Monday, January 22, 2018

title pic 1950s Silk Dresses from the Last Debutantes at Kensington Palace

Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on May 31, 2011

     While I love all eras of fashion, the 1950s has to be one of the most versatile for wearing today!  These 1950s silk evening dresses worn by the “Last Debutantes” are beautifully displayed at  historic Kensington Palace, and may inspire you to sew a few 50s dresses yourself!

ballroom chandelier
An elegant chandelier swings from this ballroom’s ornately carved ceiling in the Kensington Palace.
Kensington Palace
Of all the museums I’ve studied in while in England, the Victoria & Albert Museum is definitely my favorite!  But in a close second place is Kensington Palace, which is the most gorgeous palace in all of London, situated on acres of lush pastures and gardens.  Most recently made famous as Princess Diana’s residence, it has earlier claims to fame as the childhood home of Queen Victoria, and housed much of England’s royal family all the way back to the time of William & Mary!  A stroll through this rich historical palace leads you through magnificent exhibits of antique furniture, royal courts gowns, and other historical artifacts associated with England’s history.  And then, out of nowhere, emerges a charming pastel-painted room where warm lighting and classic swing music waltzes around a vast display of 1950s silk prom dresses and vintage tuxedos.
1950s formal evening gowns in London Musuem

Over 50 years later, the original silk gowns worn for the 1958 court presentation look as stunning as ever!

“The Last of the Debutantes”

 The exhibit “The Last of the Debutantes” pays a fitting tribute to end of an era in England.  For over two hundred years, girls of an eligible age were presented in court before the reigning king or queen, after which they were deemed ready for social life.  By the time that the 1950s arrived, the average age of a debutante was seventeen, and was only presented in court if she came from a wealthy family.   While this ritual would have been a greatly anticipated event for the young lady, it was nothing but an expense for her parents!   They had to foot the bill for her many silk dresses, shoes, accessories, and etiquette lessons necessary for her first “season” of social calls.  Once she had been presented in court before Queen Elizabeth, a girl of social standing would enjoy a flurry of parties, dances, and banquets. 

1905s vintage dresses

Two lovely 1950s gowns with silk flowers on the bodices.

vintage 1950s evening dresses and formal styles

I love the black 1950s gown with the white flowers arranged at the neckline!


The pinnacle of the royal court presentation was the moment when the new debutantes would bow before Queen Elizabeth. They must bend down as far as they could without losing their balance, and still look graceful while doing so. Each step towards the Queen’s throne was carefully planned, and the girls had to follow an exact choreography for which foot to cross over which, how to step out of the curtsey, and how to properly walk away from the Queen in a respectful manner. Undoubtedly many young women must have fretted over what would happen if they lost their balance in front of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth! Even girls who are usually quite graceful would probably feel nervous during such an important ordeal!
1950s silk evening gown pale pink

Beautiful panels of ruching at the side fronts along with unique pearl embroidery on the bodice give this stunning silk gown an unusual twist.

Embroidery detail on 1950s silk dress hem

Dainty silk roses and diamente bead embroidery adorn the hem of this powder blue duchesse silk dress.

In 1958, the British tradition of “being presented at court” came to an end, but its legacy lived on in the hearts of the ladies who had participated in them.  And now, over fifty years later, these same women graciously lent Kensington Palace their original evening dresses for display at the exhibit.  Some of them had even saved their shoes, hats, and tubes of lipstick from the monumentous evening! 
vintage 1950s prom dress

Here is a breathtaking 1950s evening dress with soft antique style. Embroidered flower motifs grace the bodice and skirt of this delicate dancing dress.Lovely periwinkle flowers on a white batiste background. What a sweet dress!

strapless 1950s white formal dress

Lovely periwinkle flowers on a white batiste background. What a sweet dress!


While this exhibit has recently closed, I would highly recommend a visit to see the other wonderful garments that Kensington Palace displays!  From royal court gowns of the 1600s to Princess Dianna’s 1980s dresses, this historic museum houses a brilliant collection of garments.  And with the recent speculation that Kensington could become the home to Prince William and Princess Catherine, one can only hope that with time we will see some of Kate Middleton’s dresses on display as well!