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A new exhibition which promises to be full of interest for us opens today in Brighton. Entitled Dress for Excess: Fashion in Regency England, it opens on the 200th anniversary of the passing into law of the Regency Act, which passed de facto powers of ruling Britain and its Empire from George III,who was suffering from the effects of porphyria, to his eldest son, Geroge.

The exhibition will be open for a year, and celebrates the life of George IV as Prince, Regent and King, through the fashions of the late Georgian period. It is organised by the Royal Pavilion & Museums, part of Brighton & Hove City Council, and will  provide an insight into the way these fashions from the late 18th and early 19th century have helped to influence the clothes we wear today.

The Press Release and photographs which the Museum was so kind to send to me yesterday, gives some very tempting descriptions of what is on show, and I quote from it below:

“George loved fashion and design – the more opulent and extravagant the better – and the exotic, oriental design of the Royal Pavilion, which was his seaside residence, bears testament to this.

His coronation was the most expensive in British history and his huge coronation robe is going on public display for the first time in 30 years.

The silk velvet robe, which is trimmed with ermine, measures more than five metres (16 feet) long and needed eight bearers rather than the usual six to carry it at the coronation.

(Gresham Blake, the renowned and acclaimed tailor, takes a closer look at the King George IV’s spectacular 16 foot long coronation robe which forms the centrepiece of the Dress for Excess exhibition. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photographer Jim Holden)

Alongside his coronation robe will be two costumes worn in his coronation procession.

The exhibition will include men and women’s fashions, from a tailored dandy’s costume and military uniform worn at the Battle of Waterloo to elegant high-waisted cotton muslin gowns and beautiful silk garments, highlighting style influences from the period and themes from George’s life. The costumes are displayed across a number of rooms, set against the grand backdrop of the Royal Pavilion.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photographer Jim Holden)

A new exhibition space, the Prince Regent Gallery, is dedicated to George himself. On display will be items of his clothes, including a beautifully printed banyan (an early form of indoor coat or dressing gown) from the 1770s, shown below,

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photographer Jim Holden)

and huge breeches that George wore towards the end of his life as his waistline expanded.

((L to R) Martin Pel, Curator of Fashion and Textiles at the Royal Pavilion and Museums, Cllr David Smith, Brighton & Hove City Council’s Cabinet Member for Culture, Recreation and Tourism, and designer tailor Gresham Blake in the new Prince Regent Gallery at the Royal Pavilion. They are shown with a huge pair of George IV’s breeches which were worn towards the end of his life as his waistline expanded. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photographer Jim Holden)

To complement the costumes there will be popular images of George: caricatures will take a satirical look at his life from his many mistresses, his continual descent into debt, and his love of Brighton. These caricatures are taken from the Baker Collection, which was recently acquired by the museum.

These will be contrasted with official portraits of George, showing him as he wished to be seen; as a monarch in his garter robes to military leader in hussar uniform. These paintings are taken from Brighton Museum’s collection.

The exhibition marks the 200th anniversary of the Regency Act, which was passed on February 5 1811, passing the powers of the monarchy to George as his father was ill.

It is only the second time a fashion exhibition has been held in the Royal Pavilion and the building’s rich collections of furniture, textiles and decorative arts provide the perfect setting to bring the pieces to life.

(Gresham Blake and Cllr David Smith with a hand painted Chinese silk robe and petticoat dating from 1760-65 (on loan from Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery) and a gold silk-satin coat, breeches and vest dating from 1780-85, which is part of the Royal Pavilion and Museum’s collection.©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photographer Jim Holden)

Smith, Brighton & Hove City Council’s cabinet member for Culture, Recreation and Tourism, said: “George IV really put Brighton on the map as a fashionable seaside destination and this exhibition, in the amazing surroundings of his holiday home, will provide a fascinating insight into both his life and the fashions of the time.”

Martin Pel, Curator of Fashion and Textiles at the Royal Pavilion and Museums, said: “More than any other monarch, George knew the power of dress. Whether it was the dandy fashions of his youth or the military uniforms he wore as an adult, as he sought a role for himself while waiting nearly 60 years to be crowned king. His love of fashion was not merely an expensive indulgence, but a significant part in creating who George was.”

He added: “The Regency period really was the beginning of modern fashion for both men and women. In men’s fashion trousers became the norm, rather than breeches, as did sober colours and hard wearing fabrics such as wool. Women too began to wear simpler styles in practical cotton fabrics. Unlike men’s fashion this wasn’t to last for women and they would soon revert back to clothes which displayed wealth. Interestingly though, when ‘modern’ fashion re-appeared for women in the early twentieth century it was based on the styles of the Regency period.”

The Museum have been kind enough to invite me to view the exhibition,and to write about it here, so in a few weeks time  look out for what I hope will be some very interesting posts about it. Jane Austen was not a fan of the Prince Regent, not at all: but he did, of course, ask her to dedicate “Emma” to him, and his daughter Princess Charlotte was very fond of Miss Austen’s novels, so I’m sure she will forgive me for writing about it here. ( To mis-quote Lydia Bennet in the 1995 adaptation of Pride and PrejudiceI AM going to Brighton!

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