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Now On: Royal Women


This year, it’s a safe bet to say that ‘royals’ and ‘royal dress’ will be under much scrutiny in the run up to the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle this May. ‘Diana: Her Fashion Story’ continues to pull in the crowds at Kensington Palace and curators understand only too well the magnetic pull of a ‘royal inspired’ exhibition to attract tourists from all over the globe.

Enter ‘Royal Women’ just opened at the Fashion Museum in the heritage city of Bath. This compact and insightful exhibition focuses on five royal women and examines how their role in the British monarchy influenced how they dressed. Wives and daughters, sisters and mothers; none of the Royal women featured in the exhibition was monarch and yet this is more than just cloth and thread, it’s a personal insight into each woman’s unique style and the choices that they made at the time.

Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret are the four principle ladies in this exhibition. While the fifth, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex adds a touch of modernity to the exhibit with her Bruce Oldfield, beige silk suit and matching Jane Taylor hat – the very outfit she wore to the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011.

Amongst all the fine beading and needlework there are stories of favourite designers and styles cast aside despite being at the height of fashion at the time. Alexandra, for example, went against the grain, and opted for simple, pared-back styles and even adopted the everyday suit, then associated with riding coats and sportswear, at a time when the fuller figure and opulent detail were in vogue. While Princess Margaret had greater freedom to express her glamorous side than her sister the Queen. She adored the waist-cinching full-skirted ‘New Look’ silhouette courtesy of French fashion house Christian Dior, this feminine shape is replicated by British royal favourite Norman Hartnell, who produced many designs for the Princess.

As for the actual garments of course there is plenty of exquisite beading, lace, corsetry, embroidery, fine silks, satins, chiffons and beautifully constructed made-to-measure pieces on show. Including Alexandra, Princess of Wales’ wedding dress, dating from 1863, on loan from the Royal Collection, generously lent by Her Majesty The Queen. While a dove grey, silk satin ballgown puts the spotlight on the publicly popular Queen Mother. Additionally the exhibition offers original film footage and photographs capturing these women impeccably dressed and ready for royal duty.

Royal Women runs until 28th April 2019 at The Fashion Museum in Bath.


Words and images by JoJo Iles

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