Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on September 21, 2013
The last time I was in England in 2009, I casually picked up a book in the Victoria & Albert Museum giftshop on Queen Elizabeth’s royal tour gowns from the 1950s. Little did I know that it would become one of my favorite books ever. Filled with images of the most elaborate embroidered evening gowns designed by couturiers Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies, this book showcased all the finest fashions which Queen Elizabeth wore during the first decade of her reign. I’ve spent countless hours poring over the pages, and imagining how wonderful these glittering dresses would look in real life.
So you can imagine how excited I was when earlier this summer Kensington Palace announced the opening of their new exhibit, “Fashion Rules; Dresses from the Collections of Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, and Diana, Princess of Wales”. Here are a few of my favorite shots that I took at Kensington yesterday, with some thoughts on how they looked in person down at the end of this post.
Pictures really don’t do the gowns justice, as even when you’re standing still, the crystals and jewels on the dresses just sparkle in the light as if they were moving! I was absolutely flabbergasted when I saw the first gown in the exhibit which was a cream silk number encrusted with thousands of dazzling crystals and beads.
The second thing that impressed me was that all these gowns were absolutely tiny!! I knew that Queen Elizabeth was short (5 foot 3 inches), but I had no idea at all that she was as petite in build as she was. Standing in front of the gowns, I couldn’t believe that a woman who had already given birth to two children had managed to squeeze into these diminutive dresses! I asked a member of the Kensington Palace staff what the measurements were, and she said that while it’s not been reported officially, Queen Elizabeth’s dresses fit onto a 20″ waisted mannequin, and Princess Margaret’s onto an 18″ mannequin. Good grief! I know that Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge is famous for keeping up such a trim figure at 5 ft. 10 inches, but considering the fact that Queen Elizabeth was seven whole inches shorter and had already had two babies, I think she is much more of a hero than our modern day Catherine! My guess is that Elizabeth would have worn an American size 2 dress in off-the-rack clothing (or “off-the-peg”, as I’ve heard it said so frequently here in England).
This exhibition is on display for a while longer at Kensington Palace, so if you are anywhere in the vacinity you simply must visit it in person!
At some point soon I will add more pictures of these glorious dresses and their up-close details, but for now I must get some rest to prepare for tomorrow’s adventures. This exhibit greatly inspired me in many ways!
Until next time, happy sewing!