Fashioning a Reign

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle

A couple of weeks ago, I travelled 4,800 miles to see a bunch of old dresses. Sound nutty?  Well, it was not the first time, nor will it be the last, that I travel far to see amazing clothes.

In honor of Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday, an exhibit of over 150 of her outfits were on display at the Queen’s official residences.  About 80 were shown at Buckingham Palace, some at Windsor Castle and the remainder at Palace of the Holdroodhouse in Scotland. When I heard about Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style From the Queen’s Wardrobe, I had to go.

The dresses included clothing worn at noteworthy events in the Queen’s life and/or history of the country.  An example are the gowns and coronets worn by the then Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret at the coronation of their father, King Geoge VI.  Also included were a replica of Queen Elizabeth’s Christening gown, her wedding dress, and her coronation gown. Hats, her wedding shoes, and drawings of designs were displayed.

Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace

Tours of the palaces were included with the advanced tickets. I had never toured any of the three, so it was a particular delight to attend.  Buckingham Palace is only open a couple of months a year and my previous trips to London did not coincide.

Of course, the clothes and castles were all amazing…fit for a queen!  My favorite gown was the coronation gown, designed by Sir Norman Hartnell. The beading and design were breathtaking.

The queen is very involved in designing her wardrobe, providing ideas and specifications. Of particular concern is that she is easy to spot in crowds, often choosing bold-colored, monochromatic outfits for this reason.

For example, on her coronation gown, the Queen wanted emblems representing the dominions of the realm.  Thistles, shamrocks, and maple leaves are some of the elements added.  She wanted coloring added instead of the monochromatic design submitted.

I was asked if I found out what the Queen carries in her handbag. No, it wasn’t covered. But even stranger is that not one purse was on display.

Palace of the Holyroodhouse
Palace of the Holyroodhouse

My second favorite outfit was an evening dress in oyster shell satin with elaborate beading. I believe it was from the 60s. The beads created a crisscross pattern on the bodice and waist, while other, more sparse beading completed the skirt.

Photos were not allowed and guidebooks for the clothes were not available.  I am hoping one will be published at a later date. So, I don’t have any visuals to share.  However, there are some great photos on the Royal Collection Trust.

It was a fascinating exhibition, and I am very glad I went to see it.

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