Meet Lady Hamilton, the Woman Who Brought Ancient Greek Fashion to 18th-Century Europe

hamilton

Lady Hamilton, a woman known in Europe for her astonishing beauty and political influence, was also the woman who spread Ancient Greek-inspired fashion across the continent. Born in poverty as a maid in her teenage years, she was scorned by her first two lovers who plucked her youthful beauty and then dumped her. The third lover, however, was Sir William Hamilton, the English ambassador in Naples, who made Lady Hamilton his wife.

She soon became a fashion icon and started trends such as the tendency to drape herself in simple garments that were inspired by classical times, and Ancient Greece in particular. She named this Greek-inspired theme as “Attitudes” and would hold performances based on Ancient Greek symposium.

Goethe wrote:

“She wears a Greek garb, becoming to her to perfection. She then merely loosens her locks, takes a pair of shawls, and effects changes of postures, moods, gestures, mien, and appearance that make one really feel as if one were in some dream […] successively standing, kneeling, seated, reclining, grave, sad, sportive, teasing, abandoned, penitent, alluring, threatening, agonised. One follows the other, and grows out of it. She knows how to choose and shift the simple folds of her single kerchief for every expression, and to adjust it into a hundred kinds of headgear.”

Her robe a la grec was a must-have item at her time. She liked to dress like a Greek goddess with modern and simple robes rather than the fashion of the time that involved stacking countless of layers upon each other. Instead, she choose loose-fitting gowns with waistlines set just below the bosom. Hairstyles were also inspired by Greek statues and even the French ditched their massive wigs for Lady Hamilton’s new look.

 In Naples, the young maid who married money was adored by the Italian gentry who followed her every fashion move. They appreciated her beauty, cleverness, independence and high spirit at a time when she was scorned in her own country for being Sir William’s lover before marrying him. Soon Dukes and princes were throwing banquets in her honor and even the king sought her company.

Italian peasants saw her as one of their own who made good. Kneeling at her feet, they asked for favors and artists sought to draw her portrait. Soon, her sphere of influence spread across Europe. She helped in the revival of Ancient Greek culture but unfortunately, her liberal-mindedness soon made her the victim of malicious gossip and she fell out of favor with the general public after she became Admiral Nelson’s mistress. Admiral Nelson was a beloved naval hero and entered a menage-a-trois with Lady Hamilton and Sir William. After both her lovers died, Lady Hamilton was destitute and a source of ridicule.