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Exhibition of The Queen’s Wardrobe at Windsor

On 21 April 2016, the first of three exhibitions opened in celebration of The Queen’s 90th birthday at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. To mark The Queen’s historic milestone, three exhibitions in total will be mounted for public display in three of Her Majesty’s royal residences; at Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Together they will represent the largest showing of The Queen’s wardrobe which has ever been available to public view. Entitled Fashioning a Reign, these special exhibitions will allow the story of The Queen’s extraordinary life to be told quite literally, through her dresses, accessories and jewellery, illustrating key important events in the life of The Queen and that of the British Nation. The Queen’s choice of British couturiers and milliners will also receive a special focus, with the dresses featured including examples by her late official dressmaker Sir Hardy Amies, Ian Thomas and perhaps most famously, the royal fashion designer Sir Norman Hartnell. Each item of clothing chosen will have a unique connection to the royal residence in which it will be displayed.

Fashioning a Reign opened first at the Palace of Holyroodhouse for The Queen’s birthday on 21 April, but the second exhibition at Buckingham Palace, will be the largest of the three mounted this year, opening for the official Summer Opening of the Buckingham Palace State Rooms in August 2016. The third at Windsor Castle, will open from September 2016 until January 2017. Spanning ten decades, over 150 dresses will be displayed across the royal residences, allowing visitors unprecedented access to the Monarch’s personal wardrobe and a privileged insight into how the requirements of both ceremonial and private dress are carefully met and catered for.

A few dresses of Her Majesty The Queen currently feature in the newly re-styled exhibition Fashion Rules, which re-opened at Kensington Palace in early February of this year and amongst those dresses of The Queen also includes items relating to HRH Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon and also to Diana, Princess of Wales. The Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection is housed at Kensington Palace and is a collection of immense national importance. In addition to those items currently on display, the Collection also contains many dresses of The Queen from the earlier period of her reign including many glittering evening gowns, alongside a substantial archive of drawings and photographs, thereby charting a unique record of The Queen’s evolving fashion tastes.

Windsor Castle’s exhibition from The Queen’s wardrobe will also feature items of clothing relating to her childhood, including some of the fancy-dress costumes worn by Princess Elizabeth for pantomimes during the war. Pantomime performances were performed at Windsor between 1941-1944, the first of these being Cinderella, in which both Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose took leading parts. Two years later followed Aladdin, which was performed at Christmas 1943 at Windsor. These pieces were staged in the Waterloo Chamber – a favourite of The Queen among Windsor’s State Rooms – and written by Hubert Tannar, Headmaster of the Royal School in Windsor Great Park. Interesting to mention is the fact that alongside the Dolls’ House of The Queen’s paternal grandmother Queen Mary which is displayed at Windsor Castle, are two French dolls which once belonged to Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Called France and Marianne, they were much loved dolls owned by the two princesses, which came together with their own luxurious wardrobes and accessories and were presented as a gift to the princesses from the French Government during the State Visit to France of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1938. Fittingly for two royal girls who both would develop a keen interest in fashion as the years passed, the dresses of the dolls were designed by some of the leading names in French fashion houses of the time, including Worth, Cartier and Vuitton.

Alongside these items relating to The Queen’s childhood, will be examples of some of the elegant day costumes and sumptuous evening gowns worn by The Queen at official functions and dinners at Windsor Castle. One of these will be a dress by Sir Norman Hartnell from around 1960 in gold duchess satin. Also featured will be a green Ian Thomas evening dress in painted chiffon from around 1970. The Queen chooses to spend many of her weekends privately at Windsor and also takes up official residence there over the period known as ‘Easter Court’ and also in June, when The Queen attends both Royal Ascot and Garter Day. Windsor is also the place where The Queen chooses to host what is known as a ‘dine and sleep’, where Ambassadors, High Commisioners or Heads of State are received in the evening, dine at the Castle and are shown an exhibition from the Royal Library which complements the visit in question. The visiting guests of honour then spend the night at the Castle, and depart after breakfast the next day. The Queen’s use of the Castle will thus be reflected in the clothes which will feature in the exhibition, with a stress on both the formal and the informal, the public and the private world of the monarch.

A previous publication, available through The Royal Collection Trust Shop, could receive a special emphasis this year in connection with these exhibitions. Entitled “Dressing The Queen“, the publication throws open the doors of the so-called ‘Dressers’ Floor’ at Buckingham Palace, with the assistance of Personal Adviser and Senior Dresser to Her Majesty The Queen, Angela Kelly. The publication reflects as does these exhibitions, the extraordinary care and attention to etiquette that is paid in organising every aspect of The Queen’s wardrobe and how each occasion – be it diplomatic or otherwise – receives its own personal tribute through The Queen’s choice of dress.

For more about the exhibitions across the three royal residences to mark The Queen’s 90th birthday, click here to view our recent post “Palaces to host largest-ever exhibition of Queen’s Wardrobe.

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