ball of fabric.

dress of the princess augusta_1799_hern

The dress of the Princess Augusta, on the King’s Birthday, June 4, 1799. Phillips, The Fsshions of London and Paris, July 1799. Source: candicehern.com

While narrow clinging draperies falling about the feet in loose folds were being worn everywhere else — in the Park at assemblies, balls, routs, and dinners — ladies still went to Drawing rooms in enormous hoop petticoats. The rigidity of Court etiquette has always preserved decayed fashions…The effect of a hugely puffed out skirt under a low and extremely short bodice was most disfiguring. If hoops were unsightly before they became ten times more so then. – Georgiana Hill, A history of English dress: from the Saxon period to the present day, 1893,  p 291

1805 court dress_pub. tabart co bond street

A lady in court dress, 1805. Pub. by Tabart & Co. June, 1805, Bond Str.

Young ladies presented at court for the first time wore white gowns. Married ladies could wear a variety of colors.The gowns’ narrow trains looked out of proportion to the wide-hooped skirts. Head-dresses consisted of a diamond encrusted bandeau and from three to five to seven to more feathers. A variety of feathers were used for head ornamentation – heron, ostrich (the favorite), Bird of Paradise, pheasant, and macaw.

marchioness of Townshend_1806_2

Court gown, 1806, Marchioness of Townshend. Only the wealthy could purchase fashion magazines with colored plates. Most were published in black and white.

Upon the marriage of her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales, the Marchioness of Townshend was appointed Mistress of the Robes, a situation which she still holds. Bell’s Court Fashionable Magazine, La Belle Assemblee, Vol 1, Part 1, p 17-18

Occasions for a woman’s appearances at court included the presentation of the daughters of peers and rich merchants who wished to make their debut in Society, after a woman was married, and after an honor had been conferred on her husband, such as a diplomatic mission or a new title.

Publisher, John Bell. Caption on image: Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales in her court dress on the fourth of June, 1807, as authentically taken from the real dress by Mrs. Webb of Pall Mall. London. Printed for the 18 no. of the La Belle Assemblee, published July 1, 1807 by John Bell, Weekly Messenger Office, Southampton Street, Strand..

Publisher, John Bell. Caption on image: Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales in her court dress on the fourth of June, 1807, as authentically taken from the real dress by Mrs. Webb of Pall Mall. London. Printed for the 18 no. of the La Belle Assemblee, published July 1, 1807 by John Bell, Weekly Messenger Office, Southampton Street, Strand. Digital Collection, University Libraries, University of Washington. Fashion Plate Collection, SpecColl GT513 F37 1800

In 1808 the hoops were wider than ever, but the waist was longer, in fact almost in its natural place. No pointed waists were seen; they were all round, whether high or low The contrast between a lady in Court dress and a lady arrayed for a fashionable party was so great that they seem to belong, not only to totally different periods, but to different nations.- Hill, p. 293

Rowlandson, Drawing Room at St. James's Palace in London, Microcosm o fLondon, 1810. Image, Wikimedia Commons.

Rowlandson, Drawing Room at St. James’s Palace in London, Microcosm of London, 1810. Image, Wikimedia Commons.

Feathers were worn very large and high in the earlier years of the century. There was little taste shown in the disposition of the plumes. -Hill, p 293

Court etiquette was strict; young ladies took lessons on how to walk when approaching the queen, proper curtsies, entering the room, and leaving the room. Court gowns cost the earth, but every young lady worth her salt had to presented to the queen before she could officially enter the Marriage Mart and engage in the rounds of social activities that the London Season offered.

Parisian_1809_British_1817_court

Parisian court gown with high-standing Medici collar and train, 1807 (l). British court gown, with garlands of roses and 5-ostrich feather headdress, 1817-1818 (r).

By 1807, Parisians had sensibly adopted court gowns that resembled contemporary fashion silhouettes, while the British still clung to the more traditional, old-fashioned hooped skirts.

1808 La Belle Assemblee court dress

1808 La Belle Assemblee court dress. Waists had lowered somewhat, and the gowns did not look quite as ridiculous, but waists would soon rise again, stopping to just below the breasts. I imagine the assembled ladies at court looked like a flotilla of colorful balloons.

[The Regency] was a money making time for milliners, tailors, upholsterers and purveyors of all sorts As for the jewellers, their shops were literally ransacked, and diamonds were hired at ten per cent. -Hill, p294

Dressing for court was an enormously expensive investment. Careful attention was paid to displaying embroidery and embellishment in the most elaborate patterns. In a united show of thriftiness, Queen Charlotte and the young princesses frequently embroidered their own gowns. Designs were representations of natural objects, such as acorns, shells, wreaths of silver leaves and cloth roses, and peacock feathers. Gowns were made with silver tissue, net, satin, and chenille.

1808 La Belle Assemblee court dress

1808 La Belle Assemblee court dress

Pearls and diamonds were the regulation Court jewellery, and always used for necklaces and bandeaux, though all sorts of stones might be employed for garniture.-Hill, p296

1818 Court dress, British Ladies Magazine. Collection, Los Angeles Public Library

1818 Court dress, British Ladies Magazine. Collection, Los Angeles Public Library

Queen Charlotte presided over the royal drawing rooms until she died in 1818. Her daughters took on her duties at court in her place, but the standards for wearing round hoops continued at this time. When the Prince Regent ascended the throne in 1820 as King George IV, the rules for hoops were finally abandoned. Head-dresses. which were generally made of diamond bandeaux and white ostrich feathers, remained.

Hoops continued to be worn at Court up to the reign of George IV. It seems, however, that people were getting thoroughly tired of them, and that the milliners were less careful than when hoops were a universal fashion; for in 1818 there was a complaint in the Lady’s Magazine of the “ill-contrived” hoops seen at the Drawing-rooms, and ladies were warned that a good effect could not be produced unless great attention were given to procuring a well-formed hoop. -Hill, p. 297

John Bell, Publisher. Court dress, London, England, July 1, 1822. LACMA50 collection

John Bell, Publisher. Court dress, London, England, July 1, 1822. LACMA50 collection

When at length hoops were abolished by the good taste of George IV., the costumes worn at Drawing-rooms took the form of the fashions of the day. The clinging gowns were never seen at Court, for by the time the Court had left off wearing hoops the wider skirts were in fashion. In the reign of William IV. Court dress was pretty much the same as the full dress of the period, except for the trains and high feather. -Hill, p. 297

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