A new exhibition exploring the fashions worn by successive generations of women in the Royal Family will open at the Fashion Museum Bath on 3 February 2018 and run until 28 April 2019.
Royal Women will be a ‘family tree’ exhibition looking at the clothes worn by Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and Princess Margaret.
Wives and daughters, sisters and mothers; none of them were regnant yet they all played a key role in the British monarchy. The exhibition will examine their sartorial lives, looking at each woman’s unique style, the role they played within the monarchy and how that was reflected in their choice of dress.
The exhibition will feature exquisite items of dress from the Fashion Museum collection, as well as a major loan from the Royal Collection, generously lent by Her Majesty The Queen.
The exhibition curator, Elly Summers, said: “The Fashion Museum is one of the world’s great museum collections of historical fashionable dress and we are immensely fortunate that amongst its treasures it includes dress belonging to members of the Royal Family; we are equally fortunate in the loan of key pieces from the Royal Collection.”
Each of the royal women featured in the exhibition had their own unique style:
Her Majesty Queen Alexandra
1 December 1844 – 20 November 1925
Queen Alexandra was a fashion icon, whose look was quite different from that of her mother-in-law, Queen Victoria. She set a trend for chokers and high necklines and was well known for her elegant, tailored daywear.
Her Majesty Queen Mary
26 May 1867 – 24 March 1953
An imposing, statuesque figure, Mary was the embodiment of royalty. Her role was to be a steadying influence, reassuring the British public during difficult times, including the First World War, and her dress style reflected this. Mary’s style stayed constant through dramatic changes in fashions during the first half of the 20th century. Impeccably dressed, for eveningwear she wore heavily beaded gowns and for day she wore tailored suits and large toque hats.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother
4 August 1900 – 30 March 2002
Elizabeth and King George VI were seen as the saviours of the monarchy and had to weather many crises, including the Second World War and the abdication of Edward VIII. Elizabeth related well to the public, and brought sparkle to the image of royal women in the post-war world, when it was much needed. Elizabeth loved fashion and took a keen interest in designs, fabrics and colours. Norman Hartnell designed much of what she wore – which included dramatic eveningwear and soft pastel coloured daywear that flattered her diminutive height.
Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon
21 August 1930 – 9 February 2002
Princess Margaret was glamorous and beautiful and was often photographed wherever she went. Unlike the reigning monarch, Margaret had more freedom to explore fashion, something she took great pleasure in. Many of her earlier outfits were designed by Hartnell, and she became a great patron of Christian Dior after she was introduced to his New Look collection in 1947.
Highlights of the exhibition include:
- Tartan silk dress belonging to Alexandra, Princess of Wales (about 1870)
Made by Madame Elise, this stunning tartan dress was probably worn by Alexandra to a function at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the monarch in Scotland.
This exquisite dress has a great story, for it was part of the dispersed royal wardrobe. Following Alexandra’s death in 1925, many of her dresses were dispersed and even today the whereabouts of many remain a mystery. This colourful dress, now a treasured part of the Fashion Museum collection, was discovered in the 1930s in a high end ‘vintage’ shop called Baroque in Margaret Street in London, and from there made its way into the Fashion Museum collection.
- Purple silk chiffon dress belonging to Alexandra, Princess of Wales (1910)
Made by Madame Doeuillet, of very fine, heavily embroidered silk chiffon, this dress was most likely unworn, perhaps having been discarded for mourning clothes on Edward VII’s death.
- Dress and cape of gold lamé and turquoise cut velvet belonging to Queen Mary (1947)
Made by Hartnell and worn by Queen Mary to the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten RN at Wesminster Abbey in 1947. This historic commission for Hartnell included not only designing the wedding dress for the Princess, but also the dresses for her eight bridesmaids and members of her family.
- Grey silk satin ball gown worn by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (1954)
On long-term loan from the Royal Collection, the dress was made by Hartnell and worn to a dinner for educational charity the English Speaking Union in New York on 3 November 1954. Hartnell gowns were hugely labour intensive – at this time he employed 400 staff, from cutters and seamstresses to embroiderers.
- Christian Dior ‘Rose Pompon’ strapless cream silk chiffon day dress worn by Princess Margaret (1952)
The Princess wore this dress from Dior’s ‘Rose Pompon’ collection to Royal Ascot.
- Christian Dior strapless black lace evening dress worn by Princess Margaret (1953)
Worn to a performance of Guys and Dolls at the London Coliseum on 23 July 1953, which Princess Margaret attended along with her sister The Queen and Prince Philip.