Georgian culture and fashion at Berrington
The arrival of the eighteenth-century court mantua at Berrington allowed us to focus on the story of the women at Berrington, notably Ann Bangham. We have done this in the exhibition, ‘A Dress Fit for a King’.
The eighteenth century saw a rise in eccentricity and a shift in fashion. Women’s hair was becoming increasingly exaggerated, with items such as fruit being placed within it for decoration, and eye-catchers in the gardens were becoming increasingly common.
Amongst these changes there was a rise in the size of skirts. In A History of Fashion it is noted that ‘by the 1750s skirts were reaching absurd widths’. Heavy in weight and practically difficult to wear, these gowns were a show of wealth and taste. A History of Fashion goes on to note that one satirical print in the 1760s shows a coach with a removable roof and a frame fitted with pulleys by which ladies could be lowered into the coach from above, without disarranging their gowns. Examples such as this indicate that the Georgians fashion and styles were not based on comfort, but rather show.
The dress that is the main feature of ‘A Dress Fit for a King’ is an original eighteenth-century court mantua. This piece would also have been created with this fashion of having a wide girth in mind. The team at Berrington believe that the dress dates from the 1760s. Although considered stylish daywear in the earlier eighteenth-century, the mantua became old-fashioned quickly and was soon only worn at court. For this reason, it is believed that Ann Bangham would have worn this particular dress at court.
Another element of the Georgian fashion which needs to be considered is the design of the bodices. Throughout the century they continued to be designed in the slim, long waisted style. These bodices would be created with materials such as whalebone.
In relation to Ann Bangham’s dress, expensive stays were manufactured in bright colours or covered with embroidered silk. Ann Bangham’s court mantua’s stay is made of silk and it is delicately embroidered with a floral pattern with gold thread all over it. This indicates that the dress was a statement of wealth and taste.
The court mantua is currently being conserved to restore it to its original state. This is only possible with the support of each of our visitors. By coming to Berrington and enjoying your time here, you are helping us to preserve and protect Berrington’s past. You'll be able to see the dress on display, and being kept in the correct conditions. As well as this, on selected days, conservators are coming to continue their repairs on the dress. You will be able to watch them at work so that you can see how your visit is helping us to peserve this dress for years to come.
Now that you know a little about some of the fashion and Georgian styles that lie behind the history of the dress, why not come and see it for yourself?