Today’s generation knows Kate Middleton as the fashionista of the
British royal family, but before Kate there was the ever fabulous
Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret –
who was known in her youth as a somewhat risque fashionista.
Style Icon Princess Diana earned her fashionable reputation by
leading the fashion trends of the 1980s – her style is a focus in the
London fashion scene with Kate Middleton often being scrutinized to
see if she can compare to her famous Mother-in-law.
A fashion celebrity in her own right Princess Margaret, Queen
Elizabeth’s younger sister, earned her fame in the 1950’s by wearing
risque couture pieces that often earned her global headlines.
The exhibit at Kensington Palace which opened recently displays a
timeline of fashion from the 1940’s till present day all worn by these
iconic royals. In total the exhibit showcases 21 couture gowns
directly from the royals’ closets. The gowns on display are a silk
regal dress wore by a young Queen Elizabeth in the 1950s to a
personal favorite of mine, a glimmering sequined dress that Princess
Diana wore in the 1990s.
The exhibit’s curator Cassie Davies-Strodder says “We are looking at
how the three women dressed to the trends and how they adapted those
rules to the rules of royals’ dressing.”
It is a sure thing that the exhibit’s biggest draw will be the gowns
worn by Princess Diana. Curator Davies-Strodder was pleased to note
that while Princess Diana was the Style Icon of her day, her style was
no where as adventurous as the fashions wore by Princess Margaret.
It was Princess Margaret who threw amazing parties, where she mixed
and mingled with pop stars like The Beatles. Princess Margaret was an
established fashion trendsetter of London’s Swinging 1960s and 70s.
One of my favorite gowns at the exhibit, worn by Princess Margaret, was
a long flowing silk kaftan and turban set in the style of the 70s
“ethnic dressing.” She wore this striking couture piece to a party on
the Caribbean island of Mustique.
“She was not the Monarch, so she had greater freedom to follow the
changing fashions of the day. She was really part of the established
chic London scene and anytime she worn always made headlines,”
says Curator Davies-Strodder told the press.
A fantastical gown worn to a ball in 1951 by Princess Margaret was
bejeweled from head to toe with a Marilyn Monroe inspired halter
“It is very Hollywood and quite risque – it was quite shocking at the
time because she was photographed smoking a cigarette,” she added
As you wander among the exhibits, you come to a room of full length
gowns worn by the young queen, tastefully elegant and traditional.
The gowns on display all feature design elements of a tight feminine
waist and are in colors of pale shades of a creamy peach, cream or
gray. The royal designers of the time period from the 1950s to the 70s
favored light-colored fabrics because they allowed the royals to be
spotted in a crowd and appeared clearly on black and white TV.
Among the gowns on display are ones that were designed on the
principle of “diplomatic dressing.” On a tour of Canada, the young
queen worn a dress patterned with hand sewn mayflowers, the official
flower of Nova Scotia.
The final room of the exhibit shows five gowns worn by Princess Diana
during her “Dynasty Di” days – all spotting her iconic style elements
of padded shoulder, dropped waist, lots of sparkles and very high
drama. Among the dresses is a eye-catching blue velvet sequin dress
with a flowy, flouncy skirt matched with an oversize bow. My favorite
dress of the exhibit is a sleek white one shoulder column gown that
narratives how Diana left the high drama fashions of the 1980s behind
and set the trend for more sophisticated looks in the 1990s.
Of course we are all curious about Kate – will her fashion tastes
establish her as a fashion icon?
Curator Davies-Strodder says rather quietly “All the reporters ask me
this. I would say you need some perspective, say 25 years, to know
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Follow Justin Howard, Fashion Writer @JTHNOMAD