The Regency Wardrobe collection - research & making - The Silhouette as a dress

On Friday 28th January 1831 there was a grand ball at The Royal Pavilion and five of the women on the guest list were living in Brunswick square.

Lady Grace Gore and her daughter, also named Grace, lived at no. 26. The sisters Isabella and Albinia Hankey lived at no. 4 (the Hankey family would later live at no. 10). Maria Cunnyngham lived at no.10.

Imagine if you will that they all therefore knew each other and gathered in the days preceding it to discuss the grand ball. They would surely have talked of what they would wear that night and of who else would be there. After all the ball was in honour of the Duke of Sussex, who would be in attendance. Imagine indeed that Lady Gage hosted this gathering of women at Firle Place and that she employed a silhouette artist to be in attendance to capture the lady's likenesses.

Silhouettes were a popular form of portraiture during this period (please see: here). Silhouettes of men, women and children cut from black paper were often placed on sketched backgrounds showing interior and exterior scenes. The clothes of silhouette figures were also often highlighted in shades of white or beige or gold. I have imagined the silhouettes that might have been cut of those five women that day as they gathered to discuss the grand ball. With decorative detail in appropriate colours I have pulled those flat images out into 3-dimensions and embroidered them.

The decoration and features of each dress are inspired by detailing from a wallpaper in one of the rooms of the Royal Pavilion and each dress in the exhibition is placed before a background with complementary imagery sketched either in pencil or using the sewing machine. Some features of the backgrounds are produced from other forms of paper art, also popular during this period, such as quilling.

Stitched detailing - paper textile collaged shawl, hung behind the 5th dress, see below, inspired by the wallpaper in the William IV room, painted by Gordon Grant, image taken with special permission by The Royal Pavilion, Brighton

Extracts from the report of the ball which appeared in the Brighton Gazette on the 3rd February 1831

"The “Seat of Fashion” as Brighton may be justly named, never received so great an influx of distinguished visitors in so short a time as on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday last. The Ball given by Their Majesties took place on Friday 28th February in honour of the birthday of the Duke of Sussex who on the previous day had attained his 58th year.

For several weeks the “Grand Party” was the one engrossing topic of conversation in fashionable circles…… there was a bustling appearance in the streets of innumerable hair-dressers, milliners, linen drapers etc.

On Thursday and Friday, the carriage drives, as well as the principal promenades and streets, especially the Kings Road were almost literally impassable.

While all was thus busy out of doors, equal preparations were made within the Palace. The music salon was converted into a ball room the beautiful carpet was taken up and the floor chalked by Mr Glover. The principal device being a crown in the centre.

A temporary orchestra was erected, which was tastefully covered with scarlet.

The arrangements in respect of carriages……there were detailed instructions to coachmen and fly men in order to prevent confusion. There was not the slightest disorder nor any accident until four o’clock when owing to the inebriety of some of the servants, one or two carriages were damaged.

Soon after 8 o’clock………in less than an hour the line of carriages extended from the Palace gates to Regency Square and at 10 o’clock the last carriage has got no farther than West Street. It was nearly 11o’clock before the last carriage set down.

By the time the majority of the company has arrived and the rooms presented an unprecedented scene of gaiety. A few minutes after the entrance of His Majesty the company commenced a waltz……the dance continued until one o’clock: being varied from time to time by quadrilles ,waltzes, gallopades and one mazourka.

At this time the Royal party retired for supper served in the banqueting room. Three tables spread with a profusion of the choicest delicacies the season and country could afford, especially some remarkably fine pines, with much of the fruit besides had been sent from Windsor by the Kings command. Dancing resumed after supper and was kept up with great spirit till about four o’clock. By five o’clock the last carriage had taken its departure…the rattling of wheels became indistinct; coachmen, footmen, fly men, and policemen disappeared from the streets; and the town resumed its wanted composure".

Who was the Duke of Sussex?

The Duke of Sussex was Prince Augustus Frederick the sixth son and ninth child of King George III. He was known for his liberal views, which included the reform of Parliament, the abolition of the slave trade, Catholic emancipation and the removal of civil restrictions on Jews and dissenters. He became the Duke of Sussex in 1801. He was married twice. Firstly, to Lady Augusta Murray in 1793 although this was annulled in 1794 on the grounds that is contravened the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 as it had not been approved by the King. In May 1831 he married Lady Cecilia Letitia Buggin daughter of Arthur Gore, 2nd Earl of Arran and widow of Sir George Buggin. The title Duke of Sussex was abandoned when Prince Augustus died in 1843 but was recreated and given to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle when they married in 2018.

This is the entire guest list for that evening, from the archives of The Keep, Brighton, including a detail showing the Misses Hankey: