I wanted to see Fashioning a Reign, an exhibition of the clothes worn by Her Majesty the Queen during her long – 90 year – royal, life. Buckingham Palace is only ten minutes from my home, by bus, and I wanted to see the dresses and hats close up. But at £20 the tickets seemed steep, even with the slight “over 60s/student discount”.
Buckingham Palace is run day-to-day by Anthony Johnstone-Burt, who introduces himself to visitors on the audio guide. (Included with the ticket, and in several languages). He runs a tight ship. All the staff – from the security team who take you through airport security, to the charming youngsters who see that you don’t accidentally wander off the path on your way out, are excellent. Smiley, engaging, diverse and enthusiastic. The tour includes the state rooms, a selection of priceless art, the royal garden (where the Queen’s garden parties occur), and the exhibition of clothes. And, if you gift aid the entrance fee at the end of your tour, you are entitled to come again, for free, as many times as you like for a year. There are nice cafes, toilets and opportunities to take photographs once outside. And a shop if you fancy hand towels embroidered with “Buckingham Palace”, or guardsman pyjamas for your kids. At first I thought it was pricey. By the end I thought it was a bargain!
If you love clothes and hats you will not be disappointed. If you have a visitor from abroad, or are local, there is plenty to interest you beyond the exhibition. An absolute hidden gem (despite being so obvious that neither Nick nor I had been to look around before.) There are three exhibitions of the Queen’s clothes in the UK this year – additionally in Edinburgh and Windsor.
So what about the clothes?
The Queen is the most photographed woman in the world and she has a lot of clothes. Often she will have to change two or three times a day to be suitably attired for her engagements. Sometimes she has to conform to other people’s cultures and rules – witness the “modest” dress and turban hat worn in Saudi Arabia, or the black dress and mantilla for an audience with the Pope. Some of her dresses include Australian Wattles, Canadian Maple leaves, and a dress for Africa with elaborate beading at the neckline. The exhibition includes an outfit typical of each decade, with relevant photographs and objects, and they quickly show the impact of age and lifestyle on the queen’s body shape.
The most important dresses on show are the Queen’s wedding and coronation dresses – heavily embellished, light reflecting silk satin – they are no-expense-spared garments designed to make the monarch look as large, important and as fabulous as possible. And they are successful. The photographs below are all from the Royal Collection website, so you can enjoy the photographs even if you cannot make it in person.
The Queen’s Christening gown is now too fragile to display – it was reproduced for the Christening (you can see the room too) of Prince George and Princess Charlotte. Made from Honiton lace, and English silks, it was nice to see – as were the dresses and crowns worn by Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret when their own father became King.
My main criticism of the exhibition is that the mannequins used were not very flattering. Although the Queen has filled out considerably as she has aged she always looks considerably better than the dresses on display may imply. They appear deflated at bust level, with the darts too low for the form. In real life all the Queen’s clothes are tailor-made and impeccably fitted and generally rather flattering. There are also some nice examples of her military and ceremonial dress. Here are three outfits I loved. The military jackets are designed so the Queen can ride side-saddle. The khaki uniform of the Auxiliary Territorial Service was worn by Princess Elizabeth in 1945 when she learned to drive and carry out vehicle maintenance.
There is a truly great selection of hats – this is a woman who always wears one, not least to ensure the public can pick her out in a crowd. I will do another post on her hats in due course.
All in all a good day out. We had tickets for when it opened (9.15) and stayed until 11.30, but I really rushed the state rooms. A good excuse to go back. If you are thinking of going let me know as I would happily go again.