Queen & Commonwealth: The Royal Tour A Selection of 28 Dresses
A Special Exhibition at the Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace
26 July – 30 September 2009
Some of the dresses on display at the exhibition are shown further below on this page.
All photos Royal Collection Copyright 2009, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth
In 1952 The Queen assumed the role of Head of the
Commonwealth from her late father King George VI. The Commonwealth was then an association of just eight members,
and George VI had been the first monarch to
hold the title; today there are Commonwealth 53 members.
Her Majesty has always
attached considerable importance to this international role and at the time of her
accession said: 'The Commonwealth bears no resemblance to the empires of
the past. It is an entirely new conception built on the highest
qualities of the spirit of man: friendship, loyalty, and the desire for
freedom and peace. To that new conception of an equal partnership of
nations and races I shall give myself heart and soul every day of my
If, like me, you love regal dress then the Queen & Commonwealth
exhibition will interest
you. Once the exhibition has finished in September 2009 then you can still enjoy some of the
royal fashion history images here on this page. The first time I ever saw any of
the Queen's clothes was in the 1970s. I was amazed at the sumptuous
detail of rich gold bullion thread embroidery which deeply bordered her
Coronation train of hand woven purple silk velvet.
When lovers of textiles see rich embroidery with its extensive embellishment, they frequently
make an association with
ecclesiastical or Royal occasion clothes. Now you have another
opportunity to see sixty years worth of the Queen's dresses which were designed for
her numerous Commonwealth
Tours. The clothes are from The Queen's
extensive wardrobe. While they may not be business suits, these
garments were designed
to be fit for a special occasion in a particular country, and thus are in every sense a
These two dresses shown above right are from
the mid 1970s era. The yellow cape evening dress of 1974 was designed by
Ian Thomas, and the fuchsia evening dress designed by Norman Hartnell for
a 1975 Jamaica visit. Incidentally, Ian Thomas was trained by Hartnell.
In 1952 the world was dazzled by a new young Queen. Through
Elizabeth II's role as
Head of the Commonwealth she has become the ultimate ambassador, astute
in the art of forging bonds with allies or enemies old and new. Whilst easing paths of
communication, strengthening associations between nations, politicians
and peoples, she has become loved worldwide. The Queen has used dress as a
subtle, but important way of bonding with nations, complimenting a
people by referencing national colours, insignia and flora in her
The Queen's reign commenced with her longest ever Commonwealth tour.
This lasted from November 1953 to May 1954, encompassed the West Indies,
Australasia, Asia and Africa, and covered 44,000 miles.
For a Commonwealth tour, Her Majesty's wardrobe is
meticulously planned by The Queen's Dresser and designers. The climate
must be considered, for example the colours of the fabrics should allow
The Queen to be clearly visible among large crowds and, for evening
wear, complement the country's insignia.
This wonderful Norman Hartnell 1953 one-shoulder gown in the
crinoline style is just one of the dresses on display.
At the exhibition Queen & Commonwealth: The
Royal Tour you will soon note that it is not just Michelle Obama
who has favoured one shouldered gowns for special events as The Queen's
gown of 1953 illustrates.
Above left - Norman Hartnell 1953 one-shoulder gown in the crinoline
style. The dress was made of gold lamé overlaid with lace and
embroidered with gold thread. In her 2009 the
similarity of styling with
Michelle Obama's white one shoulder inauguration dress was remarkable.
The exhibition Queen & Commonwealth:
The Royal Tour is a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the formation
of the modern Commonwealth. The special exhibition will start at the
2009 Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace and will evoke some of the most
important Commonwealth tours undertaken by The Queen during her reign. Accompanied by The Duke of Edinburgh, The Queen has made over 170
official visits to Commonwealth countries, constituting a third of all
her travels abroad. The exhibition will show the close links maintained
by Her Majesty with this remarkable international organisation and its
1.8 billion inhabitants.
Queen & Commonwealth: The Royal Tour will bring together 28 dresses
worn by Her Majesty on Commonwealth tours over the past six decades.
The exhibition includes evening gowns and daywear by the royal couturiers Norman
Hartnell, Hardy Amies and Ian Thomas. Many of these gowns were made
up in duchesse satin because of the forgiving and flexible nature of the
The exhibition will also include
over 100 gifts presented to The Queen by the people of the Commonwealth,
to mark the important principle of friendship that underlies Her
Majesty's visits. These will be set against a backdrop of archive
material, photographs and film footage. Typical jewellery gifts include
these symbolic diamond brooches.
Occasionally, gifts are dazzling items of jewellery like these
diamond brooches shown. On Christmas Day
1953, the 'Women of Auckland' presented The Queen with a diamond and
platinum brooch in the form of a leaf of the silver fern, an important
national emblem in New Zealand.
Left - 1953 'Women of Auckland' diamond and platinum fern brooch.
