Fashion & Beauty

Review: Royal Women at the Fashion Museum, Bath

July 17, 2018

Fashion of the Royal Women - image courtesy of the Fashion Museum Bath

A new exhibition exploring women of the Royal Family has opened at the Fashion Museum in Bath. The Royal Women Exhibition will run until 28 April 2019 and draws attention to clothes worn by four generations of women who were never monarch, but had a key role to play in British history. Izzie Hensby describes the garments on show, and the impressions they give us of these Royal Women.

The exhibition displays a sample of dresses worn by Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. Some of the pieces are on loan from the Royal Collection, lent by Her Majesty the Queen. Through looking at the stories behind these dresses – taking note of the style, colour and cut of the dress – you are able to understand how the royal women chose to present themselves.

Queen Alexandra (1844-1925)

Alexandra was married to King Edward VII and was the Queen’s great grandmother. She was a fashion icon in her day: always elegantly dressed, in gowns that flattered her body type and made from the finest fabrics, whenever she was seen in public.

On visiting the exhibition, it is clear how petite and slim Queen Alexandra must have been. During the Edwardian Age, women’s fashion changed from dresses with full skirts to tapered skirts, and key trends were lace and beaded appliques. A sure highlight of the exhibition is Queen Alexandra’s wedding dress (pictured right), which was made by London dressmaker Mrs James for the royal wedding in 1863. As an historic piece, it is unlikely we’ll get another chance to see up close the fine lace, netting and embroidered emblems that adorn the gown.

Queen Mary (1867-1953)

The grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Mary married King George V in 1893. She became Queen consort in 1910, a role in which she supported her husband through the First World War and the tumultuous political changes that followed.

Despite the many changes in women’s fashion after the war – hemlines were higher, corsets were neglected, and women wore their hair shorter – Mary kept to the fashions of the pre-war era. Many assumed the Queen had no interest in fashion, as she always dressed neat and elegant, with no extravagant tastes. However, this may have been due to the King’s own conservative views on how she should dress.

She dared to bare more with low necklines and waist cinched dresses which showed off her attractive figure


Mary became Queen Mother when Edward VIII, her eldest son, ascended the throne. Though, instead of the title ‘The Queen Mother’ she decided to use ‘Her Majesty Queen Mary’. But, within a year of his reign, Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson. Though Mary disapproved of his actions and could not understand why he would give up his royal duties, she continued to support both him and his brother, Prince Albert, Duke of York, who then became King.

Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother (1900-2002)

Married to King George VI, Queen Elizabeth was the mother of our current monarch and of Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, whose clothes are also featured in the exhibition. Like Queen Mary, Elizabeth supported her husband as a wartime Queen consort. In her later life as a widow she redefined the role of Dowager Queen.

Norman Hartnell was a key designer during the unstable times Queen Elizabeth found herself in, and Hartnell created a new style for Elizabeth that followed the widespread trends. She wore pastel colours and smart suits, and often a hat with an upturned brim. This was a perfect style, meeting the needs of a Queen who was not as petite and young as her fellow royal women.

Fashion of the Royal Women - image courtesy of the Fashion Museum Bath

Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon (1930-2002)

The Queen’s younger sister, Princess Margaret was a style icon in her time. She dressed in contrast to her demure elder sister, favouring bold accessories such as bright headscarves and glamourous cat eye sunglasses. Margaret was free to experiment with her style and chose to work with up-and-coming designers. She dared to bare more with low necklines and waist cinched dresses which showed off her attractive figure.

Margaret wore a variety of tiaras, such as the Cartier Halo: the tiara Kate Middleton borrowed to wear on her wedding day. Like her mother, Margaret wore bold ensembles later in life and it was Norman Hartnell who designed her silk-organza wedding dress. The exhibition features a striped dress (pictured above, left), by Hartnell, as well as a black lace piece designed by Christian Dior, a favourite of the princess’s, which she wore to a performance of Guys and Dolls at the London Coliseum.

Check out the exhibition at the Fashion Museum in Bath from now until April 2019: prices are £9 for adults and £8 for students.

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