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The Devonshire House ball was the highlight of the London season of 1897, which focused on celebrations for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The ball was remarkably well publicised and documented as many of the royal and aristocratic guests were photographed in their lavish costumes for a privately published album. The event has come to represent the pinnacle of the extravagant aristocratic pastime of fancy dress balls and it exhibited the extraordinary confidence of the aristocracy and the British Empire at the time, providing a contrast with decline and social changes of the 20th century, symbolised by the demolition of Devonshire House in 1924.
The costumes required for fashionable fancy dress balls in the 19th century were a significant source of business for women's dressmakers, while men seemed to hire their costumes from costumiers such as Nathan's. This example, worn by the Hon. Francis Gathorne-Hardy, is a rare survival, as costumes were naturally re-used and adapted. Fancy dress balls were an opportunity for men to wear flamboyant clothes inspired by the past, contrasting with the sober tailoring worn for everyday dress in the nineteenth century.
The costumes have remained in the same family since they were made. The Hon. Francis Gathorne-Hardy married Lady Isobel Stanley in 1898. He had a long and highly decorated military career, serving in the Boer War and the First World War. When he left the army his full title was General Sir John Francis Gathorne-Hardy GCB, GCVO, CMG, DSO. Lady Isobel Stanley was the daughter of the Earl of Derby, Lord Stanley of Preston, who was Governor-General of Canada. She was one of the first female ice hockey players and helped to establish Canada’s Stanley Cup.
A pair of cream coloured silk stockings.
Length: 70 cm length, upper edge to bottom of heel
A pair of cream coloured silk stockings, part of a fancy dress costume worn for the Devonshire House ball, 1897, by the Hon. Francis Gathorne-Hardy, later General Sir Francis Gathorne-Hardy
Textiles and Fashion Collection