Sunday 18 March 2018

Royal Women at the Fashion Museum

Royal Women is one of the two exhibitions currently running at the Fashion Museum in Bath. (The other is A History of Fashion in 100 Objects, which has been extended to 1 January 2019. I posted about the incomplete exhibition here, and will write a post to fill in the gaps soon.)

None of the women featured in the exhibition was a reigning monarch, but as members of the royal family they could not dress simply to please themselves; their dress choices sent strong visual messages.

The first dress on display is the wedding dress of Princess (later Queen) Alexandra, from 1863.

The remodelled wedding dress

Alexandra is said to have disliked the very wide crinolines of the time, and chose a narrower skirt. The dress was subsequently remodelled by one of Princess Alexandra's favourite dressmakers; Madame Elise.

The original appearance of the dress, trimmed with Honiton lace

Side view showing the train

Close-up of the bodice

Madame Elise also made this tartan silk dress from around 1870, possibly for a function in Scotland. It is displayed with several items in the plain, tailored style which Alexandra was known for.

Yachting jacket, 1890s, silk dress, 1870s, croquet jacket, 1863, waistcoat, 1890s

In fact, her style was so unfussy that when this 1890s dress was acquired by the museum in the 1960s it was considered insufficiently regal-looking. Mind-boggling though it seems now, the pearl trim was actually added by the museum for display purposes!

Lilac silk evening dress, Morin Blossier, about 1893

The final dress in this section needed no embellishment. It was easily my favourite in the exhibition, and the museum seem to think so too, as it features on all the publicity materials.

Embroidered chiffon evening dress by Doeuillet, 1910

The dress is in such good condition that it's possible that it was never worn. It may have been ordered before Edward VII died, and then could not be worn while Alexandra was in mourning.

Close-up of the bodice

Please, no drool on the dress. Image © Fashion Museum Bath

Unlike her mother-in-law, Queen Mary (or to give her her full name, Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes) was not known for her clothes. The exhibition only has two of her dresses and one, in black sequins, proved impossible to photograph well. The other is the dress which she wore to the wedding of her granddaughter, now Queen Elizabeth II. The dress originally had a high neck and long sleeves, and was remodelled.

Gold lamé and turquoise cut velvet dress, Norman Hartnell, 1947

Queen Mary was however known for her hats, so it seems only right that the exhibition includes one of them.

Pale blue silk georgette and swansdown toque, 1935

The first thing which struck me about the two dresses which belonged to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was just how tiny she was; I'm 5'4", and these dresses are for a figure a fair bit shorter than mine.

Grey silk satin beaded evening dress, Norman Hartnell, 1954

Lace evening dress embroidered with gold thread and sequins, Norman Hartnell, 1954

Unlike her sister, Princess Margaret did not have to always wear the work of British designers. She was a keen adopter of the New Look, and of Dior's designs.

Cream silk chiffon day dress, Christian Dior, 1952

From newsreel footage of the dress being worn at Ascot, 1952

Although I didn't particularly like this striped cotton evening dress, there's no denying the clever use and manipulation of the fabric.

Cotton lawn evening dress, Norman Hartnell, 1949

Close-up of bodice

Evening dresses by Norman Hartnell, l-r 1949, 1953, around 1953

Royal Women runs at the Fashion Museum until 28 April 2019, and it is included in the Fashion Museum ticket.


  1. Fascinating! I live a bit too far away to make it to the exhibition (other side of the planet) so thank you very much for all the photos and discussion.

    1. You're welcome Lyndle. I know that some of my regular readers are unlikely to see UK exhibitions, so I like to give as much of a taste of them as possible.

  2. Great - thank you. And good that's it's on until beginning of 2019

  3. I'm hoping to catch this exhibition before it finishes as it's not that far from me. I absolutely love the candy stripe Norman Hartnell dress worn by Princess Margaret, it's stunning! It almost looks like a mid-1800s dress, especially with all the detailing and the silhouette. xx

  4. Well you've got over a year to do so, but I know from experience (the number of exhibitions I've missed at Tate Liverpool is truly embarrassing) that it's the things on your doorstep which are hardest to get to! xx

  5. Oh, what fun to have been able to attend this exhibit!