In 2022 the first official portrait of the then Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had been unveiled. Despite the emphasis of this painting being the duo’s debut to the royal collection, it can’t be denied that the focus is of course on the future Queen, as recent history supports. After a century bookended by Victoria and Elizabeth, with peak chapters repeatedly highlighted by the late Princess Diana, it could be argued that the baton of royal women’s wardrobes withholds more significance to the stability monarchy than the crown itself. Let’s discuss!
Queen Victoria: The Relatable Widow
Having withheld the title of longest reigning monarch until recently, alongside her efforts for a revolutionised world, Queen Victoria’s attitude towards mourning attire had such a significance amongst her rein that it almost outshines her other attributes.
Having loved Albert for a short but deep 21 years, the sensation of grief shadowed her for almost double this time, following her the next 40 years of her reign. During the Victorian era, mourning attire was a strict, calendared event that varied in length depending on the relationship with the deceased individual: had Victoria abided by these rules, her wardrobe would’ve been exclusively black crepe and lace for 2 years.
The monarch’s public statement of grief translated through her garments explains a deep sense of humanism from an otherwise untouchable figure. Despite being the head of state, Grandmother of Europe, and the lead of a new England, this expression of a forever changed wife grounded Victoria amongst fellow everyday women of her time. Despite a huge gap in rights and power between a Queen and her subjects, this impression of a lost widow offered a personal relatability that the monarchy hadn’t been anywhere close to obtaining before. Had Victoria ‘moved on’ and opted for an Elizabeth Ist approach of an untouchable female monarch, would she have held the same respect?
Queen Elizabeth II: A Rainbow Of Hope
Despite paralleling Queen Victoria in a lifespan of change, Elizabeth II’s colourful uniform was undoubtably a stark contrast in style from Victoria’s, yet the same impressions shared between the two. Elizabeth, having succeeded the throne following years of devastation and uncertainty from war to abdication, was pressured to become a beacon of hope for the British public.
In a need for stability came her iconic royal uniform: the suit of a pencil skirt and matching blazer (evolved into a dress coat) in an array of bright colours that stayed with her from beginning to end. The look had been created during a significant development in textiles and breakthroughs in women’s rights at the time of her coronation 70 years ago. This insightfully modern and practical outfit reflected on Elizabeth’s determination to be a monarch that had a deep understanding of her people; adopting such style that everyday women of the time were aspiring towards, using it to her advantage of being ‘the same’ as women of her generation.
As time went on and her reign became even more outstanding with every year gone by, the timeless essence of her uniform catered to future generations of the now grandmothers her age, giving Elizabeth that ‘familiar’ appearance we all know through our own families.
The longevity of this rainbow uniform, visually contrasting yet powerfully similar to Victoria’s gothic gowns, highlights a deep understanding both these monarchs possessed to utilise fashion as expression to emit a deep, personal relatability with their country. It would be an incredible challenge for a King’s suit to achieve the same power.
Kate: The Same Approach, Modernised Again
We’re now in the present day. The Queen has passed, and with a controversial figure obtaining the new ‘Queen’ title, we can’t help but turn a blind eye and wait for the next. As such, The Prince and Princesses royal portrait documents their official becoming of the longstanding monarchs before them. The choice of dress worn by Kate, a modern classic from The Vampire’s Wife (titled The Falconetti Dress), is a bold but wise attempt at unifying monarchy and country.
Following years of controversy within the royal family (echoed by similar resentments for parliament) there’s never been a more crucial time for The Royal Family to be on the publics good side. Where past portraits have featured gowns of excess and circumstance, this Vampire’s Wife dress remains elegant but… normal?
The (relatively) accessible brand, designed by Susie Cave, creates universally flattering dresses that are available to purchase in most luxury department stores. Given that the majority of royal fashion history has been founded on richness and exclusivity, to be able to go to a department store and try on what will now be considered a royal artefact in centuries to come, emphasises this new level of determination for relatability in a system established on difference.
In addition to the ‘off the rack’ relatable approach for Kate’s wardrobe, the intentional rewearing and restyling of said dresses is what many would consider to be Kate supporting the current pleading for sustainable fashion amongst consumers. Each Vampire’s Wife dress is constructed with a simple yet timeless silhouette, which although being £600, is considered to be the only dress a woman would need in her wardrobe due to the decrease in cost-per-wear. Kate opting for this style and rewearing each dress time and time again shows a similar mindset to many women of today: shopping carefully and consciously for pieces that are right for them.
The Royal Wardrobe: A Time Capsule Of Political Ongoings
There’s no doubt that the royal woman’s wardrobe holds such importance for keeping the royal family relevant. For a family that are limited in dialogue, the uniform tells us all we need to know about what these other end individuals are trying to communicate. As time goes on with the likes of Princess Charlotte come into the spotlight, it’ll be interesting to see how a future of King’s try to match the same level of public interest as the women.