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Monarchy Monday: Dressing for the Occasion – Court dress

Court dress example from 1822- note the length of the train

Court dress example from 1822- note the length of the train

A visit to Buckingham Palace involves many customs that one may not be accustom to- court dress for example. While today there is no official dress code, many wouldn’t dream of showing up in denim and a sweatshirt, but just in case lets go over what is acceptable now and the past dress codes.

Many men who have the honour to be invited to Buckingham Palace wear their service uniform or lounge suit during the daytime with a few choosing to wear morning coats. For evening events, black or white tie is typical.

No matter the time era, court dress for men or women usually meant dressing up in your most opulent attire. Women’s clothing and accessories from each era can be distinguished by their distinctive style. Dress with side hoops that peaked in popularity in the mid-1700’s fell out of fashion when King George IV made it known in the 1820’s that he felt side-hooped dresses should no longer be worn.

The 1850-60’s still saw large skirts held up by crinoline, in the 1870-80’s posterior bustles were the trend, the 1920’s saw straight gowns take center stage and have stuck in one form or another to the present day.

Some details were always regulated like the train of a dress, with a minimum train reaching 3 yards. In the late 1800’s a train reaching 15 yards was not uncommon (I can’t even begin to imagine a room full of women maneuvering around with 15-yard trains!). With full Court dress diminishing after World War One, women who attended the 1937 Coronation of King George VI were still required without trains or veils and Peeresses were to wear tiaras not feathers as it had once been. At Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation in 1953, ladies wore “evening dresses or afternoon dresses, with a light veiling falling from the back of the head. Tiaras may be worn … no hats” according to a 1952 issue of the London Gazette.

Court dress displayed at the Bath Costume Museum

Court dress displayed at the Bath Costume Museum

Men’s Court dress was for those not entitled to court uniform or military uniform. A tailcoat with matching  breeches and waistcoat with lace cuffs and jabot. Buckled shoes would be worn over silk stocking and the outfit was finished with white gloves, a cocked hat and a sword. Today black is primarily worn, but at one-time men would wear suits of all colours, often with silver or gold embroidery. It has been quite some time since large numbers of men have appeared in full Court dress- the last time being Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.

They say fashion trends come around in circles. So if that rule holds true we will be seeing side-hooped dresses any day now. Ladies get ready!

Photo Credit: Ashley Van Haeften via Flickr, redjar via Flickr

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