Fashionable Dresses in the Rooms in Weymouth 1774
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Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C, case GG, shelf 133, box B
This fashion engraving was printed for The Lady's Magazine, or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, the first woman's magazine to enjoy lasting success. Earlier publications aimed towards women, beginning with The Ladies Mercury (February 27-March 17 1693) and The Female Tatler (1709-11) tended not to have long print runs. Although there were at least five publications released between 1733 and 1770 titled The Lady's Magazine with various subtitles, the Entertaining Companion was by far the most enduring, running from 1770 to 1832.
This image shows a scene from the Assembly Rooms at Weymouth. Assembly rooms were public places found in many cities and towns where members of the higher social classes of both sexes could gather and socialise. These venues were particularly important for women, for whom socialising options were limited beyond entertaining at home. They provided a safe environment in which to meet new people and make friends. The Assembly Rooms in this engraving closed in 1785 when new assembly rooms were built elsewhere, but the original Elizabethan building, called 'The Old Rooms', still stands on Trinity Street, Weymouth.
Fashion plates often place dress for different events side by side to maximise information. In this image, four of the women are wearing smart daywear, whilst the lady in the middle is wearing a very formal gown. Its wide skirts, worn over a rectangular hoop and elaborate applied trimming would have made it appropriate for balls, or even to wear to court. A very similar dress can be seen in the Textiles and Fashion Collection, museum number T.2-1947.
Engraving showing five women in an assembly room. two in the foreground, one wearing a hat and mantle over a robe with a looped-up overskirt and apron, the other in a formal gown with wide side-hoops and a standing collar. In the background one woman stands with her back to the viewer, whilst to the left, another two are in conversation. The lady to the far right is wearing a deep calash bonnet that covers her high hairstyle. On the back wall is an oval-framed mirror with a ribbon frame hanging between two high sash windows, with draped oval windows above them.
Place of Origin
Object history note
This image places day fashions and formal dress side by side. Whilst four of the five women are wearing elegant daywear, with two in robes draped "a la polonaise" (where the overskirt of the open robe is looped up over the petticoat), the lady in the middle is wearing a very formal gown appropriate for balls and other grand occasions. Her skirt is worn over a very wide, rectangular hoop and the open robe and petticoat are elaborately trimmed with pleated trimming, rosettes, ruching and bows. The deep elbow ruffles are called engageantes, and the front of her bodice is filled in with a compere stomacher, with buttons down the front. The most interesting aspect of her dress is the high standing collar, rather like a early 17th century ruff, which stands well behind her head and frames her face and neckline. Although this feature appears in a few portraits of the period, such as "The Honourable Frances Duncombe" by Thomas Gainsborough (Frick Collection, New York), it is usually shown in a historic revivalism context. Frances Duncombe's dress also has 1630s-40s style sleeves and design motifs, creating a picturesque costume rather than a faithful rendering of current fashion, whereas this engraving shows the standing collar as part of an otherwise extremely fashionable gown. See T.2-1947, a 1770s court or wedding gown in the Textiles and Fashion Collection, for a similarly styled extant dress.
The centre lady wears no hat or cap, which indicates that she is in formal dress. The other women all wear some form of headwear, including a cap and two wide-brimmed shallow-crowned straw hats (bergère hats) which could be worn with the brim turned up in front or back, like that on the woman standing to the far left. The lady on the far right is wearing a calash, a type of hood, which had hoops in it to accommodate and protect an elaborate hairstyle without crushing it.
- Daniel Milford-Cottam, January 2012
The Lady's Magazine, Fashionable Dresses 1774. Assembly Rooms, Weymouth. Engraving
Prints; Fashion plates; Fashion; Women's clothes; Clothing; Day wear; Formal wear; Hair and hairstyles; Europeana Fashion Project
Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection