When Queen Elizabeth attended Ladies Day at the annual Royal Ascot races in June, all eyes were on her gold-and-blue hat – which, by coincidence, perfectly matched the colors worn by winning jockey Ryan Moore.
“It was absolutely extraordinary,” says Caroline de Guitaut, curator of Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from the Queen’s Wardrobe.
The hat, created by her dresser and frequent designer Angela Kelly, is center stage in the third and final portion of the exhibit, opening at Windsor Castle on Saturday.
The Queen’s iconic clothes and hats are also on display at Buckingham Palace and Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Scotland. The extraordinary collection of some 150 outfits and hats is one of the many commemorations to mark the Queen turning 90.
Despite the longevity of the Queen’s public life, she employed a relatively small band of designers, including Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies, Ian Thomas and more recently Stewart Parvin and Angela Kelly. “They are quite a small group but a significant group,” says de Guitaut.
“She was influenced by her mother, who admired Hartnell and in a sense she inherited him. But as demands grew, it was not possible for him to produce everything and she turned to Amies. When Hartnell died, she moved to Ian Thomas.”
Nor was she above doing her own shopping – when she was younger, the Queen would go to catwalk shows put on by the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers to pick up ideas.
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One Ian Thomas ensemble on display in the Crimson Drawing Room at Windsor comes from a visit to the U.S in 1976. A departure from the more form-fitting dresses of the 1950s and 1960s, “it really softens the look,” de Guitaut says of the soft, peach gown. “It is slightly more relaxed but still formal and has some embellishment.”
This latest part of the show celebrates the Queen’s life at Windsor, from her youth (represented by her Girl Guides uniform) to her love of horses to the diplomatic dressing for state occasions.
For a trip to Canada in 1959, she wore an Amies gown with white embroidery signifying the regional emblem of mayflowers which “would have caused a sensation,” says de Guitaut. And on her historic visit to Ireland in 2011 (the first by a British monarch in 100 years) she wore a white silk-crepe gown featuring 2,091 chiffon shamrocks and a diamanté harp on her left shoulder. “It was a tour de force in diplomatic dressing,” says de Guitaut.
Also featured in exhibits: the Queen’s outfits for a variety of family celebrations. For the marriage of her youngest child Prince Edward to the then Sophie Rhys-Jones, the Queen chose a feathered headpiece rather than a full hat. She followed with the same idea in an Angela Kelly outfit when her eldest son and heir Prince Charles wed Camilla Parker Bowles six years later in 2005.
The dresses line up alongside the costumes the then-Princess Elizabeth wore as she and her sister Princess Margaret took part in traditional Christmas holiday pantomimes of Aladdin and other shows during the WWII years.
“These are very rare pieces, the only costumes that survive,” says de Guitaut. “They fit into the tradition of royals dressing up for different parties like costume balls.”
At the sister exhibit at Buckingham Palace, which runs until October 2, highlights include Elizabeth’s stunning wedding and coronation gowns.
The Windsor Castle portion of Fashioning a Reign runs through January 8, 2017.