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Dress: Fancy: The Podcast About Dressing Up

Nov 1, 2018

On 11 and 13 February 1903, the Winter Palace, St Petersburg, was the venue for one of the most opulent costumed entertainments hosted by a Russian Tsar. It was also to be the last. In reviving the spectacle of the Romanov’s gilded past, Nicholas II, his family and court, demonstrated the untenable gulf that existed between their privilege and the poverty of their subjects. The golden, bejewelled and furred costumes worn at the Ball symbolise a moment, at once triumphant and tragic, just before two opposed worlds clashed violently in the Russian Revolution. 

Today, the spectre of the Romanovs continues to compel and cautionary lessons exist for those willing to heed them. The gulf between rulers and ruled, leisure and labour, continues to create problems in the twenty-first century, and costume remains adept at conveying this. Recent commentary on Melania Trump’s clothing presents strong parallels with Tsarina Alexandra, whose ball gown may have cost $10 million. If the Romanov Ball is important for marking a specific point in time, it is also significant for reflecting broader themes and tensions between the ideal and reality of authority and society. It shows, too, how these attitudes are reflected in what we wear, sometimes with unintended and tragic results.

The Romanov Ball

Wider Reading

  • Helen Rappaport, The Race to Save the Romanovs: The Truth Behind the Secret Plans to Rescue Russia's Imperial Family (Hutchinson, 2018)
  • Simon Sebag Montifoire, The Romanovs:1613-1918 (W&N, 2016)

Melania Trump, ‘Out of Africa’