Emily Lamb’s father was Viscount Melbourne from a prominent political family. Emily was about 16 when she entered society (around 1804). To be a debutante (to make her debut at Court), a woman had to be sponsored by someone who had themselves been presented at court, therefore maintaining the elite membership of the Ton.
Apart from the large new wardrobe necessary for the season, Emily would have needed a court dress for the presentation. In Bridgerton the ladies wear the fashionable dresses of the day, but in reality the court dress was old fashioned, ugly and enormously expensive – about £5000 in today’s money.
The court dress was called a mantua, made from a single length of fabric, with a long train over very wide hoops. The dress was ideal for showing the designs of the fashionable elaborately patterned silks, and for displaying the wealth of the wearer. However, the hoops were narrow at the sides and extremely wide at the front, sometimes reaching two metres, plus a 1 meter train. This presented the wearer with many challenges, for example when trying to navigate doorways. The ensemble was also very heavy, probably adding 2kg in weight. On top of this Emily would have worn the family jewels and a high headdress with a trio of ostrich feathers (probably in honour of the three feathers that represent the Prince of Wales).
Emily would have been sponsored by her mother, amongst many other debutantes. She would not have been allowed to sit in the royal presence, so she stood for 3-4 hours. After making a very low curtsey to the Queen (no wobbling), Emily would have had to walk backwards out of the royal presence; avoiding the other people in the crowded room with equally wide dresses, and managing her own wide skirts, long train, fan and high headdress.
It reminds me of a quote, attributed to Bob Thaves, about how Fred Astaire was praised for his dancing: “Sure he [Fred Astaire] was great, but don’t forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did…backwards and in high heels.” And often in a long dress.