A Queen does not dress to impress. Having no social superiors she does not need to.
Visitors to this year’s Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are in for a sartorial royal treat. Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe will see an unprecedented display of The Queen’s dress spread across three separate exhibitions at each of Her Majesty’s official residences including Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse to mark Her Majesty’s 90th birthday.
Fashioning a Reign will constitute the largest display of The Queen’s dress ever mounted, charting important events in The Queen’s life and the nation’s history, encompassing themes such as State occasions, international tours, and family celebrations. The Queen’s unwavering support of British couture and millinery is highlighted throughout.
Two breathtaking highlights are the wedding dress worn by Princess Elizabeth for her marriage to The Duke of Edinburgh on 20 November 1947, and The Queen’s Coronation dress, both designed by the great British couturier, Sir Norman Hartnell. When commissioned to design the wedding dress, Hartnell set out to make ‘the most beautiful dress I had so far made’. His magnificent creation is in ivory silk and decorated with crystals and 10,000 seed pearls. The gown incorporates a 15 foot (4.6m) star-patterned train, inspired by the famous Renaissance painting of Primavera by Botticelli. In 1947 Britain was still subject to rationing, so Princess Elizabeth collected clothing coupons to pay for the dress.
For the Coronation dress, Hartnell created a gown in the finest white duchesse satin, richly embroidered in a lattice-work effect with an iconographic scheme of national and Commonwealth floral emblems in gold and silver thread and pastel-coloured silks, encrusted with seed pearls, sequins and crystals. Unknown to The Queen, Hartnell added an extra four-leaf shamrock on the left side of the skirt for good luck, so that Her Majesty’s hand cold rest upon it during the ceremony.
Spanning ten decades, from the christening gown worn by the month-old Princess Elizabeth in 1926, to the vivid green ensemble worn by The Queen at this year’s Trooping the Colour, there are many recognisable and beloved outfits here. Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ was a look favoured by Her Majesty in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Between 1949 and 1951, she was a naval wife and spent long periods in Malta so her silhouette’s became much simpler. For State Visits and overseas tours, The Queen’s ensembles are carefully designed to ensure they are appropriate for the climate of the country, and where possible, fabric colours and embroideries are incorporated to pay subtle compliments to the host nation.The Queen is well known for block-colour dressing, using bright, bold colours to ensure she is easily visible to all. A beautiful example of this was when she wore a bright yellow tailored coat and dress by Hardy Amies, with a matching beret-style hat by Frederick Fox, when she attended a special 60th-birthday parade on the mall, and was met with the spectacle of 6,000 children waving bunches of daffodils.
In 2012 The Queen played an unexpected role in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, appearing to arrive by helicopter with James Bond. Two crystal and lace peach beaded cocktail dresses were created by Angela Kelly for the occasion; one for Her Majesty and one for the stunt double. There was confusion within the Palace as to why the designer was making two identical dresses, a secret Angela Kelly had to keep up until the big reveal on the night of the opening ceremony.
Approximately 150 outfits will be shown across the Palaces, and the content of each exhibition has been selected to have a particular association with the location. At the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the use of tartan in royal dress is explored, while at Windsor Castle, magnificent evening gowns worn on official occasions will be contrasted with Princess Elizabeth’s fancy-dress costumes from wartime family pantomimes held at the Castle.
The three exhibitions, Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe are at the Palace of Holyroodhouse from 21 April to 16 October 2016, the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace from 23 July to 2 October 2016, and at Windsor Castle from 17 September 2016 to 8 January 2017. Each exhibition is included in the price of a general admission ticket.
For further information, please visit: www.royalcollection.org.uk
Images by CELLOPHANELAND* and The Royal Collection Trust.
CELLOPHANELAND* were guests of Buckingham Palace and The Royal Collection Trust.