Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on June 6, 2012
This weekend as the world celebrated 60 years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, we’ve had a wonderful chance to look back at how faithfully she and Prince Phillip have served the Commonwealth for the last six decades. Bright and chipper as ever, the Queen stills wears incredibly fashionable suits and hats, and insists that her umbrellas match each outfit. Her strikingly gorgeous white hair is styled in a curly coiffure reminiscent of the 1950s, and she is probably the only member of the Royal Family who sports bright red lipstick for every outing and event. So since we’re all in the “Royal” mood this week, I wanted to show some of my favorite pictures from her younger years and pass along a few things I learned about her wardrobe while studying in England.
It has been said that Princess Elizabeth was rather conservative when it came to clothing choices, and while she was decidedly fashionable and chic she was certainly not a show-off. In the 1950s her evening gowns were always elaborately beaded and embroidered, but designed with a modest cut to befit a queen. A vast majority of her state banquet gowns were subdued hues of blue or cream, though on one grand occasion her childhood governess convinced her to wear red. This former nanny also recalled that in her teenage years she started making much more of a fuss about her appearance whenever Phillip arrived for a banquet or dance, though it wasn’t until her twenty-first birthday that their engagement was officially announced.
Princess Elizabeth first saw Phillip when she was thirteen years of age, and was determined to marry only him ever since. Eight years later, she was finally planning the royal wedding she had dreamed of but had to be careful of extravagance due to the post-war rationing. Norman Hartnell designed this sumptuous silk wedding gown with embroidered flower motifs, which is now on display at Buckingham Palace for the Diamond Jubilee exhibit.
Here are a few fun facts about Elizabeth’s wedding gown:
Princess Elizabeth may have been royalty, but she still had to adhere to ration regulations. So since her ration books alone would never have supplied the money for a royal wedding dress, dozens of other engaged girls from around the country sent her their wedding dress coupons from their own ration books. (In the end, the government did designate some financial support for the expense, but I think it was such a touching gesture from these brides-to-be!)
Norman Hartnell assigned the task of actually sewing the dress to one head seamstress and her three young assistants.
The girl who had to sew all the buttonholes down the back had never done buttonholes before! So after a crash-course in buttonholing she feverishly perfected the hand stitch on scraps on fabric before slicing into the actual dress. (She later explained that the dress had already been embroidered by this time, so if she had made a mistake it would have been catastrophic!)
Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress had a total of 10,000 seed pearls embroidered in flower motifs! Norman Hartnell was unable to find such a great quantity in England, so one of his assistants flew to the United States in search of the precious beads. Upon arriving in London/Heathrow’s customs line, he was closely questioned as to what he was bringing back to the country. After declaring “Ten thousand seed pearls for Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress,” he had to pay tax on the huge quantity of pearls before he was allowed to pass through customs!
The wedding itself was a glorious affair. Those who watched William & Catherine’s royal wedding would recognize all the same sights and locations – Elizabeth and Phillip were married in the same majestic cathedral, took the exact same route by horse-drawn carriage back to Buckingham, and appeared on the same balcony with other members of the royal family to greet the crowd of well-wishers below.
Shortly after their wedding the Prince and Princess took an official royal tour of Canada, where every detail of Elizabeth’s wardrobe was reported by the media. Her hats were carefully planned by the commissioned designers so that “at all times her face could be seen by the public, and her headwear would not obstruct their view”.
When Elizabeth arrived in London upon hearing of her father’s untimely death, she was wearing a full-skirted 1950s dress that was cut a couple of inches below the knee. This length of skirt had been quite common for her daywear wardrobe for the last decade, but apparently her mother did not approve of that length on someone who was queen. “Your skirt is much too short!” she scolded. But reporters noted that the next day (and for years following) the Queen appeared in public in the exact same sort of style. As close as Elizabeth and her mother remained, her fashion choices were apparently not to be influenced by her dear mama’ any longer. However, all her shorter day dresses were carefully weighted at the hems so that she wouldn’t have to fear if a stiff breeze came along!
Queen Elizabeth’s Formal Fashions
By the time Queen Elizabeth began her royal Commonwealth Tour in 1953, she had become known for a very regal fashion look – fitted bodices with beading and embroidery, enormously pouffed skirts, subtle colors, majestic silk fabrics, and a multitude of royal tiaras. It has been said that “What Elizabeth Wore” each day was at least as much anticipated as the current “Catherine Middleton” fashion craze ever was. While the Duchess of Cambridge wears toothpick-like dresses in her pre-children years, Queen Elizabeth had already given birth to two babies by the time she ascended the throne! Moreover, some of her most fashionable photographs were taken in her thirties after she’d had all four children, and still managed to keep up a perfect 1950s figure. In this sense she is quite a heroine to me, as someone who can have lots of children and still be beautiful is greatly to be admired.
So while these dresses would look much prettier if we had good photographs of them on her, I will have to make do with showing some of them on their current mannequins:
Unlike the majority of Her Majesty’s 1950s gowns, this dress was designed by Hardy Amies. It was specially planned for the Queen’s banquet in Halifax, and so was incorporated with embroideries of mayflowers (the official symbol of Nova Scotia). The fabric itself was a bluish grey silk organza, accented by pink duchesses satin in the back. I am told that there was also a corresponding stole of the same design for the occasion.
This photo doesn’t quite do the gown justice, but this is one of my favorites from Queen Elizabeth’s royal tour in the 50s. Not much is known about this gown, except for the fact that it was a Hartnell creation and was first worn in Australia. The inner layer is gold lame’, with re-embroidered lace over the top.
This Hartnell design is really the perfect example of how his gowns for the Queen were styled. Cream duchesse satin was probably the most common material he used for her 1950s dresses, and the beading is what sets his designs apart.
This gown is one of my favorites! White silk is highly embellished with beads, embroidery, and emerald green velvet to reflect an all-over maple leaf design. The Queen liked to incorporate local emblems for whichever country she was visiting, resulting in some very stunning outfits. This one, made with Canada specially in mind, is now on loan in a Ottawa musuem during 2012.
One of two yellow “wattle” dresses which Elizabeth wore. It was a beautiful butter yellow color, and there is a famous painting of her wearing this very gown. Wattle is the national flower of Australia, so Her Majesty chose this creation for a state banquet in Sydney.
Back home in Britain, the young Queen continued to wow the country with her magnificent apparel. No matter what the occasion, she wore an elegant dress, very fine makeup, and her inseperable high heel pumps.
Her very bearing was so regal that it would be difficult to imagine her as anything else! With her long neck, dark wavy hair, full lips, thick eyebrows and decidedly elegant nose, she personified everyone’s image of the perfect young monarch.
And wherever she went, it was obvious that this fine lady was made to be Queen. From formal banquets to garden parties and charity work, Queen Elizabeth’s face shone with a radiant smile and cheerful countenance. And it is with great gratitude in our hearts that we congragulate her on sixty years of outstanding service to her country.
God save the Queen!