You Should Be Reading: Fashion and Royalty Special Edition

WT- Fash and Royal COSTUME

Fashion has always had the ability to convey a desired image, particularly when utilized by royalty or high-ranking public figures. Rich fabrics, textures, colors, and designs can be used to portray superiority and wealth; conversely, simple fabrics and designs can be used to convey a democratic, “of-the-people” mentality. (Think of the way the general public reacts when Michelle Obama or Kate Middleton wear mass-market fashions–the items usually sell-out in hours.) In this special edition of “You Should Be Reading,” Worn Through highlights the latest special issue of Costume, the journal of The Costume Society of Great Britain. This issue brings together a collection of papers delivered at the Historic Royal Palace 2012 conference, held at Kensington Palace, which considered the role of the British monarchy and its relationship to the modern world. Exploring the interplay between fashion and royal image, these articles highlight issues of authenticity, identity, independence, power, and popularity. And, for the month of October, Maney Publishing has generously arranged for this issue of Costume to be available to read online for freeWe hope you enjoy! 

1. Chrisman-Campbell, K. (2013). Diagnosing the dress of the queen’s train-bearers at the coronation of George III. Costume, 47(2), 145-160.

NPG 224; Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz studio of Allan Ramsay

Portrait of Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818) by studio of Allan Ramsay, 1762. Oil on canvas.

One of the treasures of the Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) Museum in Los Angeles is an eighteenth-century bodice whose history is as tantalizing as its beauty. Documents sold with the bodice at Christie’s in 1973 indicate that it was worn at the coronation of King George III (1738‐1820) in 1761 by Lady Mary Douglas (1736‐1816), a train-bearer to Queen Charlotte (1744‐1818). This unusually well-preserved and well-documented ceremonial costume provides a rare glimpse of sartorial splendour at the Georgian court. Historical and technical analyses of the object reveal that formal court dress played an important aesthetic, economic, and political role in eighteenth-century England. — Full Article Abstract

2. Dawson, E. (2013). ‘Comfort and freedom’: The Duke of Windsor’s wardrobeCostume, 47(2), 198-215. 


King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson on holiday in Yugoslavia, 1936. Daily Herald Archive at the National Media Museum.

Clothing belonging to the late Duke of Windsor (1894‐1972), which remained in his Paris home until it was dispersed in 1998, provides an insight into both his taste and character. As the young and popular Prince of Wales in the 1920s, he courted notions of modernity, celebrity and informality, rejecting the stiff conventions of his father’s dress and court. His innovative sense of style was emulated on both sides of the Atlantic. Throughout his life he remained loyal to the tailors and haberdashers who helped to craft his image and provide the comfort and freedom he craved in his clothes. This paper considers how some of the surviving garments in his wardrobe can help to define the man who was Prince of Wales, King Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor. — Full Article Abstract

3. Hughes, C. (2013). Uneasy heads: Difficulties with royal hatsCostume, 47(2), 234-247. 


A yellow spaghetti-design hat worn by Queen Elizabeth II during a visit to Schoeneberg, West Berlin in May 1965. Courtesy 

This article looks at two hundred years of British royal hats. We think of royal heads as crowned, though they are almost invariably hatted, and crowns haunt royal hats even when they are materially absent. It is unthinkable that the present Queen might preside at an official occasion bareheaded. Hats have had strong hierarchic, economic and social implications and, even if no longer mandatory, a hat is still a dramatic personal signature. For British royalty, whose image is public property, headgear must suggest not only style and glamour but also dignity of office. Royal men reached for military headgear to convey authority but, in time, this became camouflage. Queens, initially lacking impressive hats, appeared uncertain. But from the early twentieth century, as the monarchy became increasingly feminized, royal women, seeking a path between the imperatives of fashion and historical continuity, created memorable personal images — sometimes idiosyncratic, often enchanting — to which the hat was a final, distinctive flourish. — Full Article Abstract

4. Leventon, M., & Gluckman, D. C. (2013). Modernity through the lens: The Westernization of Thai women’s court dressCostume, 47(2), 216-233. 


Photograph of King Chulalongkorn, dated 2459 (1916 AD).

Photography came to Thailand in the mid-nineteenth century and was adopted first by King Mongkut (Rama IV, r. 1851‐1868) and subsequently by his son King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, r. 1868‐1910). Earlier reigns had forbidden the creation of images of the king. However, King Mongkut, eager to demonstrate that Siam was a modern state on the world stage, willingly sat for daguerreotype portraits modelled after those of European royalty. These were distributed to foreign visitors to the Thai court and sent as gifts to Western heads of state. King Chulalongkorn, who became an enthusiastic patron of photography and an accomplished amateur photographer himself, commissioned countless portraits of himself and his family, especially the women and children of the court. By the end of his reign, portraits of members of the royal family, especially the women, became routine. These portraits offer an unmatched record of the dress of an otherwise invisible population and served as inspiration for Thailand’s reigning queen in her development of modern court dress. This essay, the first of its kind in English, attempts to chart the changes in court attire from c. 1860‐1930, as it gradually evolved from fully Thai to fully Western. — Full Article Abstract

5. Strasdin, K. (2013). Fashioning Alexandra: A royal approach to style 1863-1910Costume, 47(2), 180-197. 


Queen Alexandra when Princess of Wales (1844-1925) by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1864. Oil on canvas.

For some sixty years Alexandra, Princess of Wales (1844‐1925), later Queen Consort, lived at the heart of the British monarchy. Feted by her public and peers, she negotiated a careful and successful sartorial path through the many civic and social commitments of her long career. Her style was admired and copied by women, sometimes entering mainstream fashion, although her clothing choices were often informed by other considerations. This article explores Alexandra’s fashionability and how factors, such as her attitude to money and a need to mask physical imperfections also influenced the way she dressed. An examination of Alexandra’s surviving clothing and related documentary evidence can reveal not only what lay behind the creation of Alexandra’s regal, fashioned body but also cast new light on her biographical story. — Full Article Abstract

6. Walter, H. (2013). ‘Van Dyck in action’: Dressing Charles I for the Victorian stageCostume, 47(2), 161-179.

NPG x160516; Sir Henry Irving (John Henry Brodribb) as 'King Charles I' by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, published by  J. Beagles & Co

Sir Henry Irving (John Henry Brodribb) as ‘King Charles I’ by London Stereoscopic & Photographic Company, published by J. Beagles & Co. Matte bromide postcard print, 1873. NPG x160516 © National Portrait Gallery, London.

In 1872, the then relatively unproven young actor, Henry Irving, took to the stage of London’s Lyceum theatre to play the part of Charles I in a new play by William Gorman Wills. The play’s phenomenal popularity was Irving’s first major triumph as a tragedian, but what few historians have explored was that his success was largely predicated, not just upon his acting ability, but on the visual aspects of his performance, particularly his appearance as Charles I, and his costumes, which were characterized by his biographer Bram Stoker as akin to watching ‘Van Dyck in action’. This notion, that Irving was the incarnation of Charles I as painted by Van Dyck, came to dominate the visual and verbal rhetoric of the production. However, looking in detail at images of the king, and of Irving’s costumes, this article breaks down this myth, and questions the validity of such a metaphor, arguing that Irving was not so much portraying Van Dyck’s king as a Victorian idea of how Charles should appear, which chimed perfectly with the expectations of his audiences, and ensured his success. — Full Article Abstract


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