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Chapter One – Crown and Court

Crown and Court

Chapter One.

The idea of the Hanoverian Georgians being less fussed by fashion than other courts is not a new one, many social historians attribute the re-focusing of the English eye onto French fashions as a result of these plainer-tasting rulars. We get used to this idea being the main description of court fashions. However, this book doesn’t focus on this nor use it as the basis for how it looks at the 18th century. Instead A.Buck just simply lays out the traditions and the attitudes towards costume that Crown and Court worked within and the actual individual type of garments needed for court wear- it’s fascinating.  From the very first sentance A.Buck delves straight into clarifying the role of fashion in the Ruling families, the different levels of dress this class were required to wear and explains the high court fashion of the ‘Stiff Bodied Gown’. We’ve used a lot of what she has said to help create our own ‘Stiff Bodied Gown‘ page as it so advanced our own understanding.

On page 14, A.Buck uses, what was for us, an exciting quote. Taken from 1761 and from ‘The Diaries of a Duchess’ by Ed.J.Greig, the Duchess of Northumberland uses the word ‘Stays’ to describe the bodice part of these stiff- bodied gowns. This is just fantastic. Listen to what she writes:
‘Stiffen-bodied gowns of white silk, the Stays and Sleeves embroidered and their petticoats trimmed with silver…’
We are immensely pleased about this, for a starters it confirms what many historians say, that the Stays weren’t like our modern day bra – in the sense of them being unviewable and definite underwear but were in fact considered a part of the dress. The idea is that the Stays blended into more of an underwear item simply as the style of dress changed and it became necessary to have it as a seperate item of clothing rather than remaining as the bodice. This was the wearing of the Soft bodied gown.

On page 18, A.Buck’s discussion of fashion at court then develops into a wonderful explanation of the importance of fabric as the fashionable feature of the dress and how the fabric fashions developed through the century. She states that: ‘During the first half of the century fashion was expressed in court dress mainly through change in it’s fabrics, the silks which spread in full display over the hoops. With new designs year by year, their patterns changed from the large, densely textured patterns of the first decades to the more flowing patterns of the 1740s and 1750’s which the eighteenth century term ‘flowered silks’ describes perfectly…..From the 1750s the changing character of fashionable dress, expressed in the lighter textures and patterns of its silks and a growing elaboration of accesories and trimming was visible in court dress.’ We’d probably add, or rather clarify, that part of that changing character of the fabric for the first half of the 18th century was not just the fabric but also the embroidery, it’s design, grandness and complexity.

This kind of book we call a ‘List’ book rather than a ‘Point’ book. Some writings are using their research to prove a point of what they’ve discovered – all very much needed and important, but this kind of book, along with the Cunnington’s Handbook of English Costume and a lot of Iris Brooke’s work are similar to Buck’s book – a sheer, page after page, listing of what people wore. She lists how at one Court party the bling was overwhelming, to another where people commented on how dull it looked. Each statement is levelled with a quote supporting it, which makes it not just an interesting read but one that instantly increases your background understanding.

