Georgians: Dress for Polite Society

4 February 2014

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I had a real fashion history treat yesterday morning when I went off to Bath for the morning to take a look at the new Georgian exhibition at the Bath Fashion Museum, which is inspired by the town’s eighteenth century heyday when all the great and good gathered there en masse to take the ‘cure’, relax and have plenty of fun.

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The exhibition GEORGIANS: Dress for Polite Society, definitely manages to evoke just how gorgeously glittering such high society gatherings in Bath must have been, drawing as it does on the vast and rather wonderful collections of the Bath Fashion Museum, which is housed in the former Assembly Rooms in the heart of the town.

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Over thirty fabulous gowns and suits have been selected from the collections to demonstrate the splendour with which wealthy Georgians dressed up when out and about. These are definitely clothes to be shown off, to be seen in, to be admired and it really is a treat to be able to see so many all at once, giving the impression that the visitor is peeking in at a high society gathering.





Although I expected this exhibition to be displayed in the ball room upstairs (as is the case with most large exhibitions at the Assembly Rooms), I think that the smaller, more intimate setting in the downstairs museum space really worked well as the low lighting really helped to show off the glorious metallic embroidery, sequins, shimmering silk and glittering lace, all of which would have looked really quite wonderful in candlelight. I think the effect would have been somewhat diminished in the bright sunlight that generally floods the upstairs rooms.





Beautiful though they are, I’m sure these wouldn’t be the most comfortable dresses to go about in. I’ve seen a few of the dresses in the display up close to take photographs of the inner work and stitching and know how restrictive they would have been in practice – to the extent that they made the wearer move and walk in a particular and rather controlled way, which would have been considered the height of elegance back then.





I’m particularly fond of the REALLY wide panniered gowns, which date from the late 1750s and would probably have been worn at the court of George III. I really love how narrow they look when viewed from the side, which would have caused the wearers to sidle about in the most suspicious looking manner.




All in all this is a beautiful exhibition and a definite must see if you’re in Bath and have a thing for eighteenth century high fashion. Georgians is running all year until the 1st of January 2015 so you’ve plenty of time to see it!


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