In Review

Fashioning a Reign: Inside the Queen's wardrobe

New exhibition gives unparalleled insight into the history and glamour behind Her Majesty's dress

Visitors to this year's Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace have the opportunity to enjoy an unprecedented display of The Queen's clothes in the special exhibition 'Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen's Wardrobe'.

"There is something altogether enchanting about the Queen's clothes," says Justine Picardie in the Daily Telegraph.

"But the magic is also mixed with reality. For these garments have outlived many of those who made them; we can touch and see the material of legend, brought to life by the woman who wore them."

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, the exhibition explores ceremonial and military attire, dress for state occasions and overseas tours, outfits for family celebrations, and Her Majesty's support of British design.

Throughout her reign the Queen has exclusively patronised British designers, including the great couturier Sir Norman Hartnell, who was responsible for many of the outfits worn by Her Majesty at state events, on tours and at family occasions.

Her Majesty is well known for block-colour dressing, using bright, bold colours to ensure she is easily visible on important occasions. 

"The Queen transcends fashion but her clothes continue to reflect it," curator Caroline De Guitaut told Vogue magazine. "She is completely involved in her wardrobe and works with leading British couturiers of the day but will reject designer's sketches if she doesn't like them. Consistently elegant, she dresses in bright, visible block colours, often with a complementary hat but note that we rarely see her in pattern."

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.

"Embellishment and embroidery is an important aspect of her wardrobe and she frequently returns to duchesse satin and silks because they take beading so well," said De Guitaut. "Her wardrobe must be practical but we rarely see pockets or belts because they alter the line of an outfit. Zips and fastenings are typically concealed because she is very aware of how each look will be seen so her dresses are often just as beautiful at the back as they are at the front."

The exhibition at Buckingham Palace is one of three separate special displays in celebration of The Queen's 90th birthday at each of Her Majesty's official residences during 2016. 

A total of around 150 outfits will be shown across the Palaces, and the content of each exhibition has been selected to have 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.

Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from the Queen's Wardrobe is at the Palace of Holyroodhouse from 21 April to 16 October; at Buckingham Palace from 23 July to 2 October; and at Windsor Castle from 17 September to 8 January 2017.

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