Georgian Dress

Fiona O’Beirne

 Image: pale blue silk floral dress on figure

The visual object that I chose is a dress from the 1760s during the reign of England’s King George III.  (Figure 1)  Worn underneath this type of dress is a hoop petticoat.  (Figure 2)  A dress with an expanded hoop from the 1780s is also shown. (Figure 3)  The article by Kimberly Chrisman entitled “Unhoop the Fair Sex: The Campaign Against the Hoop Petticoat in Eighteenth Century England” discusses how the hoop remained in fashion for over a hundred years even though it was uncomfortable to wear and was not considered attractive by many (1).  One gentleman, using only the initials, A. W., in 1745 expresses his views of the petticoat and laments its longstanding popularity after its first appearing in England in 1709: “Tho’ I was then young, I well remember Every Body thought this New Fashion would be out in a Twelve-month at fartheft…But We all found ourfelves miftaken: the Hoop ftood its ground; and has continued to this very Day”(6).  A. W. further complains that the growing circumference of the hoop had reached the point of becoming a “perfect publick Nuifance” and that seeing them “is enough to turn one’s Stomach”(7).  In response to A.W. and in defense of the women who wear hoops, Jack Lovelass scolds him as follows “What the dear Creatures, the fweet Females, you fo wantonly defcribe and whom you like fo daintily well, become a perfect publick Nufance?…for fhame, Sir, retract, or never, perfume to own the Power of Beauty” (8).

            As the hoop expanded over the years, it became increasingly derided by many.  As A. W. argues, the hoops have become “extremely inconvenient…painful to thofe who wear them,” as well as causing “Many Hundreds” of deaths (9).  A. W. and Lawless are good examples of the strong feelings that hoops generated.  Nevertheless, despite the ridicule and derision the hoop remained in fashion for over a century.

            Initially, hoops were made from whalebone, which was purchased from the Dutch who operated the whaling industry, but was later substituted with cane because it was cheaper (Chrisman 3).  One can appreciate that in the increasing industrialized society it was more practical and less costly to manufacture hoops than import them.  Chrisman points out that over the course of the eighteenth century women acquired more finances so they were able to show this off by the clothes they wore (9).  Indeed, Chrisman contends that “clothing was the first mass commodity to cross both class and gender barriers” (9).  discusses how fashions are different the farther away one gets from London   wearing such an elaborate style was a way for aristocracy to demonstrate their wealth and elevate themselves above the lower class, the fashion eventually spread to the lower classes as elite women handed down their old castoffs to their servants (9).  An article in The Spectator that appeared when hoops were in fashion discusses how the farther away one traveled from London the more reasonable the people were dressed: “As I proceeded in my journey I obferved the Petticoat grew fcantier and fcantier…that a Woman might walk in it without any manner of Inconvenience” (251).  In his view, the dress of lower class country folk, although unfashionable, looked better and was more sensible than what the aristocrats in the city of London were wearing.

            As for the hoop’s popularity and longevity, various reasons are discussed by Chrisman.  According to her, the hoop was popular with women because it gave them autonomy by “protecting, controlling, and ultimately, liberating female sexuality” (1).  This implies that the sheer size of the hoop would keep men at bay by creating a barrier to prevent them from advancing.  As for liberating a woman’s sexuality, Chrisman contends that the hoop’s flexibility and light weight allowed it to be upset by the wind or a quick movement, thereby exposing the legs (4).  Presumably, a woman could tilt the hoop purposely to show off her some of her assets if she so desired.

            Another theory about the hoop is that Queen Charlotte wanted to keep the hoop in style for economic reasons because the hoop used more fabric and employed more people  because of the hours and labor it required, thus the hoops continued to be worn “past their vogue”(Chrisman 4).  According to Chrisman, upon Queen Charlotte’s death, her son and heir George IV, who was “fashion conscious,” announced at his first Drawing Room appearance that “His Majesty is graciously pleased to dispense with Ladies wearing Hoops,” whereupon hoops were discarded for French fashions that were in vogue (5).

            Whether one gives credence to Chrisman’s female sexual autonomy explanation, women’s increasing access to funds, increasing consumerism brought about by industrialization, or the dictates of royalty, it is evident that whether it was one or all of these reasons, the hoop played an important part in the fashion history of eighteenth century England.

Side hoopSide Hoop

Expanded Hoop Dress

Works Cited

Chrisman, Kimberly. “Unhoop the Fair Sex: The Campaign Against the Hoop Petticoat in Eighteenth-Century England.” The American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies30.1 (1966) 5-33. Web. 1 Feb. 2013.

Lovelass, Jack. “The Hoop-Petticoat Vindicated, In Answer To The EnormousAbomination of the Hoop-Petticoat.”Eighteenth Century Collections Online: 1745.PDF file.

The Spectator. Addison and Steele. No. 129, July 28. PDF file.

W., A. “The Enormous Abomination Of The Hoop-Petticoat, As The Now is, And hasbeen For about thefe Two Years.” (1745). PDF file.

Figure 1:

Georgian Dress. Bath Fashion Museum.

