Great Georgians! Bath’s anniversary celebrations begin.

I have been lucky to have a preview of a fantastic new exhibition at Bath’s Fashion Museum – http://www.museumofcostume.co.uk/default.aspx – which you will find in the basement of the Assembly Rooms near The Circus.

Man’s coat, brown wool broadcloth, with hand-worked embroidery in silver metal thread, about 1720 Woman’s open robe and petticoat, yellow woven brocaded silk, 1750s
Man’s coat, brown wool broadcloth, with hand-worked embroidery in silver metal thread, about 1720
Woman’s open robe and petticoat, yellow woven brocaded silk, 1750s

This year the city will be exploring its Georgian connections in many different ways to mark the tercentenary of the establishment of the House of Hanover.  It all began when George the First came to the throne in 1714. The exhibition is called Georgians: Dress for Polite Society.

Woman’s gown, yellow woven silk damask, 1740s Man’s waistcoat, blue woven silk damask, 1730s Woman’s gown, red woven silk damask, around 1750
Woman’s gown, yellow woven silk damask, 1740s
Man’s waistcoat, blue woven silk damask, 1730s
Woman’s gown, red woven silk damask, around 1750

Rosemary Harden and her team have ensured their world-famous museum sets the ‘Ball’ rolling – quite literally – with an amazing display of costumes worn by real Georgians more than two hundred years ago.

A splendid array of over 30 outfits dating back to the 18th century is now on show in an exhibition which also celebrates the museum’s situation in the Georgian Assembly Rooms in Bath. The new show presents a selection of the finest fashions worn by those attending assemblies, and other glittering occasions of 18th century life

The Georgians exhibition, which runs right through the year, includes over 30 original 18th century outfits and ensembles from the museum’s world-class collection, including gowns made of colourful and richly patterned woven silks, as well as embroidered coats and waistcoats worn by Georgian gentlemen of fashion.

A highlight of the show is a trio of original wide-skirted Court dresses (held out by cane supports known as panniers, from the French word for baskets) dating from the 1760s – the early years of the reign of King George III – taken from the museum’s own exceptional collection of items from this period.

Georgian inspired gown, designed by Vivienne Westwood, Les Femmes collection, Spring/Summer 1996 Corset and ‘bustle belt’ ensembles, designed by Anna Sui, Spring / Summer 2000.
Georgian inspired gown, designed by Vivienne Westwood, Les Femmes collection, Spring/Summer 1996
Corset and ‘bustle belt’ ensembles, designed by Anna Sui, Spring / Summer 2000.

The grand finale of Georgians exhibition includes modern fashions inspired by 18th century dress, by five top contemporary fashion designers: Anna Sui, Meadham Kirchhoff, Vivienne Westwood, Stephen Jones, and Alexander McQueen. All are influenced by the 18th century aesthetic, and all (in different ways) show how the elegance and grace of Georgian dress continues to inspire fashion today.

Councillor Ben Stevens (Lib-Dem, Widcombe), Cabinet Member for Sustainable Development, said: “Given Bath’s proud history of Georgian architecture, Bath & North East Somerset Council is pleased to present this imaginative look back at the 18th century through original costumes of the period. There could be no finer setting for this exquisite exhibition than the Assembly Rooms, and we’re immensely grateful to the contemporary designers who have worked with the Fashion Museum to champion the longevity of the Georgian appeal.”

Fashion doll’s mantua, yellow and silver woven brocaded silk, 1760s Woman’s court mantua, green-brown woven brocaded silk, possibly worn by Elizabeth Linley at the court of George III, 1760s
Fashion doll’s mantua, yellow and silver woven brocaded silk, 1760s
Woman’s court mantua, green-brown woven brocaded silk, possibly worn by Elizabeth Linley at the court of George III, 1760s

The Fashion Museum’s location in the Assembly Rooms could hardly be more appropriate. Upon completion, the Assembly Rooms were described as “The most noble and fine of any in the kingdom”.  As Bath grew in popularity in the 18th century, there was a need for a grand Assembly Room in the fashionable upper town, and in 1771 the New Rooms, designed by John Wood the Younger and financed by public subscription, opened to the public.

An assembly was defined at the time as “a stated and general meeting of the polite persons of both sexes for the sake of conversation, gallantry, news and play”. Today, the New Rooms are known as the Assembly Rooms and are the location of the world-famous Fashion Museum.

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The new display is being exhibited in a chronological order with various costume groups linked to the four kings who ruled through this one hundred years of dress history.

The collection has a real wow factor with lots of explanatory information available.

The lighting levels are subdued – but that’s to protect the 18th century fabrics –  but it all adds atmosphere and impact to the displays. The original colours and condition of these outfits – many of richly embroidered silk – is really amazing.

Here’s Rosemary to tell us more.

The Fashion Museum is open daily from 10.30am to 4pm (exit 5pm). For more information visitwww.fashionmuseum.co.uk or call 01225 477789.

Residents are reminded that as both the Fashion Museum and Roman Baths are managed by Bath & North East Somerset Council; entry is free all year round to local residents on production of a Discovery Card. To find out more visit www.bathnes.gov.uk/discoverycard, email discoverycard@bathnes.gov.uk or call 01225 477785.