May 6, 2023

A Gown of History

In honor of the coronation of King Charles III, looking back at his mother’s ceremonial gown: “The Story Behind Queen Elizabeth II's Dazzling—and Highly Symbolic—Coronation Gown”…an article by Emily Chan for Vogue. [reprinted below]

As preparations were underway for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, Her Majesty only had one couturier in mind to design her gown for the historic occasion: Norman Hartnell. The British dressmaker had of course created her beautifully embroidered wedding dress—made from duchesse satin that the Queen famously purchased with ration coupons—for her marriage to Prince Philip in 1947.

“One October afternoon in 1952, Her Majesty the Queen desired me to make for her the dress to be worn at her Coronation,” Hartnell recalled in his 1955 autobiography, Silver and Gold. “I can scarcely remember what I murmured in reply. In simple conversational tones, the Queen went on to express her wishes. Her Majesty required that the dress should conform in line to that of her wedding dress and that the material should be white satin.”

Soon afterwards, Hartnell submitted eight designs to fulfill the brief, the first of which was based on Queen Victoria’s coronation gown—a white satin dress with gold embroidery. Other sketches featured the Tudor rose and oak leaves, alongside one design based around the Madonna. Elizabeth opted for the eighth design, which incorporated the national emblems of the United Kingdom: the rose (England), thistle (Scotland), shamrock (Northern Ireland), and daffodil (Wales)—although the latter was changed to the leek, the official national emblem of Wales.

The Queen requested several other modifications to the design, including that the embroidery be done using pastel-colored silks, rather than just silver. Her Majesty also asked for national symbols of Commonwealth countries to be added, including the acacia (Australia), fern (New Zealand), maple leaf (Canada), protea (South Africa), lotus (India), and wheat, cotton, and jute (Pakistan).

The finished coronation gown featured a sweetheart neckline and a delicate lattice design, with the emblems—decorated with seed pearls, sequins, and crystals—separated by heavily embellished scalloped borders comprising gold bugle beads, diamant├ęs, and pearls. Hartnell also included a surprise for Her Majesty: a four-leafed shamrock on the left side of the skirt as a symbol of good luck.

All in all, the coronation dress weighed a hefty 30 pounds, or 13 kilograms, which combined with the Robe of Estate—which was made of deep purple velvet and an ermine trim, and took 3,500 hours to make—and St Edward’s Crown, was quite the weight for Her Majesty to bear. To finish off her historic outfit, the Queen asked French shoemaker Roger Vivier to create a pair of gold pumps featuring a jewel-encrusted heel and fleurs-de-lis pattern on the upper that matched the motif on both St Edward’s Crown and the Imperial State Crown (worn at the end of the ceremony). When it came to her jewelry, Elizabeth wore a dazzling diamond necklace and earrings that were originally made for Queen Victoria.

A long-time repeat wearer, the Queen actually went on to wear the Coronation gown a further six times, including at the opening of parliament in New Zealand and Australia in 1954. It’s an attitude towards fashion that the late monarch has certainly passed down to her son, King Charles III, as he is crowned at Westminster Abbey on Saturday.

March 20, 2023

A Once Shimmering Wedding Gown Lost at Sea

“If it was worn as a wedding dress,” explained the Museum of Kaap Skil in the Netherlands about an extraordinary vintage gown on display, “the bride would have been the dazzling centrepiece of the marriage ceremony.”

All brides want to have a lovely ‘glow’ on their wedding day, but the gown of this particular bride in question is from the 17th century and was lost at sea for 350 years. More from the museum:

“At first sight, this appears to a brown-coloured gown [image above] but this would not have been the original colour. The dress was most probably made of lightly coloured silk (possibly white or cream) and the whole surface was covered with silver decorations. These consisted of small silver discs woven into the silk in the shape of love knots.

With the woven silver discs and embroidered patterns of silver thread it must have been, literally and figuratively, a dazzling dress!”

