Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A Peek Inside the Royal Wardrobe

Our preoccupation, better make that borderline obsession, with royal fashion is nothing new. It didn't start with Kate's Issa engagement dress, or even Diana's see-through skirt. Let's go back to Elizabeth I...

Last night Lucy Worsley gave us a whistle-stop tour of fashion at the royal court from Tudor times to the present day in BBC Four's 'Tales from the Royal Wardrobe'. My verdict? I only wish there was more to come - the subject being well worthy of a series rather than just a one-off programme! Like it or not fashion has played its part in history, giving monarchs a way of representing themselves to their subjects as well as conveying important political messages. Just take Good Queen Bess - it would have taken her over 2 hours to get dressed (with a lot of help) when one could argue she had more important state business to deal with. But it was time well spent when she made such a big impression. Her clothes were loaded with symbolism - and not just jewels to show wealth and power. There were pearls for purity, snake motifs for wisdom and then those rather creepy eyes and ears embroidered on the dress in the famous rainbow portrait as a sixteenth-century version of Big Brother's Watching You.

Fast-forward and you get the frivolity of the Cavaliers making a bad impression on the people, as did the excesses of George IV and his 28 white waistcoats plus countless shirts and cravats, and then there was Edward VIII who dressed for too 'slang' for royalty. It is the Queen who has come up with a successful and appropriate royal 'uniform' which is elegant and formal without being stiff or showy, a bright colour so that she can be picked out of a crowd, and above all, not slavishly fashionable. And there we have it - 500 years of royal fashion in 50 minutes!

It's easy to forget fashion is not always as frivolous a subject as it might first seem but this programme made a good stab at converting the 'fashion doesn't change the world' tribe. It's fair to say we can rely on Lucy for more fun historical dress-up in the future.

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