In recognition of its importance to the study of fashion history, the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection at Kensington Palace was recently awarded national Designated status. Comprised of clothing, accessories, and underthings worn by royalty and courtiers from the 17th century to the present day, this pre-eminent collection offers unique insight into the story and traditions of British monarchy - including George III, Queen Victoria, Princess Margaret, the Queen, and of course, Diana, Princess of Wales. All told, between the various historic photographs, letters, diaries, scrapbooks, prints, and clothing, there are a mindboggling 12,000 items in the collection, including fabulous frocks on display as part of the exhibition Diana, fashion and style. "We are delighted the MLA (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council) has recognized the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection as part of the Designation Scheme," comments Historic Royal Palaces curator, Alexandra Kim. "Fine fabrics, sumptuous dress and pretty wasp-waists aside, this unrivalled collection is an invaluable resource which can tell us much about the social history of high society."Here are some of the highlights of the Collection:
1. Princess Pat's Coronet Worn by Princess Patricia to the 1902 coronation of her uncle King Edward VII. This form of coronet - purple velvet cap, hallmarked silver gilt circlet with two crosses pate, two strawberry leaves, and four fleur de lys - was used by sons and daughters of the Sovereign between 1662 and 1917.
2. Herald's Tabard Since 1484, heralds have made royal or state proclamations as part of the Royal Household. The design of their tabard has changed little in shape or design since the Middle Ages; the front, back & sleeves are embroidered with the Royal Coat of Arms, along with the red lion of Scotland on a gold background, the stringed harp of Ireland (blue background), and three gold lions of England (red background). This particular tabard was was worn in 1919.
3. Princess Ena's Unused Rice Confetti After an anarchist threw a bomb at the royal carriage, killing an outrider and spotting her wedding dress with blood, Queen Victoria Eugenia (Queen Ena) - granddaughter of Queen Victoria - was hurriedly ushered into another carriage along with her bridegroom, King Alfonso of Spain. Sadly the bridesmaid to whom this silk and gilt cone of confetti belonged was never able to throw the contents.
4. Stockings & Vest belonging to William III Extremely rare examples of 17th century royal dress, the generally serious monarch must have looked quite festive in his brightly colored stockings. The vest, in turn, shows how small the King was.
5. Silver Brocade Court Mantua A typical mantua from the 1760s; bizarrely wide, it was nonetheless the "uniform" favored by the ladies at the Georgian court. Weighty layers of petticoats and fabric - embroidered here with heavy silver thread in a design of stripes and scrolling garlands and further trimmed with sparkly silver lace - were supported with whalebone hoops. This particular frock was believed to have belonged to the wife of the Prime Minister of the period, Charles, 2nd Marquis of Rockingham. (image: source)
6. Queen Victoria's Underwear These split drawers and chemise made from fine linen were worn by HRH at the end of the 19th century. The chemise has tiny buttons to fasten the shoulders, making it easy for her attendants to slip it on, while both pieces are embroidered with a crown, the initials "VR," and a number, so they could be kept track of when sent to the laundry. The reason her royal sweet nothings are in such short supply is that after her death, they are thought to have been divided up and distributed amongst the Royal Household...as a memento.
7. Princess Diana's Tweed Honeymoon Suit Worn by the fashionable People's Princess for the famous photoshoot by the river at Balmoral Castle, it draws on the royal fam's tradition of rocking tweeds in the country. Created in two sizes, Di opted for the larger one for more shoulder room should the agenda include shooting. At her request, the designer, Bill Pashley, prevented any further copies of the suit from being made. (image: source)
8. Edward VIII's Safari Suit Before he became the Duke of Windsor - post-abdication in 1936 - the then-King designed this spiffy suit in the late 1920s for hunting in high style (a famed clotheshorse, he was known to travel with up to 40 tin trunks in tow). "When in East Africa, I designed a special type of safari shorts," he once noted. "These were made of thick khaki drill which could be worn long in the bush, to protect the knees from long grasses and thorny underbrush, or could be buttoned up above the knee for the sake of coolness on the march in more open country."
9. George III's Waistcoat Crafted from turquoise silk damask, this was one of the last items of clothing worn by the King before his death in January 1821. In the last months of his life, pieces of fabric were inserted into the sleeves to aid mobility and make dressing the King easier; it is considered one of the earliest examples of costume adapted for illness (George III famously suffered from mental illness the latter part of his life.)
10. Toile of the Queen Mum This full-size, 3D cotton working pattern was made for the Queen Mother's coronation dress as designed by Mme. Handley-Seymour, known for her extravagant and theatrical creations that helped shape the style of 20th century royal women. In addition to being used to fit the Queen for the final gown, the toile was covered in renderings of roses, thistles, and shamrocks in order to give the embroidery workshops at the Royal School of Needlework specific details on how the design was to be realized.
For more info on the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection and other fab fashions housed at the Historic Royal Palaces, check out HRP.org.uk.
- Lesley Scott
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