Though there’s lots in here that one might fascinating, we’ve listed only a few of the interesting facts that we found completely awesome:
– On Page.15 Buck mentions a quote about a cheap way of having embroidery done on your dress, and I quote: “Mrs Montagu was having such a gown made ‘at a cheap rate’, that is the embroideress was doing it at her own pace.”
– Page.16 follows it with a wonderful little comment in a letter about a court function where “I heard there, many people had gone to court, on the Queen’s Birthday, in clothes they had the year before and that it was the Worse Ball that had ever been remembered.” (Bang goes our understanding that the super rich had to wear new all the time – this was for the Queen’s birthday not just a normal court event.)
– She mentions that the pattern of fabric in the years 1740’s – 1750’s were ‘more flowing’ and ‘flowered silks’.(p.18)
– That there was a lace-like design fashionable in the 1720’s. (p.18)
– We’ve already quoted how ‘from the 1750’s’ the fabrics became lighter and that the use of trimming was growing – this is the furbelows that suddenly burst out on every dress. But she also uses a quote from Lady Anson again, 1753 asking “if your ladyship would have your sleeves with ruffles which is the fashion, would you trim them up with a Gold Blonde…(this is such a good quote) But upon the modern scheme the Ruffles and Robings must be trimmed I think…”
-Sophie von La Roche, on page 19, describes helping the countess Reventlow dress for Court as “I offered my hand to the countess for her to step into her hoop, to which the skirt was already fixed (italics ours)…” This quote has been logged, wow it’s been logged!
– Buck mentions that the hoops for this year (1786) were just as large as Paris ‘but the train, which at Versailles trailed as a mark of respect, ‘is here held up for the same reason’. So looping up the train was a mark of respect for the royals – and a bit of a palava by the previous quote to this on the page.
– She talks about ‘Suits of Lace’ which we’ve only ever read the Cunnington’s talk about and shows some of the prices paid (p.19). Within this list she also uses a quote from the wonderful Mrs Delaney in 1743 where she mentions the seperate items that make up a ‘suit of lace’ “a very fine head, ruffles and tucker.”
– She clarifies that fact that the ‘small cap with long lappets (For example Bernard Len’s 1726) was the fashionable head dress of the early years of the century. This remained as court wear(!), in fine lace, the lappets pinned and looped up to the crown” (Italics ours). That gives us a good understanding as to when these type of headwear fell out of main fashion.
– The general understanding is that it’s only a modern take on colours that makes pink for girls and blue for boys and that pink was considered passionate for boys whilst pale blue was demure for girls. Apparently this was a steadfast way of viewing these colours right up to the 1930’s and we’re not trying to dispute this idea – we too had it as our background of understanding, which is why this quote jumped out at us all the more strongly. “Lord Essex has a silver tissue coat, and pink color lutestring waistcoat, and several had pink colour and pale padusoy coats which looks prodigiously effeminate.” (p.20). Hmmmm….why is it every time we read it seems to bring in another question mark?
– On page 21 she uses a quote describing the king and it includes the word ‘Fly’ which seemed out of place somehow. We were intruiged so we thought we’d look through her glossary at the word ‘Fly’ and she states how, for a male, it was used for a ‘Frock’ coat. Interesting.
– 1769 – Aprons were allowed to be worn in royal presence – p.22 – “Ly Charlotte told me that the Queen wears an english Night Gown and a white apron and had ordered her to do the same: tis a dress his majesty likes: formally Nobody could appear before the royal family with a white apron.”

Buck also mentions the ‘Mantua of Court Dress’. We’ve yet to study a mantua (a proper mantua) in a museum, although we’ve oggled at a distance a couple in the V&A collection, but from the moment where we started delving into the mysteries of 18th century clothing, this item of dress was one of the first things to confuse us. From what we’ve read, seen and studied the official ‘Mantua’ our understanding was that it wad an individual and particular gown that looked like a looser (not stupidly loose) version of the Anglais in the sense of it’s back folded down pleats and robings but that had a more specific train detail. A.Bucks words here on page.17 describe it as we’d begun to understand it: ‘the draped skirt of the mantua was folded back and secured as a rectangle train with the wide petticoat now fully exposed.’ It’s nice to read it here treated as a seperate item and so clearly described – we often wonder if we mis-understood it.  Many seem to use the word ‘mantua’ almost like the word ‘gown’ or ‘dress’, ie as an interchangeable term for the basic dress garment which clashed with what we thought we were understanding about it being a particular type of dress.

She also uses letters to describe the shopping experience – this was so exciting for us as we simply just couldn’t imagine it. Far too much of our own modern ideas got in the way and it was like walking in the dark – but letters; letters we can read and build a picture of what they describe and it’s wow, fascinating. On p.18 she uses a quote from Lady Anson looking for silks and how she “turned over all Carr’s and Swann’s shops two or three times” to find a silk for a birthday. Have we not all done that, hovered, unwilling to leave, re-going over the stacks of fabric on the shelves, convinced that what we want is going to be in here somewhere! There’s more on the shopping side of fashion in Chapter 6 – well worth a read.