Posts Tagged ‘History of British Fashion’

On February 6th, 1952 Princess Elizabeth, traveling in Kenya, awoke a Queen, after her father King George VI had passed away overnight in his sleep.

Queen Elizabeth II returned immediately to the UK but her coronation wasn’t until June 2nd, 1953. The lovely gown she wore that day was created by British designer Norman Hartnell, who also made Elizabeth’s wedding gown in 1947. 

For the coronation, Hartnell sketched eight potential gowns before Prince Philip pointed out that his wife was soon to become sovereign to the British Commonwealth and perhaps all her lands should be represented.

The final version was made in white satin and included embroidered emblems:

  • Tudor Rose  – England
  • Thistle –  Scotland  
  • Shamrocks  – Ireland 
  • Maple leaves – Canada
  • Wattle flowers  – Australia
  • Ferns – New Zealand
  • Proteas – South Africa
  • Lotus Flowers –  India
  • Leeks  – Wales
  • Wheat, Cotton and Jute – Pakistan

For luck Hartnell added an extra shamrock underneath the skirt. For proper balance the gown demanded a complicated construction of supporting undergarments, which was created by Hartnell’s expert cutters and fitters. He himself could not sew.

Congratulations to Queen Elizabeth who celebrates 70 years on the throne, her Platinum Jubilee.

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The Intruder by Gabriel Metsu, circa 1660.


A sweet disorder in the dress

Kindles in clothes a wantonness:

A lawn about the shoulders thrown

Into a fine distraction:

An erring lace, which here and there

Enthrals the crimson stomacher:

A cuff neglectfull, and thereby

Ribbands to flow confusedly:

A winning wave (deserving note)

In the tempestuous petticoat:

A careless shoe-string, in whose tie

I see a wild civility:

Do more bewitch me than when Art

Is too precise in every part.

Robert Herrick (1591-1674), English poet and cleric.

I found this poem in a book by fashion writer Tobi Tobias, Obsessed by Dress (Beacon Press). This great little book is a collection of quotes all about clothing and fashion from ancient times to modern day.

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court… Henrietta handed over the queen’s garments, one by one, to the more important Lady of the Bedchamber, who then gave them to the queen. Mary Cowper explained how the dance of dressing commenced: ‘the Duchess of St. Albans put on the Princess’s shift, according to court rules.’ Another ex- member of the bedchamber staff likewise recalled that ‘the Bedchamber Woman gave the fan to the Lady,’ who then handed it to the queen. These nuances of role between the ‘Lady’ and the ‘Woman’ were considered to be of cut-throat importance. 

Lucy Worsley, British historian and chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces.

This quote is from Ms. Worsley’s book, The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace (Walker & Co.). Henrietta was A Woman of the Bedchamber for Princess Caroline (later queen) in the court of George I, 1714-1727.

The Courtiers is a look at court life during the Georgian period (1714-1760), which was by no means easy or even glamorous. The center of court was at that time Kensington Palace (eventually the home of Diana, Princess of Wales) and there was much strife between King George I and his son, George II as well as among the dozens of courtiers, who lived at the beck and call of the royal family. If you’re an Anglophile like me and enjoy good stories, this book is a fun read. I also appreciate the closer look at the first two King Georges (from Germany). A great way to learn British history.

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Edwardian ladies in lace. 

Society tottered through the last of the pre-War parties, waved tiny lace handkerchiefs, and carried elaborate parasols until the War came with its sweeping changes. 

Lucile, Lady Duff Gordon (1863-1935), British fashion designer.

World War I (1914-1918) brought about many changes in fashion, particularly for women. Long lacy gowns were replace by shorter skirts and jackets in sturdy fabrics. No more excessively large hats but instead close fitted hats with little to no embellishments. Women were now on the move and their clothes had to move with them.

With this Covid-19 pandemic,  we might see our own changes in fashion. Or will we? Truth be told, we really can’t get any more casual. Perhaps we will flip to the other side and want to dress up, but I doubt it. For starters, most people don’t even know how to do that anymore.

One added accessory will be masks. Perhaps more people will want to wear hats, as added protection. Also, gloves. Matching sets! I see a potential for additional pockets in clothing to make things like hand sanitizer quickly accessible. Otherwise, with the distraction of the virus and wanting to keep distant and stay safe, people, now more than ever, are going to want to be comfortable.

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Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

How about London? Anyone going to London before August 31st, 2015?

You lucky ducks will have the opportunity to view Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth. This unique exhibit explores what fashion was like in the UK during WWII when not only food was rationed but so too was clothing.

By 1941 one-quarter of the British population was sporting some kind of uniform. Since raw materials and manufacturing had to be redirected toward the production of uniforms and other products needed for the war effort, on June 1, 1941 the British Government announced there would be clothes rationing. Each adult was allotted 66 points a year. For perspective a dress required 11 points, stockings 2 points, a man’s shirt or trousers 8 points. Over the following years those allotments were reduced and clothes rationing didn’t end until 1949 – four years after the end of the war.

Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

The result of seemingly endless clothes rationing was a societal shift towards more personal creativity in fashion and style as well as a Make Do and Mend approach to wardrobes. Women became adept at transforming old threads into modern looks by adjusting, cutting, and reworking what was already in their closets.

Scarcity of fabric encouraged shorter dress lengths and the ubiquitous uniform influenced the now iconic 40s look of shoulder padded jackets and slim skirts.

If, like me, you won’t make it to London in time to see the exhibit, do the next best thing and hop onto the Imperial War Museum website to read more about Fashion on the Ration.



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