In 1954 The Queen received a diamond
wattle brooch from the Government and People of Australia on her first
Commonwealth tour and visit to Australia. The Queen has worn the diamond brooches on many subsequent visits to the
Right - 1954 - Diamond 'Wattle' brooch, Australia, 1954.
Queen & Commonwealth: The Royal Tour Exhibition Images
Some of the 28 dresses on display at the Queen & Commonwealth: The
Royal Tour Exhibition are included in the images shown here.
The 1956 dress left is in cream duchesse satin, with
embroidery of pearl, beads, sequins and looped bugle beads on the
bodice. The V-shaped waist falls into a full crinoline skirt, which is
embellished with similar embroidery.
This fabulous evening gown of 1956 was ideally suited to the young
Queen's hourglass figure and her tiny waist. Royal couturier
Hartnell had quietly gained favour with the Queen Mother over the
But Hartnell won even great favour when he designed the
1947 Wedding Dress for the then
Princess Elizabeth. Later he designed the
1953 Coronation Dress and the 100
new outfits The Queen required for her first six month Commonwealth Tour
The clothes paved the way to help make the tour run smoothly,
ensuring The Queen was always suitably and comfortably attired to carry
out her job and create a great impression in all public situations
whatever the activity.
This evening dress was worn in Auckland, New Zealand, during the first
Commonwealth Tour, 1954 and designed by Norman Hartnell. The gown is of
gold lamé overlaid
with lace and embroidered with gold thread. Above Left - 1956
Dress designed by Norman Hartnell.
At a State Dinner in Lahore during the 1961 tour of India and
Pakistan, Her Majesty wore a magnificent duchesse-satin gown in ivory
and emerald green, the national colours of the country. A waterfall
pleat falls from the shoulders to the floor. The Queen wore the dress
with the Order of Pakistan with which she had been invested by President Ayub Khan
during her visit.
Her evening clothes always pay a compliment to her host country. Duchesse satin was much favoured by Hartnell as it creases less than
some silk satins, is not too heavy for hot climates and still remains
soft and fluid plus has an ability to hold architectural form and also
drape easily unlike other satins which tend to do one or the other.
Right - Evening dress worn for a State dinner in Lahore, Pakistan,
during the tour of India and Pakistan, 1961 Designed by Norman Hartnell
Full-length dress of ivory and emerald green duchesse satin,
representing the national colours of Pakistan.
Left - Duchesse satin evening dress worn for the
State Opening of Parliament, Wellington, New Zealand, 1963.
The sleeveless bodice is embroidered all over, and the scissor-shape
skirt with a nod to skirts of early Edwardian England is cut into two
pieces to reveal an embroidered panel. This dress is made from Oyster duchesse satin embroidered with pearls, beads,
bugle beads, diamante and sequins in a diamond pattern and again
designed by Norman Hartnell.
Neutral toned gowns such as this one are
perfect foil for bright clashing sashes and other regalia which The
Queen is duty bound to wear as part of particular formal events and
Parliament openings not just in UK but in Commonwealth countries too.
This is another dress designed to show off the Queen's shapely good
Prince Andrew had been born in 1960, and The Queen soon regained her
figure. A year later in 1964 her fourth child Prince Edward was
born and later dresses seem to me to glide over the waist a little more,
accommodating the figure of a woman who has had four children.
Right - Island Peoples & Pacific Realms Evening Dress worn during the visit
to Malta, 1967. This dress was designed by Norman Hartnell and made of ivory silk crêpe. The
hem of the skirt is embroidered with a band of rich gold and silver
sequins and beads.
Near Right - Detail of 1967 Island Peoples & Pacific Realms Evening
dress border. A simple dress like this lends itself to the addition of
sashes and regalia.
The dress looks fairly light and also classical like a dress a
Mediterranean goddess might have worn. The Queen would have been well
aware of how hot Malta could get, since she had lived there in the early
days of her marriage when The Duke of Edinburgh served at sea.
Malta held happy memories of amore carefree less formal time of her
Left - This ensemble was worn during the tour of Canada for a State dinner
at Rideau Hall, Ottawa, 30
Norman Hartnell designed the white
silk crêpe bodice and bright blue silk skirt for the 1967 tour of Canada.
Once more paying homage to her host country, the bodice is edged with
maple leaves and berries created from crystal beads, silver bugle beads,
sequins, diamanté and blue beads.
By the 1970s a Hartnell trained designer called Ian Thomas began to
encourage a more youthful less formal more modern approach into styles
offered to the Queen.
It was Ian Thomas who encouraged her to choose less structured styles
and move forward in fashion whilst retaining her sense of the clothes
fulfilling a function of helping her be seen, whilst also complimenting
You can see more of the modern day
wear The Queen wore in the 1970s here.
A decade later the Queen toured Canada during the Olympic Games. Evening dress worn on the tour of
Canada, 1976, during the Montreal Olympics. The dress was once again designed by Norman Hartnell.
