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Bath Georgian fancy dress

‘Dressing Fancy’ in Bath

Published on: 15 May 2024

A ‘Dressing Fancy’ programme of events will take place in Bath throughout June, as part of a Newcastle University research project into Georgian fancy dress and how people dress up today.

The ball, along with the rest of the programme of events, is part of a research project between Dr Meg Kobza, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Newcastle University and Tatjana LeBoff, Project Curator at National Trust’s Bath Assembly Rooms. Working together, they’re researching fancy dress from the late 18th and early 19th century and exploring the legacies of Georgian fancy dress, how people dress up today and the perceptions of fancy dress in today’s society. 

The main event will take place on Saturday 15 June from 6.30pm, when the Assembly Rooms will host a grand ball of two halves. The evening will start as a Georgian fancy ball where people can have a go at dancing like they did in the 18th century, try Georgian card games and embellish their outfits at the accessories wardrobe and make-up table. From 9pm onwards the Ball Room will switch to a more modern type of assembly and a DJ will take over for guests to dance the night away. Booking is essential for the Fancy Ball. Tickets are £15 per person, concession £9, and includes one complimentary drink. 

For those wanting the full Georgian experience there is the optional extra of an afternoon of specialised workshops teaching Georgian dances and card-games before attending the Fancy Ball in the evening. Booking is essential, workshops are £55 per person and include entry to the Fancy Ball. 

Dr Meg Kobza said: "It has been great to collaborate with the National Trust team at Bath Assembly Rooms to bring the Georgian fancy dress experience to life for modern visitors. I am excited to share my research in new interactive and tangible ways and hope that it encourages participants to reflect on the fun, but complex history of dressing up in Britain. We all know fancy dress can be fun, but its perceived frivolity has camouflaged its intense value as a reflection of cultural, colonial, and economic meaning. The series of public events we have organised therefore provides an important opportunity to engage heritage audiences and academics alike in conversations about the significance and legacy of fancy dress and its place within leisure culture in the past, present, and future."

Tatjana LeBoff said: "As we build the new visitor experience at Bath Assembly Rooms, it’s important that we understand what it would have felt like to attend a Georgian ball, and we are using this to inform the sensory experience of the new visitor offer, which is rooted in the lives of the Georgians who would’ve lived here. Bath was once the centre of fashionable society and the Assembly Rooms was the focal point for meeting, dancing and gossip. Our research has explored how people dressed at that time, what fancy dress entailed, and what that meant for attending fancy balls. It’s fascinating to learn how that impacts what we associate with fancy dress today."

A free exhibition (14 – 30 Jun) will form a core part of the ‘Dressing Fancy’ programme, showcasing and informing the research findings. Visitors will be able to explore how and why Georgians dressed up, try on some replica historic clothing loaned from the Fashion Museum Bath, and contribute to the research by providing feedback on what it’s like to dress up. There will be original and recreated historical costume, including a specially designed and made Vandyke style fancy dress by Dr Serena Dyer. 

Alongside the ball and pop-up exhibition there will be a series of talks from experts exploring themes and topics related to the ‘Dressing Fancy’ programme including dance, games, sociability, and making and wearing fancy dress. Talks will be at various times during the exhibition, both online and in person.  

All of these events have been made possible through generous funding from the British Academy's SHAPE Involve and Engage Award, The Society of Antiquarian's Janet Arnold Award, Newcastle University and the Leverhulme Foundation. Dr Kobza was one of the first researchers to receive funding via the British Academy’s new SHAPE Involve and Engage Awards, a pilot scheme designed to support creative methods of engaging the public in cutting edge SHAPE research (Social sciences, Humanities and Arts for People and the Economy).

Liz Hutchinson, Director of Communications at the British Academy, said: ‘We are proud to support this fantastic example of creative, interactive engagement and dialogue between members of the public and academic researchers. As well as sampling the nightlife of Georgian-era Bath, attendees will be shaping future research and practice in cultural institutions like the Assembly Rooms by reporting back on their experiences.’ 

Booking is essential for everything but the pop-up exhibition. Tickets and further information can be found on the National Trust website

Press release adapted with thanks from the National Trust 

The ballroom at Bath Assembly Rooms, credit Dr Meg Kobza

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