Figure 2:

Side Hoop. Victoria and Albert Museum. Museum Item No. T.120-1969.

Figure 3:

Expanded Hoop Dress. Bath Fashion Museum.


The Luxuriously Common Snuffbox by Kamarin Takahara

“Money, the cause of much mischief in the world, is the cause of most quarrels…the former commonly thinking, that they cannot give too little, and the latter, that they cannot have enough; both equally in the wrong.”[1] Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield wrote this in 1750 to his eighteen year old son, Philip Stanhope who was preparing to visit Paris, France. Philip Dormer Stanhope gave advice and rules on what young Philip should bring and how to behave in society. One of the items Philip Dormer Stanhope suggested his son carry a snuffbox in public. The snuffbox, along with other luxury items, was perceived as a representation of an individual’s identity and status.The type of snuff box Stanhope carried around possibly resembled the cartouche-shaped gold snuffbox with a miniature enamel cover under glass.

Snuffbox1740- Great Britain Snuffbox, Zincke (miniaturists)

Despite England and France’s economic turmoil, the wealthy sphere always maintained their sense of individuality through lavish objects. According to Neil McKendrick, “restless striving to clamber from one rank to the next, and where possessions and especially clothes, both symbolized and signaled each step in the social promotion, the economic potentialities of such social needs could… be immense.” [2] Having the ability to purchase lavish items determined your place in society. However, McKendrick argues that by the eighteenth century the barrier separating the social hierarchy became blurred. More of the population was able to enjoy the purchasing of consumer goods. Before, the wealthy were the only individuals to purchase snuffboxes, but after the consumer revolution snuffboxes became more accessible. In Neil McKendrick’s chapter, the late eighteenth century saw an increase in production which allowed different individuals from all social classes to purchase items of luxury and pleasure.

The wealthy community was becoming irrelevant in societies such as England and France. Their identity was closely linked to their personal objects. For example, Michael Kwass argues that “the wig had become big business in the eighteenth century—big enough to suggest that it was no longer an exclusive luxury article.”[3] In the illustration “Les Incoryables” two fashionably dressed men stands observing one another’s garments. The satirical image demonstrates the difficulty to differentiate a gentleman of wealth from a commoner. Since different types of fashion were becoming accessible to the public it became more difficult to determine an individual’s social status based on their appearance. The materialistic items men and women wore and carried in public gradually became insignificant.

Wig Les Incroyables

If items that were once extravagant become common they lose its value and therefore no longer helps distinguish between social classes. In order to keep the social classes and their ornate items unique, the wealthy spent additional money on their material objects. Regarding snuffboxes, the prosperous individuals who could afford it began to personalize their boxes. This particular snuffbox has two miniature enamel images of Sir Robert Furnese’s daughter’s. Along with the personalized miniature’s, the walls are chased with nymphs and dolphins among reeds, scrolls and shells. The snuffboxes also began to hold political meanings such as a painted portrait of a politician, diplomatic gift, or awarded to recognize official service. By continuing to make their snuffboxes unique and personalized, the wealthy were keeping the social hierarchy functioning. Another item the wealthy indulged in was elaborate furniture for their grand estates. For example, the “Bureau Cabinet,” was made from material rare in Great Britain and created using a technique formally practiced in France. For the upper class, the power of dress and ornate objects helped create their social identity, which they were desperately holding onto.

CabinetBureau cabinet

The snuffbox became an object of luxury regarded only for the affluent. Then snuffboxes became frequently used by individuals not part of the wealthy status. Elaborate items were an important part of society and the amount of meaning behind each object accumulated and increased a person’s worth and developed their identity. The upper class needed to improve small items like the snuffbox because if they began to lose a simple item to the masses then their social status would slowly merge into society and would begin to lose their identity.


Kwass, Michael. “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth-Century France.” American Historical Review. (2006): 631-59.

McKendrick, Neil. “The Consumer Revolution of Eighteenth-century England.” In The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-century England. London: Europa Publications Limited, 1982.

Stanhope, Philip Dormer, 4th earl of Chesterfield. “Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th earl of Chesterfield to Philip Stanhope: Thursday, 19 November 1750 — [letter].” Letter stanphOU0010211_1key001cor of Electronic Enlightenment. Ed. Robert McNamee et al. Vers. 2.4. University of Oxford. 2013. Web. 8 Mar. 2014. <;.

Bureau Cabinet. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Museum item number: W.37:1 to 37-1953.

Les Incroyables. The British Museum. Museum item number: 1861, 1012.372.

Snuffbox. The Victoria & Albert Museum. Museum item number: LOAN: GILBERT. 388-2008.

[1] Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th earl of Chesterfield, “Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th earl of Chesterfield to Philip Stanhope: Thursday, 19 November 1750 — [letter],” In Electronic Enlightenment, edited by Robert McNamee et al. University of Oxford. <;.

[2] Neil McKendrick, “The Consumer Revolution of Eighteenth-century England,” in The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England, (London: Europa Publications Limited, 1982), 20-21.

[3] Michael Kwass, “Big Hair: A Wig History of Consumption in Eighteenth Century France, “American Historical Review (2006): 637.