Every generation loves dressing up in the outfits they imagine their
ancestors wore decades, or even centuries, before the age we live in now. Then of course there are those who prefer to dress in fantasy costumes of unknown times such as, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings or other Sci-fi designs.
Re-enactment is big business in many countries. Fancy Dress is even
bigger. In some part of the world, in any week, there is probably
an important festival day occurring and this always gives rise to a need
for appropriate costumes.
Amazingly, the costumes that people always envision themselves wearing are
always exotic and lavish. Generally these costumes are similar to those
once worn by the aristocratic, the rich, the famous, the magical or the
In reality, if we were transported more than 100 years back in time, most of us would probably
have worked 'below stairs', in some dark dirty mill, or more recently in
Yet in real life when dressing up, we prefer
to be the princess, the duchess, the cavalier or pop star, rather than the chambermaid, blacksmith, factory worker, land girl or street busker.
The belle of the ball
invariably wants to be Marie Antoinette, Cinderella (in full ball dress
rather than kitchen tatters), or Marilyn Monroe. The hero wants to
be heroic in the eyes of the onlooker so Elvis Presley, Tarzan,
Superman, Henry VIII, Mark Anthony or 007 all live again. Elvis
It's as if the wearer hopes to achieve glamour by imitation and
indeed they may well do so. For if 'manners maketh the man', so then
clothes 'as costly as thy purse can afford', make the wearer. Ask
any actor what helps them take on the character of a role and he, or she
will tell you the clothes do half the work as posture and persona become
Disguise by clothing helps us to more easily become another
character. For this reason masked balls have been popular for centuries.
Royalty appears to have
embraced masked balls too, as it enables the masked person to be off
guard. Royalty has also enjoyed dressing up as characters from
earlier royal courts. The more lavish and recognisable the dress
of a character, the more popular the costume choice.
Regular readers of my website will know that I collect fashion plates. I
never pay a great deal for them, but collect carefully just for my own
amusement. Often when I have scanned and finished with a plate for site purposes I
pass it on to a relative or friend.
Recently for £18 I purchased an incomplete book of costume designs
for fancy dress set in the Georgian era. I bought them because
they looked suitable to put on this website. The sketches are by Onwhyn.
On further research, imagine my surprise to discover that a COMPLETE
of this c1830-1845 book sells for prices between £700 and £1000 in rare bookshops.
The book in question is an exceptionally slim book called Costumes of the
Reign of Geo. II Adapted for Her
Majesty's State Ball by J. & J ONWHYN.
George II reigned from 1727-60, thus I presume this was an early case of re-enactment. While the theme was 'Costumes of the time of George II', the ball was for Queen Victoria who was of course only in
her twenties in the 1840s.
According to rare book shop websites, the book normally has 11 hand-coloured
lithograph plates. These 11 plates are loose in a cover of red cloth
stamped with gilt.
My book was a little bit different, and at some point in its life had been
spilt. The pages in my book were all loose,
and the contents had been changed a little.
Within the red gilded cover I found:-
a cut off title sheet (shown left): five loose Georgian
costume sketches, which appear to be hand coloured/painted; one long etching I
believe to be a rare Tho. McLean reproduction 1830s copy of an 1827
satirical 'Monstrosities' George Cruickshank hat cartoon; two Heloise Leloir original numbered fashion plates; three more plates from the Victorian crinoline era. A good
Below - This Onwhyn costume is based on Georgian Lady
I really like the gold gown and red robe below; also the woman in this costume plate has such a beautiful face. The red
robe probably had a
at the back. Importantly, the painter has ensured that all the
hairstyles match the costume era. Notice how the hair of Lady Fortescue is much closer to the scalp and in keeping with the earlier
This Onwhyn costume based on Georgian Princess Ann, is
highlighted with gold paint. What beautiful pattern detail in the
skirt. The lushness of the velvet train edged in ermine is quite
obvious. Clearly when royals dress in fancy dress no expense was
This regal gown below, taken from the Onwhyn costume book, is
based on Princess Augusta. Again gold paint has been used to touch
highlight the trims. See how tiny that basque encased waist looks, so
minute and narrow giving the dress an Elizabethan feel, but for the
I hope you enjoy looking at these fancy dress costume
plates set in the era of George II as much as I like seeing them.
Fashion-Era.com looks at women's costume and fashion history and analyses the mood of an era. Changes in technology, leisure, work, cultural and moral values. Homelife and politics also
contribute to lifestyle trends, which in turn influence the clothes we wear. These are the changes that make any era of society special in relation to the study of the costume of a period.
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