Breeches, Bonnets and Bags: Fashion in Art

Wednesday 3 April 2019

Rosalind Whyte

Rosalind Whyte has a BA and MA from Goldsmith’s College, and an MA (distinction) from Birkbeck College. She is an experienced guide at Tate Britain, Tate Modern, the Royal Academy and Greenwich. Rosalind lectures at Tate, Dulwich Picture Gallery, and to independent art societies and on cruises. She also leads art appreciation holidays.




Portraits provide a fascinating insight into the changing styles of dress over the centuries. This lecture follows the different fashions as revealed in paintings, looking at dress and accessories, and some of the more ridiculous styles of fashion from the 16th century to the 19th century. It focuses particularly on fashion in England, but looks also at some contrasting Continental fashions.  In times when Sumptuary Laws prescribed what you could wear, according to your status in society, fashion was much less of a personal choice and more a reflection of social standing.  The colour of your clothing or a plunging neckline could mark you out as belonging to a particular class. Whilst the ordinary working folk might have longed for a wardrobe full of reds, purples and golds (or, indeed, for a wardrobe at all!), their ‘superiors’ may well have envied them their ability to move freely in their clothes, without the restrictions of ruffs, stuffed sleeves, enormous petticoats, or headdresses the size of small animals …. sometimes also containing small animals!  Have fun exploring the wildest extremes of fashion through the ages.


Caption: Princess Henriette of France in court dress playing the viola de gamba, c. 1750–52, by Jean-Marc Nattier


Further Information/Reading

The lecture notes leaflet can be downloaded here