The Duchess of Devonshire in her dress by Worth. The dress is now kept at Chatsworth house
I hate fancy dress I HATE HATE HATE it with a passion. I am often known to refuse to go to a party if it has a theme, yet day to day I wear vintage, which some people would probably consider as a form of fancy dress. Maybe my hatred comes from the fact that I feel some people have issues with the way I dress and that I look like a pastiche of the past? Who knows.
It is rather strange therefore that one of my key research obsessions with relation to dress and textile history is that of fancy dress. I have an alarming addiction to thr bright young people, a group which Cecil Beaton was part of. Beaton once commented that they wold not wear normal clothes for weeks on end!
And another of my obsession is the Duchess of Devonshire ball of 1897. I was doing a little bit off research on it for my dissertation so I thought I would share some of the amazing images I discovered and a little more info on it too.
All of the details for each of the images comes from an excellent V and A microsite about the Layfayette studios who took these images. Many of these went on to appear in the newspapers of the day such as picture post and Lady’s chronicle.
1897 was a significant year in this countries history, and similarites can be drawn between this year and 1897 as they were celebrating the monach, Queen Victoria’s, Diamond jubilee.
In the summer of 1897 the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire threw a ball for 700 guests at Devonshire House on Piccadilly, over 700 guest attended with the theme being “allegorical or historical costume before 1815”.
The Duchess of Devonshire herself is a pretty fascinating character, known as the “Double duchess” she was first duchess of Manchester caught in an unhappy marriage, before finally marrying Spencer Compton Cavendish (Duke of Devonshire) in the 1890s and becoming the “Double duchess”.
The costumes came from a wide variety of sources, some used original historical costumes (Alfred of Saxe Coburg reportedly borrowed a suit of armour from the famed collector of historical dress Seymour Lucas) but most were made by the famous costumiers and even couture designers of the day. A large constituent of the dresses coming from Worth in Paris and from the costumier Alias in the U.K.
This is the dress worn by Lady Paget and was supposedly the most expensive costume at the ball, reputably costing over $6,000 dollars from Worth in Paris (not entirely sure how much this translates to, but needless to say I think it was around 10X the wage of an average American for an entire year at the time…this detail might be a bit out though)
Queen Maud (centre) and the dress she wore for the Devonshire ball as the character lady in waiting to Marguerite de Valois
The Duchess of Portland as the Duchess of Savoia. Her costume is the one to the right of the image. This was exhibited for the Victoria and Albert landmark exhibition “Fashion: An anthology” by Cecil Beaton and was one of the earliest objects he acquired.
Lady Randolph Churchill ( Winston Churchill’s mother) as Empress Theodora in a costume by Worth
Princess Daisy of Pless as the Queen of Sheba. The cloth alone for this dress reportedly cost over £400 at the time
Mrs Claud Cole-Hamilton as Amy Robsart
Marquise d’Hautpoul de Seyre, as Elsa in Wagner’s Lohengrin. The costume Julia wore to the Ball is an exact copy of the bride’s costume worn in by the Belgian soprano, Rose Caron, as Elsa in Wagner’s 1848 opera Lohengrin
Probably my personal favourite Viscountess Curzon as Queen Marie Leczinska
There are plenty of wonderful websites with many more images out there that i urge you to go and have a look at, i have only selected a few favourites!