Regal Fashion and Symbolism: The Best Looks at the Coronation
Catherine, Princess of Wales arrives ahead of the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla, May 6, 2023. Photo: Dan Charity - WPA Pool/Getty Images
The speculation ahead of the coronation of Charles III was that its “slimmed down” scale and less-formal and more modern styling led to fears that it might be somehow less than grand. That was certainly not the case: the ceremony this morning, grounded in the two-hour religious service full of solemnity and symbolism, had plenty of gravitas.
The ancient rituals were awe-inspiring inside the church, a great contrast to the carnival-like atmosphere outside along the Mall during the procession afterwards. The sense of continuity in our ever-changing world was comforting.
King Charles looked humbled and visibly moved at many moments during the service. The exchange with William, as he knelt before him to pledge his loyalty and kiss his father, was particularly touching to see.
The peak pomp visuals were spectacular, as expected. Beyond the carriages and horses, though, it was the approach to fashion that helped “thread the needle” as the announcers kept saying to keep the appropriate balance between tradition and modernity against the backdrop of tough economic times in England and apathy from a sizeable chunky of the British public about the role of the monarchy in their lives after the death of the beloved Queen Elizabeth.
The King and Queen made the selections of their regnal garments with great care, and awareness of the symbolism involved. The King wore a crimson coronation tunic by Ede & Ravenscroft (the official coronation gear makers since 1689, all the family’s mantles today were created by them) over a Turnbull & Asser cream silk shirt with Royal Naval trousers. His Robe of State is one of many “re-wears” their royal highnesses chose deliberately to incorporate into their wardrobes today, to indicate both thriftiness in a time of austerity and environmental concerns. This piece, worn in the carriage on the way to the Abbey, was made for his grandfather, George VI, in 1937. Charles also wore his grandfather’s Coronation glove. He went further back to recycle the Golden Imperial Mantle, which was first made for King George IV in 1821.
As for Camilla, she looked fabulous. She was glowing from the moment she was first spotted in the Jubilee Carriage.
At 75 and a divorcee, it would have been a tricky business wearing the customary white gown into a church with a long train and not evoking imagery of a virginal bride. She pulled it off, with the help of her dressmaker, Bruce Oldfield, who crafted a gown with just the right tone to set off her newly blonde hair and cast a cream effect with elegant beadwork on the white peau de soie. Oldfield has been working with Camilla for a decade now. The Telegraph calls his grand designs “well structured,” explaining “the inner workings of his gowns typically flatter and enhance the wearer’s figure — the support and scaffolding on offer makes them popular with older clients …”
Of course, Oldfield not only previously dressed the Queen, but also Charles’s first wife, the late Diana, Princess of Wales. The Telegraph adds: Oldfield himself once said he “gave Diana her glamour and Camilla her confidence.” The dress was embroidered with much symbolism: wildflowers, daisy chains, forget-me-nots, and scarlet pimpernel (who knew that was a flower?). There were also the symbols of the nations of Great Britain: a thistle (Scotland), shamrock (Northern Ireland), rose (England) and daffodil (Wales). In an interview with The Cut Oldfield noted that Wales is traditionally represented with a leek, but he refused to do that and chose the daffodil, Wales’ national flower, instead. She added an element of whimsy and personalization with two gold Jack Russell Terriers — a tribute to her beloved rescue dogs, Bluebell and Beth — embroidered on the bottom of the gown, below a horse-drawn carriage.
There was yet more embroidery still on Queen Camilla’s new Robe of Estate (these are worn by their majesties on the way out of the Abbey), including flowers and insects to reflect the couple’s love of nature. For her robe on the way to the Abbey, the Robe of State, Camilla wore Queen Elizabeth II’s robe.
Catherine, Princess of Wales will always be the big fashion draw. Her outfit today was hotly anticipated. She did not disappoint; nor did she steal any spotlight from the King and Queen. Kate wore a matching outfit to daughter Princess Charlotte, both in white dresses from Alexander McQueen (Kate’s featured silver embroidery at the bottom and also had the thistle, shamrock, rose and daffodil represented). Notably, the two also wore matching headpieces, a collaboration between Jess Collett and Alexander McQueen. These leaf adorned crystal pieces were a brilliant fashion bridge: the invites had read daytime formal, which meant not tiaras, or coronets. (The peers invited were told not to wear their traditional coronation robes.) So Kate found a way to deliver the glamorous effect of a tiara without breaking the dress code. White gowns are traditional for princesses to wear at coronations, and Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh, also wore white, as did the Queen’s attendants.
The other surprise was the working members of the Royal Family wearing Garter mantles. Mantles are specific coronation pieces (created by Ede & Ravenscroft, natch), and both Kate and William wore one, as did Sophie and Edward, and the Duke of Gloucester. The King apparently graciously relented and allowed Prince Andrew to wear his Knights of the Garter velvet robes and hat, complete with a feather. Harry wore a Dior men’s morning suit. While Harry is a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, his position does not have a robe.
Prince William wore his Ceremonial Dress Uniform as Colonel of the Welsh Guard, complete with sash of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, as well as the Most Noble Order of the Garter regalia. His role was outsized today, as he represented all the peers of the realm in pledging allegiance to the King, something that would have happened in descending order of rank, a long process of nobles kneeling before the sovereign, in coronations of the past.
Princess Anne had a special role today, riding ahead of the King’s carriage as Gold Stick in Waiting, whose role it is to protect the King. Thus she was in full military uniform complete with a hat with a tall scarlet tassle. Twitter, always swift on the case, noted that her hat blocked the view (and view of) her nephew, Harry, behind her in the Abbey seating chart as she is a senior working royal.
Little Prince Louis made a longer-than-anticipated appearance, clad in very grown up clothes: a tiny Savile Row suit. Newly turned 5, he arrived in procession holding older sister Charlotte’s hand. Whisked away half-way through the service by his nanny, he was back in place to watch the King walk down the aisle and joined the Waleses in their carriage to process back to Buckingham Palace.
Guests also did not disappoint, though the fashion vibe was very similar to a royal wedding. Standouts were Sophie Gregoire Trudeau in a blush dress with full organza sleeves, Queen Rania in a mesh midi-length pale lemon dress with a smart matching hat; and Charlene of Monaco in a sleek beige suit also with matching hat. Andrew’s daughters Princess Eugenie, who is pregnant, chose a navy smock dress and matching coat, while Princess Beatrice went for a bold fuchsia dress with puffed sleeves. The two, once known for their whimsical fascinators, went lower key today with hair bands.
Jill Biden and granddaughter Finnegan Biden wore blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag, a subtle sartorial show of support for the country. Jill’s blue suit (with matching hair bow) was by Ralph Lauren; Finnegan’s yellow caped dress was by Markarian. Fittingly, the First Lady of the U.S. was seated next to the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska.
Katy Perry made a splash with a pink Vivienne Westwood day dress with pearl choker (a nod to Camilla with a triple strand, the new Queen’s signature jewellery look) and a huge saucer hat set jauntily on her head. (Twitter went mad immediately, as it was a clear vision blocker for those behind her). Another standout was Emma Thompson, in a sharp rose coat.
The finale was the classic balcony appearance. Flanked by their pages and attendants, the King and Queen appeared, crowns on head. Gradually the ranks of working royals, as well as William’s children, filled out the space for the flyby. The Waleses were off to one side, the Edinburghs and Princess Anne slotted in around the pages, and the late Queen’s cousins, Gloucesters and Kents, tucked in behind the far right of the balustrade.
Then the two principals returned, like an encore, alone on the balcony. Photographers who had waited for many hours in their spots on the forecourt below must have been thrilled to get the money shot.