Royal clothing has always exerted a fascination. Once, for all but a very privileged few, it was the stuff of imagination and dreams, but the camera opened the world of royalty to a wider public. For the first time ordinary people were able to see what was worn at the great ceremonies of state and to examine at close hand the rich fabrics and intricate embroidery. Few could actually attend events like the Devonshire House Ball of 1897, when the participants wore lavish recreations of royal Court dress from past centuries, or the Tsar’s fabulous 1903 Winter Palace Ball, but anyone could see the photographs – and though the extravagance of royal life has been criticised down the years it still touches a chord, and royalty have been criticised as heartily when they failed to live up to public expectations.
But the camera also opened another, more intimate world, revealing royalty in their everyday lives and their everyday clothes. The camera made it possible for a subject to model himself on the monarch and to dress his children like princes: it made trendsetters of royalty. This new study examines, celebrates and enjoys royal costume in its all richness and variety, from the everyday to the extraordinary. Based on images from the first century of commercial photography, it also looks at original royal costumes from museum collections around the world, which preserve to this day a sense of the physical presence of their long-dead owners: it is one of the paradoxes of this subject that fabric, which we wear and rip and discard, can outlast us by centuries, bearing silent witness to the worlds we have lost.
After studing medieval and modern history at Birmingham University, Charlotte Zeepvat completed an MA thesis exploring the curious links between diplomacy, espionage and art collecting in the mid-seventeenth century. She then branched out into miniature painting and model making, and has contributed research to a number of programmes on television and radio and has also researched, planned and guided tours to places of royal interest in Russia and Germany.Charlotte’s writing career began with the first issue of Royalty Digest in 1991. For fourteen years she was the journal’s pri...
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