The very intelligent and stunningly beautiful Lillie Langtry (1853-1929). Model, actress, entrepreneur, and royal mistress.

 ”Discovered” at a London dinner party while dressed in mourning, many prominent painters (including Frank Miles and John Everett Millais) clamored to have her sit for them.

She was considered the most beautiful woman of the time, and was mistress to Prince Bertie, the future King Edward VII. She had the grace and charm to become good friends with the Prince’s wife, and was even introduced to Queen Victoria. She was later mistress to at least two other members of European royalty. (Did I mention she was married through all of this?)

With her fame and connections (friends with Sarah Bernhardt, muse to Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw) she became a very popular actress.

She divorced her husband in 1897, and then two years later, at the age of 46, she married Hugo de Bathe, who was twenty seven years old

She made advertising (and celebrity endorsement) socially acceptable, toured America with her own acting company, started a winery in California (which still exists), and was a successful owner of race horses. She amassed millions and spent with equal extravagance, the center of attention wherever she went. 

She performed on the stage well into her seventies, and when she died in Monaco in 1929, the newspapers called it “the end of an era.”

Scholars suggest that the character of Irene Adler in the Sherlock Holmes story “A Scandal in Bohemia” was based off of her. A sexy, witty woman who could outwit Sherlock Holmes when it came to a compromising photo of her with a member of the royal family? Sounds about right.

Damn, what a bad ass.

A few reasons why Lillie Langtry was a badass:

  • Her governess couldn’t handle her, so she was educated by her brothers’ tutor, which enabled her to get a better education than most women of her time
  • She was so witty, charismatic and beautiful that she got famous just by showing up at a dinner party
  • She became so wildly famous and obsessed over simply for being herself that her effect was referred to as the Langtry Phenomenon
  • She charmed the pants off of royals galore, having affairs with Prince Louis of Battenberg, the Earl of Shrewsbury, and the future King Edward VII, who had a mansion built for her which she designed herself
  • When she lost favor and nearly went bankrupt, she reinvented herself as an actress and played to full houses every time she appeared
  • Her complexion alone was so great that she made money off it by appearing in ads for Pears soap, making her one of the first ever celebrity product endorsers
  • She became a successful businesswoman, with her own theatre company, a winery in America, and a stable of racehorses

This was a lady who started out with nothing. She knew what she wanted, so she went out and made it happen. She’s one of my personal heroes. I highly suggest picking up one of the books about her, especially her autobiography. She was an incredible character.


This pretty costume has been around for quite a while, having been designed and created for Francesca Annis’ performance as Lillie Langry in the wonderful 1978 mini-series Lillie.  The gown went on to be used again in the 1984 American mini-series Ellis Island, where it was worn on Faye Dunaway as Maude Chartaris.  It was seen a third time in the 2001 film Original Sin on Angelina Jolie as Julia Russell.  Each time the gown has undergone some minor adjustments - with trim being for Ellis Island and removed again for Original Sin.

The costume is currently online at Profiles in History, where it will go up for auction October 2014. You can see the auction catalog here. The auction  describes the dress as follows:

This elegant costume is comprised of a long creme and black lace gown with black velvet accents, and rose-colored lace at the sleeves and bust-line, a black lace padded corset with boning reinforcement and hook and loop front and lace-up back.

Costume Credit: James

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A Jersey Lily, 1878

Born Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, Lillie Langtry was a British singer and actress famous for both her performances and personal life. She had affairs with both the Prince of Wales Albert Edward and the Earl of Shrewsbury and considered Oscar Wilde a close friend. Some speculate that Irene Adler in “A Scandal in Bohemia” (1891), the first Sherlock Holmes short story, is based upon Langtry.


This beautiful Victorian gown is a wonderful example of the importance of both good alterations and using the appropriate undergarments for a period gown.  It’s a true testament to the quality of the costumes that are reused and recycled over the years that they can still hold up well enough and look beautiful after two, three - sometimes even twelve uses.  However, even a gown that is still in great condition after a long period of time will suffer if it is not properly supported in the method in which it was designed.

This Victorian gown was designed for Francesca Annis in the 1978 mini-series Lillie, in which she played the title character of Lillie Langtry.  Her dress is not only stunning - it fits her like a glove and is supported underneath by the proper corset that gives it a very distinctive shape.  The gown was used again in 1981 on Jeananne Crowley as Rossanna McGee in Cribb: Invitation to a Dynamite Party. This time it appears that it is supported by the proper undergarments, but that it is just a bit too large for Jeananne Crowley.  The third usage of this garment was on Gina Mckee as Irene in the 2002 production of The Forsyte Saga. McKee may be wearing some kind of corset, though if she is, the gown is far too large for her and has not been taken in appropriately at all. The gown on McKee is still in relatively good condition, but without being properly supported and fitted is frankly unremarkable. It is fascinating to see the vast differences between its appearance in 2002 and 1978.

Costume Credit: James, Shrewsbury Lasses

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