There were many fashions and trends in Georgiana's time, many of which were of her design. But I thought it may be a good idea to cover the general basics of women's fashion in this post.
To begin, there were two main styles of dress: Robe a la Francaise or Sack Dress and the Robe a l'Anglaise or Mantua. The majority of gowns and fashions stemmed from these two styles. A contemporary example could be straight legged jeans vs flared jeans; two basic styles that we have worn for decades despite trends such as low rise or skinny jeans.French Flair!
The Robe a la Francaise is what we tend to think of when we think of an 18th century gown. Perhaps the image of Madame de Pompadour in a garden or lounging on a couch appears in our mind. This uncomfortable, traditional style was going out of vogue in the later part of the 18th century but did not go extinct because it had to be worn for court dress functions. It required the use of the ever-important panniers to give the hips a huge rectangular shape (The French preferred a more kidney shape) and to make waists look smaller. Since the shape of the skirt didn't allow for a train, the back has drapery which flows into a train.
The Mantua was a very uncomfortable, yet traditional style from the late 17th century. It never seemed to leave dressmakers' shops but through the century it was altered to better suit the new tastes of the times. The late 18th century's mantua or Robe a l'Anglaise is so different from the original mantuas, you would never know these two styles were related. However, they are both distinguishable by not requiring the use of panniers. This gown was more simplistic than the french counterpart and allowed for a variety of alterations on a basic style. Some of these included a faux bum (or bustle), faux stomach (to give the appearance of pregnancy, a Georgiana invention), and faux breasts. So the Robe a l'Anglaise basically saw padding just about everywhere at one point in time, which satirical cartoonists loved to comment on. A common accessory to this low-cut gown was the fichu, a scarf for your neckline, which could be criss-crossed around the bodice or would trim the neckline.
The idea of playing shepherdess or being "provincial" was a problem the aristocracy had throughout the 18th century. Hogarth found it disgusting and it got Marie Antoinette into some trouble too. It also helped inspire this style of gown. Aristocratic women were looking for clothing to wear when they went into the country. The short length of skirt working classes wore appealed to them and looked like an appropriate walking gown. In the 1770's the polonaise was born. The skirt of the polonaise is pulled up to reveal the "petticoat," resulting in puffy layers of fabric resting on a stiff layer and showing off those cute shoes you just purchased.
Chemise de la Reine
None of these styles were very comfortable. Marie Antoinette battled with corsets throughout her marriage and was constantly seeking a comfortable dress of high fashion. Then she noticed what servants from the West Indies were wearing: loose, white dresses of muslin. Marie thought, "What a fabulous idea, I could even dress it up with some ribbons and accessorize!" and the Chemise de la Reine was born. She liked these Gaulle gowns (as they were also called) so much that she had Elisabeth Vigee le Brun paint her in hers, but when the portrait was exhibited in 1783 it was met with alarm. The people of France were disgusted that the queen was painted in a state of undress (it looked like a nightgown). But Marie loved the muslin gown, even if her countrymen didn't, and sent one to Georgiana in England. The Duchess of D loved the dress and would wear them all the time, so of course, all of England followed suit.
A combination of the Chemise de la Reine and the Robe a l'Anglaise, the Round Robe was born around 1795, an evolution of the Gaulle. It was made from muslin and the bodice criss-crossed just like many women would style their fichus on their mantuas. We can also begin to see the waist-line rise toward the bust with this dress style. The influence from France to dress in the style of Greek and Roman citizens was beginning to translate slowly into England.
So, which is your favorite? Or, even better, what style would you be wearing in your portrait?