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Style & Society: Dressing the Georgians opens at The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace

Release date: Friday 21 April 2023

Princess Charlotte's Wedding Dress. Front and back with train (RCIN 71997)©

The wedding dress of George IV’s daughter Princess Charlotte of Wales, on display for the first time in over a decade, is among more than 200 works from the Royal Collection that are now on show at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace in the new exhibition Style & Society: Dressing the Georgians.

The exhibition explores what fashion can tell us about life in Georgian Britain, a period rocked by social, political and technological revolutions. Alongside paintings, prints and drawings by artists such as Gainsborough, Zoffany and Hogarth are rare surviving examples of clothing, jewellery and accessories. Together, they provide a fascinating insight into what was worn across all levels of society, from the practical dress of laundry maids to the glittering gowns at court.

Princess Charlotte was George IV’s only legitimate child, but died in childbirth at the age of 21 in 1817. Her marriage to Prince Leopold a year earlier was considered one of the most important royal weddings of the era. Her silk embroidered bridal gown is the only royal wedding dress that survives from the Georgian period, though it appears to have been significantly altered from its original form, in keeping with the Georgian practice of repurposing and recycling clothing. The Princess followed the tradition for European royal brides to wear silver, despite white wedding dresses becoming popular by the end of the 18th century.


Allan Ramsay, Queen Charlotte, c.1760–1.©

Princess Charlotte’s mother, Caroline of Brunswick, also wore silver for her wedding to the future George IV in 1795. On display for the first time is a portrait of the wedding ceremony by John Graham, displayed alongside the original silver and gold dress samples supplied for the bride and other royal guests, on loan from Historic Royal Palaces. While the royal couple and their congregation made a glittering spectacle, their highly embellished clothing and wide skirts would have been noticeably outdated in fashionable circles, reflecting the increasing association of the court with old-fashioned styles of dress rather than cutting-edge trends.

At the heart of the exhibition is a full-length portrait by Thomas Gainsborough, c.1781, depicting Queen Charlotte wearing a magnificent court gown. It is shown alongside a beautifully preserved gown of a similar style, worn at Queen Charlotte’s court in the 1760s, on loan from the Fashion Museum Bath. Portraits throughout the exhibition demonstrate how artists rendered magnificent gowns such as these in paint in exquisite detail, from the metallic woven silk in Antoine Pesne’s Duchess of Saxe-Wessenfels, to the bows and fine lace of Francis Cotes’ Princess Louisa and Princess Caroline.

Allan Ramsay’s life-size coronation portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte demonstrate how ceremonial clothing was carefully chosen to emphasise themes of continuity, tradition and spectacle. Queen Charlotte wears a gown heavily embroidered with gold thread, and a stomacher panel covered with diamonds. This stomacher, which no longer survives, was valued by a contemporary spectator at £60,000 – the equivalent of almost £10 million today.

Necklace made from George III’s dress-coat buttons, 1818.©

Georgian jewellery was often highly personal and sentimental. Items on display include diamond rings given to Queen Charlotte on her wedding day and a bracelet with nine lockets, six containing locks of hair and one with a miniature of the left eye of Princess Charlotte of Wales. As with textiles, jewellery was often repurposed; a striking necklace was made from pearl-adorned dress-coat buttons that had belonged to George III. Other accessories that may be less familiar include jewel-encrusted snuffboxes and chatelaines, which were attached to the waist and used to carry items from pocket watches to perfume bottles.

The exhibition also explores the hair, cosmetics and grooming tools used by Georgian men and women to achieve their elaborate styles, as well as 18th-century developments in eyewear and dentistry. On show for the first time is a silver-gilt travelling toilet service, acquired by the future George IV as a gift for his Private Secretary at a cost of £300, the equivalent of more than £20,000 today. The toilet service gives a remarkable insight into a Georgian gentleman’s grooming routine, containing more than 100 objects including razors, combs, ear spoons and tongue scrapers – as well as tools for cleaning guns and making hot chocolate.

Style & Society: Dressing the Georgians
Discover Georgian fashion and style, from the practical dress of laundry maids to the glittering gowns worn at court.

The income from your ticket contributes directly to The Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity. The aims of The Royal Collection Trust are the care and conservation of the Royal Collection, and the promotion of access and enjoyment through exhibitions, publications, loans and educational activities.