| Aimee Phillips

Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Royal Style

There’s no better setting for an unprecedented display of Her Majesty’s catalogue of outfits across the years than Buckingham Palace’s own State Rooms. The unique exhibition features garments spanning 90 years of The Queen’s life – from christening and Coronation gowns, to the wedding dress and a plethora of mesmerizing hats.

The exhibition at Buckingham Palace is one of three separate displays in celebration of The Queen’s 90th birthday at each of Her Majesty’s official residences during 2016. A total of 150 outfits will be shown across the Palaces, and the content of each exhibition has been selected to have particular association with the location: At the Palace of Holyroodhouse the use of tartan in royal dress is explored, while at Windsor Castle magnificent evening gowns worn on official occasions will be contrasted with Princess Elizabeth’s fancy-dress costumes from wartime family pantomimes held at the Castle. The exhibition at the State Rooms explores ceremonial and military attire, dress for State occasions and overseas tours, outfits for family celebrations, and Her Majesty’s support of British design.

Three gowns worn by The Queen in the 1960s

A host of beautiful creations from talent such as Angela Kelly, Ian Thomas and the great couturier Sir Norman Hartnell is on display. Arguably Hartnell’s best work for The Queen was his grand evening gowns and State occasion ensembles. His Coronation Dress – regarded as one of the most important examples of twentieth-century design by a British couturier- features duchesse satin, coloured silk thread, diamante pearls and a host of sequins and bugle beads. Hartnell started the task in 1952, submitting nine different designs, of which The Queen chose the eighth.


The Queen is well known for her use of block-colour dressing, using bright, bold colours to ensure she is easily visible on important occasions. A variety of these exquisite creations that Her Majesty wore across the years can be seen on display at the Palace. One example of this is the blue John Anderson dress (right) and jacket with the straw and silk Philip Somerville hat. The Queen wore this on 4 August 2000 for The Queen Mother’s 100th birthday celebration at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The Queen’s choice of milliners was influenced by her grandmother, Queen Mary, and her mother, Queen Elizabeth. From them, Princess Elizabeth inherited the first milliners to work for her including Kate Day, Claude Saint-Cyr, Rudolph and Aage Thaarup. The Queen, however, created her own style. On display are hats from The Queen’s wardrobe dating from the 1940s to the 2000s designed by six milliners. Examples by milliners still working for The Queen today are on display in the Ballroom, including Angela Kelly and Rachel Trevor Morgan.

The three exhibitions Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe are at the Palace of Holyroodhouse until 16th October 2016, the Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace is now open until 2nd October 2016, and at Windsor Castle from 17th September 2016 to the 8th January 2017.


By Aimee Phillips

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