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Crowns and gowns: British royal fashion

Crowns and gowns: British royal fashion

Imagine a time when only certain people were allowed to wear purple. That time was the Elizabethan period, when your clothes defined who you were infinitely more than today. If you were a peasant or commoner then earth tones were your bag, and a penchant for purple could get your neck stretched. This was decreed by English laws known as the Sumptuary Laws. Only royalty were allowed to wear purple, for a variety of reasons including an association with Roman Emperors’ purple togas and the fact that the dye of that colour was incredibly expensive.

That is just a single snippet from the fascinating world of royal fashion in the British Isles. The present-day Windsors wear things at formal and state occasions that go back to the Victorians, who owed some of their fashions to the Georgians, who succeeded the Stuarts, who succeeded the Tudors. Often a new dynasty would make a clean break from its predecessor in sartorial terms, but sometimes they would continue a tradition or two if they liked it. In all cases royal attire has been meant to project power, status, wealth and control, but the ways in which this was achieved have changed drastically, creating a parade of distinct period flavours for Britain’s ruling dynasties.

There’s a course on futurelearn that takes you through all this, but perhaps of more interest in our celebrity and mass media-obsessed age is its culmination in the fashions of today’s royals. What’s with the Ascot hats? Does what Meghan and Harry wear mean anything? What are the modern dress codes for royals at the various events they must attend as part of their duties? Does the Queen really transmit coded messages with her hats?

In A History of Royal Fashion, frock boffins from the University of Glasgow use the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection to guide learners through the styles of monarchs over the centuries and the impact of their clothing on society. Educators are a laecturer in dress and textile histories, three curators from Historic Royal Palaces and a senior lecturer in early modern theatre and drama.

Historic Royal Palaces is the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Banqueting House, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle.

There’s more about this course on social media under the hashtag #FLroyalfashion.