LONDON — Though Queen Elizabeth II’s current wardrobe consists mainly of ballgowns and suits, it once included a battle dress complete with an olive green woolen scarf, necktie and stockings. The uniform — worn during her stint as a junior commander of the Auxiliary Territorial Service, Britain’s women’s army, during World War II — and 11 other outfits are included in “The Queen’s Working Wardrobe: Memories of Royal Occasions 1945-1972,” which opened at Kensington Palace on Friday and runs for a year.
The clothes, which were in storage at Buckingham Palace, are from various official and unofficial occasions and are displayed alongside related photos, newspaper clippings and memorabilia. There’s even a copy of the motor vehicle maintenance exam that an 18-year-old Princess Elizabeth took when she joined the ATS. “It’s the 60th anniversary of D-Day, which is why we wanted this show to start with her battle dress,” says curator Deirdre Murphy during a walk-through. “We really wanted to trigger memories in people and remind them of the early part of her career.”
Beginning with the princess’ military duds, the show quickly moves into more glamorous territory. There is an off-the-shoulder black velvet evening dress by the late royal couturier Norman Hartnell that the Queen wore to a special performance of the 1956 film “The Battle of the River Plate” in Leicester Square. On the red carpet, Queen Elizabeth greeted guests including Brigitte Bardot, Victor Mature and Marilyn Monroe, who is pictured curtsying to the Queen wearing platform shoes.
Other evening gowns reflect her sense of duty. There’s a frothy gray silk organdy dress by the late Hardy Amies (another of her longtime dressmakers) embroidered with mayflowers, an emblem of Nova Scotia. The Queen wore it to a banquet in Halifax during a tour of Canada in 1959.
Symbolism also spills into daywear. To events with disabled ex-servicemen, the Queen wore a wool skirt suit accented by a collar the color of poppies, the flower used to remember veterans. For her meeting with Pope John XXIII in 1961, she chose a long, black, lace dress and veil. It was the first Vatican visit by a reigning British sovereign since the Queen’s grandfather King George V made the trip in 1923.
This story first appeared in the July 27, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
And what would any royal fashion exhibition be without that quintessential off-duty uniform? At the end of the show, visitors can cast their eyes over the Queen’s riding boots, jodhpurs, hacking jacket and — her signature accessory — silk Hermès head scarves.
— Samantha Conti