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Dressing Fancy at Bath Assembly Rooms

A group of illustrations depicting a range of fancy dress from Georgian time to today
Illustration of people dressed fancy | © Hardeep S Dhindsa

Find out about the history of fancy dress in the Georgian period and the role Bath Assembly Rooms played in hosting fancy dress balls. Discover what it would have been like to attend a ball as a series of events explore this theme.

Join us at Bath Assembly Rooms as we explore Georgian (late 18th and early 19th century) fancy dress, discuss what fancy dress means to us today, and experience a Georgian inspired fancy ball.

The Dressing Fancy programme includes a free pop-up exhibition, a series of in-person and online talks and a grand Fancy Ball.

This programme of events is part of a larger research project between Bath Assembly Rooms and Dr Meg Kobza, Newcastle University.

Working together we've been researching the history of fancy dress in the Georgian period, and understanding the role the Assembly Rooms played in hosting fancy dress balls. Whilst uncovering what it was like to attend them.

The Fancy Ball

Sat 15 Jun, 6.30 - 11.30pm

We invite you to a grand Fancy Ball at Bath Assembly Rooms. Don your fanciest outfit, bring your friends and have a fun evening of two halves.

Have a go at dancing and playing cards like the Georgians, embellish your outfit at the accessories wardrobe or try make-up styles from the time. Guests will be able to take some time out from the ball to explore the pop-up exhibition, and grab refreshments from the bar.

Later, hit the dance floor for a more modern form of assembly, soundtracked by a local DJ.

Whilst the Fancy Ball is inspired by Georgian fancy dress balls, there is no requirement for guests to dress in Georgian costume – although this is welcomed.

Guests are asked to rummage in their wardrobes and find their fanciest outfit to wear, and if they wish, to embellish it with a themed twist.

Perhaps you might like to turn that silver sequined dress into a moon and stars outfit with a homemade headdress, or jazz up those chinos with a stylish jacket and DIY decorated hat.

The Georgians knew how to make the most of what was in their wardrobe, making it fancy with ribbons, trimmings, buttons, feathers, beads and decorations – so please feel free to do the same.

Here's a selection of illustrations showing how people might have dressed fancy in the Georgian period and today. We hope it helps form some ideas on how you might embellish your own fancy outfit.

An illustration of a Georgian baroness
An illustration depicting the dress of a baroness | © Hardeep S Dhindsa

The Baroness

Dressed in a full skirted elaborate dress, with a necklace and feathered headdress.

1 of 4

To help you find some inspiration here are some themes that the Georgians used to inspire their costumes:

  • Nature: flowers, plants, the seasons, animals
  • Celestial Bodies: the sun, moon and stars
  • Mythical creatures: fairies, dragons, mermaids
  • Historic dress: Tudor, Medieval, Classical

For more dress and costume inspiration follow us @ntbathassemblyrooms and Dr Meg Kobza at @fancyhistory on Instagram and X.

Play like a Georgian

Sat 15 Jun, 1.30 - 4pm

Want to learn some Georgian dance steps before the Fancy Ball? Or want to brush up on your card skills?

Join us on Saturday afternoon for an exclusive dance lesson and Georgian card games session with specialist instructors. Hillary Burlock and James Harriman-Smith will teach you some key dance steps to keep you on your toes during the ball.

You'll also learn some of the Georgian’s favourite card games making sure you're ready to attend the Fancy Ball. Limited tickets are available and they include admittance to this session (Play Like a Georgian) and the Fancy Ball.

Dressing Fancy: an exhibition on Georgian fancy dress then and now

Fri 14 Jun - Sun 30 Jun, 11am - 4pm

Explore the histories of Georgian fancy dress and the legacies of it today in this free pop-up exhibition. It includes historic costume, recreated historical dress, and multi-sensory elements.

Try your hand at dressing up yourself with the dress-up box, and share your opinions with us on what fancy dress means to you.

This pop-up exhibition is created in collaboration with historical dress makers, experts and community partners, to explore how and why the Georgian’s dressed up.

The exhibition delves into questions such as what was it like to choose, make and buy fancy dress? Where did Georgians get their fancy dress inspiration from?

Who attended the fancy balls and how did costume allow them to challenge or conform to societal norms? And where does fancy dress sit in conversations around appropriation and appreciation?

Dressing Fancy: a series of talks about the programme

Fri 14 Jun - Sun 30 Jun, dates and times vary

Join us for a series of talks, online and in-person, which brings together experts in the fields of Georgian dress making and recreation, global textile trade, fancy dress, dance, gambling and gaming, and ball culture.

Talks will run throughout the pop-up exhibition in June, more details will be added as talk dates are confirmed. Here's a list of current confirmed talks.

Ticket information

Each event listing details ticket and pricing information. Due to the generous funding received for this project ticket prices have been kept as low as possible. Some events offer a concession ticket which is designed for those who for whatever reason can't afford the standard event ticket.

If the cost of these tickets would prevent you from being able to attend, please email: letting us know which event you would like to attend and we will see if we can accommodate your request.

Three chandeliers with bulbs shining brightly in the Ball Room.
Chandeliers hanging in the Ball Room at Bath Assembly Rooms | © National Trust Images/James Beck

The research project

The Dressing Fancy programme is a joint research project between Bath Assembly Rooms and Dr Meg Kobza, Newcastle University. We have been working together to research through traditional academic and archive methods the history of fancy dress in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Alongside this, we have been exploring the legacies of Georgian fancy dress, and thinking about how we dress up today and the perception of fancy dress in today’s society.

Furthermore, we have been considering what is the sensory and bodily experience of wearing fancy dress, both Georgian and modern, and what might it have been like to attend a Georgian fancy ball (or in our case a Georgian-inspired modern fancy ball) at Bath Assembly Rooms: what did it sound like? What did it smell like? What activities did you do? Was your costume heavy and tiring to wear? Was it hot and itchy?

Whilst we might not be able to find out all the answers, we are seeking to find out as much as we can by researching through public engagement and activity. As part of the Fancy Ball we will be working with a small focus group of people to understand their experience of the ball.

We will be speaking to them about what they saw, smelt, heard, did and felt during the ball, as well as discussing with them what they thought and felt in the lead up to the ball and afterwards. This will help us get a better picture of the sensory and emotional experience of a fancy ball.

“I am delighted to work with the National Trust at Bath Assembly Rooms to bring the Georgian fancy dress experience to life for modern heritage audiences. Our co-creation of a fancy dress ball within this historic space will engage general and academic audiences through experiential learning and encourage reflection on making and wearing fancy dress. The significance of fancy dress has been overlooked due to its associations with play and ephemerality but this event will provide an important opportunity to engage heritage audiences in conversations about the legacy of fancy dress, its relationship with cultural appropriation, and its place within leisure culture in the past, present, and future.”

A quote by Dr Meg KobzaNewcastle University Leverhulme Early Career Fellow

The research project and the programme of events have been made possible by kind funders.

  • The British Academy's SHAPE Involve and Engage Award
  • The Society of Antiquarian's Janet Arnold Award

We would like to thank them for their support.

This research project is being undertaken as part of the development of a new visitor offer at the Bath Assembly Rooms, which will bring the Rooms to life during their Georgian heyday. Find out more about the future plans on the project page.

Our partners

Newcastle University

Newcastle University is a founding member of the Russell Group of Research intensive universities, and a Global Top 110 university.

Visit website 

Visitors in period costume look over the balcony in the Ball Room at the Jane Austen festival at Bath Assembly Rooms, Bath

Take a look at the events page 

All events related to the Dressing Fancy programme, along with other events happening at Bath Assembly Rooms can be viewed on the events page.