Too often, we focus only on the most current and well known designers, models, and celebrities for the latest styles, trends, and how-to dilemmas. We crave television shows like Project Runway for their contender’s fresh creativity, hover celebrities like Victoria Beckham to spot what they are wearing, or even these days designing, and ultimately basque in the memory, unforgettable brilliance, and elemental style of iconic designers such as Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent.
Not frequently enough do we pour our attention towards those individuals in history who have made a mark on not only the fashion world, but the world of politics, beliefs, and women’s rights. One of the most influential women who stands out in my mind was not born a classic beauty, but throughout her years, developed into one of the most prominent and distinguished ladies of her time, not to mention implementing ideas and actions still used today.
Georgiana Spencer, who is most famously portrayed in the movie, The Duchess, starring Keira Knightly, embodied the very essence of style, poise, and independence. With her family arranging her marriage to the 5th Duke of Devonshire, Georgiana was wed into a strong and traditional family at the young age of 17. In a time where a woman’s main obligation was to only produce children, the Duchess, from the beginning refused to conform to the rules and regulations set onto her. Georgiana was a woman who spoke her mind and became involved in the political society, actively supporting the Whig party, which during 18th century England, was unheard of for a woman to do. Georgiana not only understood the meaning of public relations before most others, but knew the necessity and effects it would bring. She set the standard for well known elites and helped women take an active role in a society primarily dominated by men, by becoming a spokesperson for running politicians.
Before catching the attention of all of England with her political presence, Georgiana was recognized by her social gatherings and being a part of, le ton, a group of elitists known for their roles in high politics and fashion. From Georgiana’s era to today, fashion remains a loud voice to be noticed and heard. She created her own extravagant designs including dresses, coats, and ostrich plumed hats that would be copied by the masses the next week. As she was a “foxite” supporter, of politician Charles Fox, Georgiana set trends for other aristocratic ladies by wearing foxtails in her hair. It was a time where “the bigger, the better” was applied to everything. The larger your hairstyle (wig) or accessory, the higher you were portrayed. Other than cascading hairstyles, women dressed in ornately fabricated dresses weighed down with crinolines and petticoats. Needless to say, it was a more in depth ordeal to get dressed in the morning than what we are accustomed to today. Throughout history, we have seen hem lines go continually up only to come back down again, while the style of the late 18th century fullness of dress does the same. After crinolines and petticoats we saw bustles in the Victorian era to full bodied skirts in the 1960’s. Even today, the “Mad Men” craze is back and we have yet another updated version of an ample bottom.
Without a doubt, history will continue to repeat itself with fashion trends and cycles while we carry on being inspired by new designer’s inventive takes on past looks. Women, such as Georgiana Spencer, showed the world that not only can one be beautiful and well dressed, but intelligent and actively involved in unexpected and untraditional roles. I encourage you read back in history on some of the most influential women of any time and be taken by their courage, heart, class, and style. For the full life story of Georgiana, I suggest reading the biography, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, written by Amanda Foreman, who does an exquisite job researching and producing a mesmerizing story to good to put down.