Mermaids (Silver) is one of a pair of dresses along with Mermaids (Bronze). The decoration on these dresses is inspired by the wallpaper in the King’s Apartments in The Royal Pavilion and by the nineteenth century interest in mythical sea creatures including mermaids. Stripes were fashionable in the late 1820’s and during the same period long sleeves, that were not too tight, were often worn reaching over the hand with a wrist band, or combined with short, puffed sleeves above.
The idea of creating a pair of dresses was informed by research done at Bath Fashion Museum which holds a pair of striped dresses worn by the Misses Perceval (a pair of sisters) to the Duchess of Richmond's Ball, in Brussels, held on the eve of the battle of Waterloo. In the 1820s the bodices of evening and day dresses were broadly similar. The effect of puff and slash, seen on the bodices of these dresses, is said to have originated with the Landsknechts, German mercenary soldiers who thrived from approximately 1487 - 1556. Henry VIII favored this decorative technique and it remained popular even in this period.
Today we talk of ‘fast fashion’ but it is not such a new concept. During the Regency pieces might need to be turned around for a single event. There are large stitches, hand-done, around the fish on the skirts of Mermaids. They reflect the large, rough tacking stitches that can be found hidden on the under surfaces of quickly produced garments during this period. All stitching was of course done by hand and on the front of a garment would always have been minute and perfect.
Mermaids were also inspired by the sisters Albinia (1808-1880) and Isabella (1809-1884) Hankey would have been 22 and 23 respectively when they attended a Grand Ball at The Royal Pavilion Brighton in honour of the birthday of the Duke of Sussex. They are two of five women researched and imagined as attending a gathering prior to the ball with others on the guest list. Albinia and Isabella were two of the 13 children of Thomson and Martha Hankey who visited Brighton regularly throughout the 1830s staying variously at the Old Ship, the Albion and the Norfolk hotels. They then lived at number 4 Brunswick Square, later moving to number 10. Shortly after the Ball, in April 1831, Albinia would marry James Craig Somerville a medical doctor at St John’s Hackney; it is possible that she even met him on the night of the Grand Ball. He would die in 1847, aged 48, and in 1854 Albinia would marry Henry Revel Spicer, 22 years her junior. They would live in Montpellier Road, Brighton and then in Worthing. Isabella would marry William Howard a clergyman in Witchingham Norfolk in 1837 and they would have seven children but she would be admitted to Heigham Hall private asylum in 1866, discharged in 1868, admitted to Catton Grove private asylum in 1879 and discharged in 1884. Isabella died in 1884 so probably this is what discharged means in the asylum records.
*Please note: Part of the concept of The Regency Wardrobe is that the colour of many of the pieces risks fading over time. This is to reflect:
- research done by The House of Embroidered Paper into Regency era garments and the observation that the colures of their surfaces have faded overtime (as evidenced by looking under seams and inside material crevices).
- how historical events and people fade in the collective memory; how the power and prestige of civilizations and empires fades overtime.
- how the surfaces of most items we find left to us from history have faded.
Areas of this piece therefore risk changing colour/fading (aging) over-time, just as we do.