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Fashion Museum rocks royal frocks from late Victorian to the mid twentieth century 2

a photo of a long cream glove with a royal cipher on the hand

Coronation glove worn by Queen Alexandra. Courtesy Glove Collection Trust

The Fashion Museum in Bath is exploring the fashion choices of four British royal females, from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century

Wives and daughters, sisters and mothers; none of the women in this sartorial look at female royalty were reigning monarchs, yet they all played a key role in the British monarchy – a role that was often reflected in their fashion choices.

Royal Women is a kind ‘family tree’ exhibition looking at the clothes worn by Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and Princess Margaret, the exhibition features exquisite items of dress from the Fashion Museum collection, as well as a major loan from the Royal Collection.

Queen Alexandra

December 1 1844 – November 20 1925

a photo of a red tartan dress with rear ruffle

Evening dress, tartan silk by Madame Elise about 1870. Red, green and cream tartan silk satin evening dress possibly worn by Queen Alexandra to a function at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. © Fashion Museum Bath

a photo of a lilac dress with pinched waist

Lilac silk evening dress worn by Queen Alexandra made by Morin Blossier about 1893. Lilac watered silk with velvet, lace and pearl trimmings. © Fashion Museum Bath

a photo of a voilet colored evening dress of the Edwardian period

Purple silk chiffon evening dress with embroidered metal thread motifs, bugle beads and diamantés, worn by Queen Alexandra, made by Doeuillet, Paris 1910. © Fashion Museum Bath

a detail of metal thread on an evening gown

Detail of the embroidered metal thread motifs. © Fashion Museum Bath

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.

The tartan silk dress at top bdates to about 1870 and was made by Madame Elise. It was probably worn by Alexandra to a function at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the monarch in Scotland.

Following Alexandra’s death in 1925, many of Alexandra’s dresses were dispersed and even today the whereabouts of many remain a mystery. But 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 Museum collection.

The purple silk chiffon dress dating to 1910 and made by Madame Doeuillet, of very fine, heavily embroidered silk chiffon, was most likely unworn, perhaps having been discarded for mourning clothes on Edward VII’s death.

Queen Mary

May 26 1867 – March 24 1953

a photo of two pairs of golden shoes

Queen Mary’s gold lamé shoes by Rayne about 1920 with diamanté buttons and a two inch heel. © Fashion Museum Bath

a photo of a evening gown with black and purple seqiins

Queen Mary dress with black and purple sequins and fur trim. Circa 1930. © Fashion Museum Bath

Gold lamé and ivy-leaf design cut velvet dress with jacket

Queen Mary’s gold lamé and turquoise cut velvet dress by Norman Hartnell, 1947. Worn to the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Phillip Mountbatten on 20th November 1947. © Fashion Museum Bath

Sequinned evening dress and coat with a diamond pattern decorated with diamantés and trimmed with black foxaline fur

Evening dress and coat worn by Queen Mary in black and purple sequins with fur trim, about 1930. © Fashion Museum Bath

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.

Mary’s dress and cape of gold lamé and turquoise cut velvet was made by Hartnell to be worn 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.

The Queen Mother

4 August 1900 – 30 March 2002

Gold lace evening dress embroidered all over with sequins and trimmed with soft net tulle

Evening dress, gold lace and sequins worn by Elizabeth the Queen Mother by Norman Hartnell about 1953. © Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018

a photo of a silk off the shoulder evening dress

Evening dress, gold lace and sequins by Norman Hartnell about 1953. Worn by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018

Elizabeth and King George VI were seen by many 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. She 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.

On long-term loan from the Royal Collection, the dress at top made by Norman Hartnell was worn to a dinner for educational charity the English Speaking Union in New York on November 3rd 1954. Hartnell gowns were hugely labour intensive – at this time he employed 400 staff, from cutters and seamstresses to embroiderers.

Princess Margaret

21 August 1930 – 9 February 2002

a photo of a Cream chiffon dress and a Red and white ͚ candy-striped cotton evening dress with full sleeves

Princess Margaret, evening dress in red and white striped cotton by Norman Hartnell 1949 and cream chiffon day dress by Christian Dior 1952. © Fashion Museum Bath

Cream chiffon day dress worn by Princess Margaret made by Christian Dior, 1952. © Fashion Museum, Bath

Black lace and pink silk strapless evening dress with black bead decoration

Black lace evening dress worn by Princess Margaret made by Norman Hartnell, 1953. © Fashion Museum, Bath

In the 1950s Princess Margaret was seen as glamorous and beautiful and was often photographed wherever she went. Unlike the reigning monarch she had more freedom to explore fashion and took great pleasure in it. Many of her earlier outfits were designed by Norman Hartnell and she became a great patron of Christian Dior after she was introduced to his New Look collection in 1947.

The Christian Dior ‘Rose Pompon’ strapless cream silk chiffon day dress was worn by Princess Margaret to Royal Ascot in 1952 and the Dior strapless black lace evening dress was worn by the Princess to a performance of Guys and Dolls at the London Coliseum on 23 July 1953, which she attended along with her sister The Queen and Prince Philip.

Alexandra, Mary, Elizabeth, Margaret: public life, personal style. The Fashion Museum, Bath, 3 February 2018 – 28 April 2019.


Fashion Museum Bath

Bath, Somerset

The Fashion Museum Bath holds a world-class collection of contemporary and historic dress located in a World Heritage City. The museum was founded by writer and collector Doris Langley Moore as the Museum of Costume, Bath and has been based in Bath’s Grade 1-listed 18th century Assembly Rooms since 1963.…

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