A nipped-in waist in the 50s, short skirts and diaphanous fabrics in the 60s and 70s, sparkles and shoulder pads in the 80s – these were fashion rules we all dressed by, even members of the Royal Family.
This summer, Historic Royal Palaces will present a glamorous exhibition taking a nostalgic look back at recent decades of dress through the wardrobes of three royal women in their fashion heydays: HM Queen Elizabeth II in the 1950s, Princess Margaret in the 1960s and 70s and Diana, Princess of Wales in the 1980s. Five rooms of elegant dress displays will explore how these women reflected the style and trends of the day, negotiating the rules of dressing fashionably within the ‘rules’ of a royal wardrobe. Featuring 21 exceptional couture dresses, the exhibition will be complemented by film and photography to set the scene and provide a feeling of the times in which these stunning gowns were worn.
When Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1952 she required a fashionable wardrobe which reflected her youth and celebrated British fashion. Five exquisite evening dresses by her two favourite 1950s designers, Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell show the important role The Queen played in showcasing British design. The dresses reflect the trends for full skirts and intricate trimmings, seen in the stunning apricot silk gown – on show here for the first time in 15 years. They also reveal the special considerations in dressing as a royal figure. The gowns are pale to stand out in a crowd and in black and white film, they are designed carefully to allow for the wearing of insignia, and those worn abroad make reference to the host country in their decoration, such as the Hartnell gown fashioned in the colours of the flag of Pakistan where it was first worn. This long-standing tradition of diplomatic dressing continues to this day.
The young Princess Margaret followed fashion closely and her style was widely imitated. The majority of her wardrobe from the 1960s and 70s has never been displayed before. Shown here together for the first time, the clothes reflect the rule-breaking of a more liberal era and the greater freedoms of her role. The Princess embraced the fashions for bold bright colours and the new ‘slim-line’ look seen in the purple Dior evening gown worn for The Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations. She wore short Quant-inspired dresses and experimented with the vogue for ethnic clothing - her stunning full-length kaftan and matching turban of fine ivory sari silk, worn on holiday in Mustique, is on display for the first time.
Finally, we will explore the style of Diana, Princess of Wales. For the first time, we will showcase her adventurous signature look of the 1980s – from frills and shoulder pads to asymmetrical shapes and bright colours. Whatever the Princess wore had a huge impact on her public image and on British fashion. Two of the dresses on display have never been shown in the UK before and typify those 80s trends – the ballerina-length blue dance dress by Jacques Azagury, with its dropped waist, oversize bow, padded shoulders and sparkling embroidery and the midnight blue strapless evening gown, designed by London born Murray Arbeid, with its dramatic layers of tulle netting and theatrical fish-tail skirt. The Princess’ fashion choices were scrutinised across the globe and her faithful patronage of home-grown designers and much-imitated style was credited with almost single-handedly reviving the flagging British fashion industry.
Cassie Davies-Strodder, curator of the exhibition, said:
“The exhibition completes the story of 20th century monarchy at Kensington Palace. The Palace is a magical setting to celebrate these modern royal women in their fashion heyday, providing a rare opportunity to get up close to these wonderful dresses and be transported to the times in which they were worn.”