Painting of Anne of Denmark
by John de Critz the Elder that shows
 the silhouette of 17th century gowns...
the shape of the shipwrecked treasure!


To learn more of the story, this from Ashley Strickland of CNN

In 1660, a ship carrying a treasure trove of luxury goods sank off the coast of Texel, the largest island in the North Sea.

Nearly four centuries later, little remained of the wooden unidentified Dutch merchant ship. But as the silt and sand covering the wreck washed away, broken chests began to appear in 2010. Four years later, divers retrieved the chests and brought them to the surface.

Inside were remarkable objects, the likes of which had never been seen before, according to researchers at the Museum Kaap Skil in the Netherlands, where the exclusive collection of items are on display.

The chests were full of clothing, textiles, silverware, leather book bindings and other goods that likely belonged to people from the highest social classes centuries ago.

Some of the most stunning items include two virtually intact lavish gowns — a silk dress and another one interwoven with pieces of silver that was likely a wedding dress. Few textiles or clothing from the 17th century remain preserved today, and it's even more rare to find them in shipwrecks because fabric decays so quickly.


Click here for a seven-minute video of museum experts speaking about the two gowns found in the shipwreck.


Wedding scene from Outlander
For more on shimmering wedding dresses, visit my webpage from 2016 featuring the 18th-century era gown created by Outlander costume designer Terry Dresbach for Claire Randall to wear for her wedding with Jamie Fraser. (Hint: bits of iridescent mica were woven into the fabric to catch the candlelight!)

March 8, 2023

Every Day is Women's Day

If there was ever a time to champion and empower feminine values—solidarity, true relatedness, care, compassion and the unique overwhelming power arising from the intensity of love—now would be the benefit all humankind. 
-Patricia Albere
Founder of Evolutionary Collective

February 22, 2023

Made-for-Hollywood Fairy Tale

The wedding gown of famous brides—especially ones about to become a princessoften becomes the centerpiece of the fairy tale remembrance, even more than the wedding ceremony or the couple themselves. It's a memory and an image that we keep returning to...well past any whiff of a once "fairy-tale" romance!

Recently, Vanity Fair magazine returned to the iconic gown of Grace Kelly in Fawnia Soo Hoo's article, "Why Grace Kelly's Wedding Dress Embodies a Made-for-Hollywood Fairy Tale."

With sublimely intricate details, like seed pearls accenting needle lace motifs and a pleated silk faille cummerbund atop the skirting, Grace Kelly’s wedding-dress style continues to be interpreted—even by royals and celebrities—over six decades later. “The reason Princess Grace’s wedding gown still resonates today with so many brides has at least as much to do with who wore it, as the dress itself. The design is lovely and timeless, but the way the dress sits at an intersection of Hollywood and royalty makes it particularly evocative and very much an aspirational fantasy piece for many brides,” says Lorenzo Marquez, author, podcaster, and cofounder of fashion and culture website, Tom + Lorenzo.

 “Kate Middleton was particularly smart to evoke the dress without copying it, underlining her own status as a commoner marrying a prince, but also avoiding any comparisons to previous brides in the British royal family,” Marquez added. 

A lovely book by my costume-history colleague, Kristina Haugland of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Grace Kelly: Icon of Style to Royal Bride, shares the story behind the creation and sentiment of the gown and its accessories...which were all given to the museum by the new princess soon after her wedding. The gown was last on display in 2006.


January 30, 2023

Costume History as Human History

One of the reasons I've always enjoyed studying, reading about, and speaking on the topic of costume history is because "what we wear" tells a story about "who we are"—bringing an intimacy to the human story with all of its creative spirit! As King Louis XIV of France said: "Fashion is the mirror of history."

Costume historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell is one of those storytellers who integrates this fashion and human narrative in a delightfully enlightening way! The latest book by this prolific author, Skirts: Fashioning Modern Femininity in the Twentieth Century, was recently featured in a lecture for The National Arts Club

Click here to be taken to Kimberly's entertaining talk, slide show, and Q & A. Enjoy!