At the theater, Nick sees Prince Theodoric sitting with Lord Huntercombe, both wearing dark suits, and Lady Huntercombe, “in a rather different role implied by her pre-war Gainsborough hats” who “was formidable in Red Cross commandant’s uniform.” [MP 103/98]
Nick has previously compared Lady Huntercombe to Gainsborough’s portrait of Mrs. Siddons. The Gainsborough hat became famous based on another portrait painted about the same time (1785). He exhibited his portrait of Georgiana, Duchesss of Devonshire, at the Royal Academy. She was a fashion setter who designed the hat herself. After the exhibition, large black hats with generous brims and prominent feathers were the vogue in London. The style, sometimes called the ‘Gainsborough chapeau’ or the ‘portrait hat’, has been in and out of fashion ever since.
Two interesting stories — Georgiana’s notorious adventures and the adventurous travels of her portrait after her death — are beyond the millinery goals of this post. The portrait was returned to Chatsworth House when the 11th Duke of Devonshire bought it back at auction in 1994 and now is displayed there next to another portrait of Georgiana by Sir Joshua Reynolds.