Wherever the Queen goes she is always a focus of attention, so whatever she wears is going to be talked about; remember the fuss over her rather bright green outfit at this year’s Trooping the Colour? When you visit Buckingham Palace this year, you can enjoy their special exhibition which traces her fashion choices during the 90 years of her life.
Buckingham Palace, one of the great symbols of London, is open to the public each summer when the Queen goes to Scotland for her holidays. You can explore the many state rooms with their sumptuous decor, furnishings and works of art and learn about the history of this grand building. Each year they put on a special exhibition and this year’s is called: Fashioning a Reign:90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe, and I’m going to give you a peek inside.
We see her how her outfits have changed over the years to reflect fashion and the first room you visit has a piece from each of her decades including matching outfits that the Queen and her younger sister wore to the coronation of George Vl, a dress worn when she met Marilyn Monroe (or rather the other way round!) and culminating in the wonderful pink dress worn for the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony and the film of her greeting James Bond and ‘jumping’ out of the helicopter. This last dress illustrates the level of planning involved in working on the Queen’s wardrobe as the video was made in March so the outfit had to be agreed back then for the event taking place at the end of July. What a memorable moment from London 2012. A second dress was made for the stunt jumper but we are assured this is the one worn by the Queen.
In her younger years, we would often see the Queen on horseback, riding side saddle in stylish military outfits, cut away from the waist to accommodate this strange riding position. She was the first female monarch to serve in the forces when in 1945 she served in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Army) and we can see her own uniform. It’s hard to imagine Her Majesty doing car maintenance but those were tough times for the country and she wanted to do her bit.
We see her wonderfully tailored jackets, one of which has a flexible beret which gives the option to change the plumage to reflect the regiment she was representing or inspecting.
The Queen has kept faith with a few top couture designers, namely Normal Hartnell and Hardy Amies and has added Stewart Parvin and Angela Kelly among others. Her unswerving support for British fashion has helped promote London’s place as a world fashion capital. This has included a small coterie of hat designers and a gallery of hats showcases a few of these.
The famous Hartnell wedding dress from 1947 is on display with its 9-foot veil and shoes. It was a triumph as it needed to fit this historic occasion and yet Britain was still subject to rationing so care had to be taken to not overplay the luxury element – he succeeded! The theme was renewal in the post-war period so springtime flowers can be seen in the embroidery.
By the time of the coronation in 1953 Hartnell had a freer hand and his design looked back at the wedding dress but features much more elaborate embroidery with symbols of the 4 UK nations and the Dominion nations The Queen was closely involved in its design and had considerable input through series of 8 reworked sketches.
The Queen has many roles: head of state, head of the armed forces, head of the chivalry orders as well as a member of a family with lots of events and need outfits for each of these. Those worn on her state visits were really interesting as we saw how symbols of the country being visited were incorporated into day and evening wear.
In this photo we can see a pink cherry blossom decorated dress worn to China next to a blue and cream dress with maple leaves along the colour join for a visit to Canada, and the yellow dress was worn to Australia giving a nod to their national colour.
This dress was for Her Majesty’s visit to the Olypmics in Montreal in 1976 so it incorporates the Olympic rings.
What I really liked about this section was the chance to see the dress on the mannequin alongside a photo of the Queen wearing the dress during the official visit. Firstly you can see the outfit Her Majesty wore to Saudi Arabia in 1979, being sure to cover up to respect Saudi customs.
Here the dress for the visit to Nigeria in 1956 features a neckline which echoes African tribal necklaces.
And finally, on our mini-tour of the exhibition, the green outfit Her Majesty wore for the 2016 Trooping The Colour. It was not nearly as bright as it appeared on the TV. The Queen wears bright colours so that people can see her in a crowd, especially as she is quite short (just 5ft 4in) but this year’s green must have been the brightest yet – not bad for a 90 year old.
One more photo I couldn’t resist showing you because it shows the Queen during various ages, always smiling and waving to the crowds who have come out to see her as she wants to make their day.
There is a lot more to see in the full exhibition and of course, there are the wonderful rooms of the Palace to enjoy. Don’t miss the cafe for good snacks and the shop ‘where the corgis hang out’ (!) and the wonderful gardens on the way to the exit.
For more information about visiting Buckingham Palace and Fashioning a Reign, visit their website.
Photo credits: starred photos (**) are courtesy of Elizabeth Hawksley for which many thanks.