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Georgian clothing exhibition coming to Queen's Gallery

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

Georgian clothes and the cutting-edge fashion trends of the 18th century will be the subject of a major new exhibition at Buckingham Palace.

The Queen’s Gallery will host Style & Society: Dressing the Georgians from April, which will bring together over 200 works from the Royal Collection — with rare surviving examples of Georgian clothing and accessories amongst the highlights.

It will include spectacular royal fashion treasures such as items of jewellery from Queen Charlotte’s (the wife of King George III) famed collection. A diamond ring featuring a miniature of her husband and given to her on her wedding day, will be on show.

Paintings from the period will be an important part of the exhibition. A rarely displayed, full-length portrait of Queen Charlotte by Thomas Gainsborough from the early 1780s will be at the heart of the show. It was painted by candlelight and depicts the Queen in a magnificent gown, worn over a wide hoop and covered with gold spangles and tassels. Its home is usually the elegant White Drawing Room at Windsor Castle. It’ll be shown alongside a beautifully preserved gown of a similar style, worn at Queen Charlotte’s court in the 1760s, on loan from the Fashion Museum Bath.

Painting of Queen Charlotte in a Georgian period dress with a dog at her feet
THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH (1727-88) Queen Charlotte (1744-1818). Photo: Royal Collections Trust

Visitors will discover that there was a fashion revolution going on in Georgian Britain. While court dress was a spectacle, it was on the streets where the most radical changes were being seen. As court styles became increasingly outdated, new forums for fashionable display emerged, including pleasure gardens, coffee houses and theatres. The Georgians ushered in many of the cultural trends we know today, including the first stylists and influencers, the birth of a specialised fashion press and the development of shopping as a leisure activity.

Style and Society will spotlight what the Georgians wore across the whole spectrum of society – from the workwear of laundry maids, to regency dress and the spectacular gowns seen in the royal courts. Most eye-opening will be the fact that fashionable society increasingly looked to the lower classes for style inspiration, adopting previously working-class garments such as aprons and trousers. While knee breeches were a men’s staple for much of the 18th century (examples on display will include those depicted in Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait of the famed musician Johann Christian Fischer), by the end of the Georgian period, upper-class men had embraced trousers for the first time, a fashion trend that has continued to this day. The future George IV and Lord Byron were early adopters of the new style, as shown in a portrait of Lord Byron by George Sanders which will be on show.

The exhibition will also highlight that upcycling is not a modern phenomenon. The Georgians embraced it too, with Queen Charlotte’s book of psalms, covered in the only silk fabric known to survive from one of her dresses, going on show. The expensive fabric, decorated with metal threads to glimmer in candlelight, was most likely repurposed after the dress had passed out of fashion. As textiles were highly prized, Georgian clothing was constantly recycled, even by the royal family, and there was a thriving market for second-hand clothes. It is the very first time the book will have been displayed publicly.

A patterned court dress on a mannequin and that expands widely at the hip
Georgian court dress (c) Fashion Museum Bath

Anna Reynolds, curator of Style & Society: Dressing the Georgians, said: "During this period, we start to see court dress lagging behind street style, with people from across a much broader social spectrum than ever before setting fashion trends.

“The Royal Collection is so rich in visual representations from this period and the exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to share them with the public. Showing paintings alongside surviving items of dress really adds an extra layer of insight.”

How much are tickets to the Georgian clothes exhibition at the Queen's Gallery?

Adult tickets for the exhibition are £17.00, while those aged 18-24 can nab them for £11.00. Tickets can be pre-booked now.

The Royal Collection is among the largest and most important art collections in the world, and one of the last great European royal collections to remain intact.

The Style & Society exhibition comes in a bumper year for London fashion exhibitions. The V&A will host a major show on Coco Chanel this autumn, while the Design Museum is looking at the contemporary sari in India. Meanwhile in Edinburgh, the ‘Little Black Dress’ will be put under the spotlight at the National Museum of Scotland.

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