How Edinburgh's Georgian fashionistas are hanging together once again

The city’s most stylish residents of the Georgian period appear in new exhibition of paintings by revered artist Allan Ramsay.

They were the best dressed in town – and only the best could capture their style and beauty.

Hundreds of years later, these well-heeled figures of the Georgian New Town have emerged once again in a new National Trust for Scotland exhibition of works by Allan Ramsay at the Georgian House in Edinburgh.

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Covering a 30-year period of Ramsay’s career, the exhibition brings together the female portraits by Ramsay in one place for the first time. His skill at capturing the clothing, accessories and popular trends of the time are on show in the paintings which are loaded with naturalistic style and imaginary elements.

Two of the Allan Ramsay portraits now on show at new exhibition Ramsay and Edinburgh Fashion at Georgian House in Edinburgh. PIC: NTS.Two of the Allan Ramsay portraits now on show at new exhibition Ramsay and Edinburgh Fashion at Georgian House in Edinburgh. PIC: NTS.
Two of the Allan Ramsay portraits now on show at new exhibition Ramsay and Edinburgh Fashion at Georgian House in Edinburgh. PIC: NTS.
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Dr Antonia Laurence Allen, regional curator at NTS, said: “We’re excited to welcome visitors to our new exhibition, Ramsay and Edinburgh Fashion, and showcase this prominent Scottish artist, while highlighting how his career was forged in Edinburgh with the help of his father and a growing fashion for portraiture.

"The portraits in this exhibition reveal Ramsay’s artistic skill and ability to capture real fashions with imaginary flourishes, in a way that epitomised the true likeness of his sitters while promoting their standing in Edinburgh society."

Dr Laurence Allen said fashion and clothing played and “important role” in communicating subtle signs of status during the mid-1700s.

For the most fashionable residents of Georgian Edinburgh's New Town, only one artist would do to capture their style and status - Allan Ramsay. PIC: NTS.For the most fashionable residents of Georgian Edinburgh's New Town, only one artist would do to capture their style and status - Allan Ramsay. PIC: NTS.
For the most fashionable residents of Georgian Edinburgh's New Town, only one artist would do to capture their style and status - Allan Ramsay. PIC: NTS.

She added: “Being well dressed in silks, satins and linens elevated women in polite society and helped portray wealth and social standing. By capturing popular styles of dress, Ramsay promoted a sitter’s cultural sophistication and their progressive ideals of taste. This meant their portrait could help them confidently present a contemporary vision of themselves to their peers.

“The exhibition was designed to highlight the National Trust for Scotland’s magnificent Ramsay collection, which has never been brought together before."

New research into textiles, clothing and accessories in Edinburgh in 1742 has been carried out with the stores and craftspeople who kept the wealthy clothed in the finest garments now plotted on a map.

Dr Laurence Allen added: “Today’s shoppers are concerned with sustainable fashion and will find in this exhibition similar themes that were central to consumers in the 18th century. While milliners and tailors were busy altering gowns and jackets, drapers and merchants sold cloth, ribbons and lace to upcycle old ensembles.

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"As well as showing the content in the exhibition, we wanted to demonstrate how dresses were made to measure and designed to be altered as fashions and a woman’s body changed. There was no ideal figure, but there was an ideal silhouette. "

To complement the exhibition, dress historian Rebecca Olds created a replica 1760s gown inspired by garment worn by Katherine Ann Mure, who was painted by Ramsay in 1769 and features in the exhibition

Later, the dress willl go on show at the trusts’ 1766 draper’s shop, recreated at Gladstone’s Land on the Royal Mile.

-Ramsay and Edinburgh Fashion at Georgian House in Edinburgh runs until 24 November 2024.

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