History in the Making

Fashion History, In Bath! Style File Friday

Last week I shared the news that I will be the happiest historian in the world when I head to the Dior exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I am also incredibly happy to share that I will be visiting the Fashion Museum in Bath on my UK trip- they will still have their Royal Women exhibition showing, so I will soaking every bit of it up! Some people head to Bath to see Roman baths but I’m entirely there for royal fashion. Finding fashion history in Bath, UK

Royal Women Exhibition, Fashion Museum Bath

The Royal Women exhibition at the Fashion Museum Bath was curated by Dr. Kate Strasdin, and covers the fashion of Queen Alexandra (consort to King Edward VII), Queen Mary (consort to King George V), Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (consort to King George VI), and Princess Margaret. According to the Fashion Museum,

Wives and daughters, sisters and mothers; none of the Royal women featured in the exhibition was monarch; yet each played a key role in the British monarchy.

Royal Women examines how these roles influenced their choice of dress. Exhibition highlights include Alexandra, Princess of Wales’ wedding dress, dating from 1863, on loan from the Royal Collection, generously lent by Her Majesty The Queen.

I think that fashion and style needs to be taken more seriously, including style history, so I adore that this exhibition focuses on their style but also the role that they have played in the British monarchy. I absolutely loved the Fashion Rules exhibition at Kensington Palace, so I am excited to dive into the fashion of older generations of the family.

Royal Women Exhibition at the Fashion Museum Bath

Royal Women- Exhibition Specifics

Although I am obviously excited to see Dior at the V&A, I am also excited to see some of Princess Margaret’s Dior pieces in Bath, as well as some of Norman Hartnell pieces. Princess Margaret was a great patron of several notable designers, and she played a considerable role in twentieth century British fashion. It was also announced in September that one of Queen Alexandra’s dresses was discovered in private storage, and has been added to the collection! And finally, of course I am weirdly excited to Queen Alexandra’s tartan dress. No, you couldn’t wear it nowadays, but it still so beautifully striking. Queen Alexandra is often remembered as a quiet and long suffering consort, but I love that this exhibition gives more vibrancy to her life (and wardrobe)!

Side note: why are not wearing dresses with this much tartan?? Seriously, someone please tell me, because I would be all over that.

From the Fashion Museum Bath Facebook Page

Inside the Royal Wardrobe: A Dress History of Queen Alexandra, Dr. Kate Strasdin

So, I’ve been playing out my UK purchases for a few months now, and while there certainly is a few clothing pieces on the list, I also have several books. Dr. Strasdin’s Inside the Royal Wardrobe is at the top of my list!

Queen Alexandra used clothes to fashion images of herself as a wife, a mother and a royal: a woman who both led Britain alongside her husband Edward VII and lived her life through fashion. Inside the Royal Wardrobe overturns the popular portrait of a vapid and neglected queen, examining the surviving garments of Alexandra, Princess of Wales – who later became Queen Consort – to unlock a rich tapestry of royal dress and society in the second half of the 19th century.

More than 130 extraordinary garments from Alexandra’s wardrobe survive, from sumptuous court dress and politicised fancy dress to mourning attire and elegant coronation gowns, and can be found in various collections around the world, from London, Oslo and Denmark to New York, Toronto and Tokyo. Curator and fashion scholar Kate Strasdin places these garments at the heart of this in-depth study, examining their relationships to issues such as body politics, power, celebrity, social identity and performance, and interpreting Alexandra’s world from the objects out.

Adopting an object-based methodology, the book features a range of original sources from letters, travel journals and newspaper editorials, to wardrobe accounts, memoirs, tailors’ ledgers and business records. Revealing a shrewd and socially aware woman attuned to the popular power of royal dress, the work will appeal to students and scholars of costume, fashion and dress history, as well as of material culture and 19th century history.

My royal biography and history collection is extensive, but Queen Alexandra is notably missing from it. Inside the Royal Wardrobe will not only help me fill that gap, it is also going to be a cornerstone in my style history collection. In my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I was lucky to have several talented professors, but most focused on political, religious, or social history and it never seemed possibly to actually study something like fashion at a higher level. I am hoping to move my own personal research more into style and fashion history, and I’m excited to start with Dr. Strasdin’s study (and exhibition)!

Dr. Kate Strasdin's Inside the Royal Wardrobe

If you could wear any piece of clothing from history, which would it be and why?

The Historian
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1 thought on “Fashion History, In Bath! Style File Friday”

  • That exhibition was the catalyst for me researching more about Alexandra! She’s a fascinating subject. I’m elbows deep in Jane Ridley’s biography of King Edward VII, Bertie, as I found it hard to find stand-alone books about her. She’s mostly a likeable character and her stoicism in the face of Bertie’s continual philandering and her respect for Queen Victoria shines through. She was odd with her daughters, though, didn’t like them to dress as glamorous as herself and they were dressed in drab clothes like they were competition. She also didn’t want them to marry and to remain companions to her. She was very close to her sons and mourned Eddy’s loss for the rest of her life. Also was very close to her sister Dagmar, wife of Alexander III of Russia and would wear matching clothes when they were together!

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