While the dress is still classic, notice how the dress silhouette
has been streamlined and A-line shaped to fit with more modern looking
shapes of the era.
The turquoise silk crêpe dress is embellished with an embroidery design inspired by
the Olympic rings.
See more about the Montreal Olympic Games.
Detail of the embroidery shown above left.
For the 1970 tour of Australia and New Zealand, Norman Hartnell created a day dress
and jacket of mimosa-yellow fine wool crêpe.
The outfit was accompanied
by a striking straw hat, designed by Simone Mirman, who had been head
milliner to Schiaparelli.
Right - Australia Day mimosa yellow dress and coat with matching hat
worn during the tour of Australia, 1970. The fine straw hat is covered with yellow silk, and the
crown has a basket weave of ivory silk
ribbons. This neat hat is just what The Queen likes. It gives a clear
view of her head for all onlookers.
Whilst the Queen never wore clothes as short as the average woman and
her mini dress this coat and dress outfit is clearly knee length.
The 1972 tour of Singapore and Malaysia took place February/March.
Hartnell and Mirman collaborated again on an ensemble for daywear.
Left - The Queen wore this bright-green lightweight silk-crêpe day
dress by Hartnell with this beautiful cloche hat, covered with fabric
As a compliment to the host nation, The
Queen's dresses often incorporate national colours or emblems. The green silk crêpe dress has an asymmetric pleated band around the
bodice, which is gathered into the waist and tied into a sash.
The hat designed by Simone Mirman was a striking cloche
shape of fine net and decorated with fabric flowers. This style of hat
which gave a beehive effect was very popular in the early 1970s and
created a domed shape similar to hairstyles of the day.
Norman Hartnell designed this Evening dress worn during the State
Visit to Singapore and Malaysia, in 1972.
The gown is made from white plush velvet with an orange and red cut floral design. A thick
soft red velvet sash around the waist falls into a soft bow at the rear.
It is magnificent dress and would very much have suited The Queen's skin
tone and auburn hair colouration at the time. At the time the Queen
would have been in her forties. She clearly still had a very good
Right - Evening Dress worn in Singapore in 1972.
Her Majesty Queen is an economical person and many dresses get worn again and
reused for state and formal occasions.
The dress below is typical of a gown that has made more than one
appearance. Maybe just like the rest of us the Queen sometimes just
feels better in one dress than another.
evening dress left was worn for the concert that followed the official opening
of Sydney Opera House, Australia, 20 October 1973.
It was designed by Norman
Hartnell and is made of white silk crêpe embroidered with pearls, sequins and beads.
This dress has been worn on state occasions such as the Opening of
Parliament. The neutral colour is a perfect foil for the rich red Robe
of State of Crimson Velvet and the sumptuous crown.
Read more details about
The Queen's Robe of State of Crimson Velvet here.
To mark her
Silver Jubilee in 1977, The Queen visited 14 Commonwealth countries and
travelled over 56,000 miles, and for the Golden Jubilee in 2002 Her
Majesty visited Jamaica, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Gifts to The Queen have taken many forms, from scholarships and
bursaries for local people, to plants, food and animals. They are often
examples of local craftsmanship and are presented in the traditional
ceremonies of the indigenous peoples. The exhibition will include an
Aboriginal carving of a dugong by Stephen Karwulkku, totem poles from
British Columbia, a whale's tooth from Fiji, a carved wooden throne from
the King of the Ashanti and a silk scarf given to The Queen by President
Mandela in 1995.
On the 1953 tour to New Zealand The Queen and The Duke
of Edinburgh were presented with
traditional Maori feather cloaks (Kahu Kiwi), a symbol of chieftainship.
Her Majesty and His Royal Highness have worn their feather cloaks on
subsequent visits to the country, notably for the commemoration of the
150th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1990.
Extra Notes on the Dresses at the Top of the Page
A gown made for the 1974 Australia tour was the yellow evening dress and cape
shown at the top of the page. Created by Ian Thomas this
dress had a cape of bright yellow silk-chiffon, embroidered with sprays of
wattle, the national flower of Australia. The Queen did not, in the event, wear this
dress in Australia during her 1974 visit. Her Majesty returned early to
England as a General Election had been called. The dress was later worn
on several State occasions.
Also shown at the top of the page was an evening dress worn for the
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, in Jamaica, in 1975. The
sleeveless shift of fuchsia pink silk chiffon, with floral sprays in
gold thread was designed by Norman Hartnell. A train in the same
fabric falls from the shoulders.
The Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace
is from 26 July to 30 September 2009. Open daily 09:45–18:00 (last
admission 15:45). Admission by timed ticket. Admission prices (includes
audio guide): Adult £16.50, Over 60/Student £15.00, Under 17 £9.50,
Under 5 Free, Family £44.00 (2 adults and 3 under 17s). Advance tickets:
or (+44) (0)20 7766 7300 (a booking fee applies).
The exhibition is accompanied by the book The Royal Tour: A Souvenir
Album, published by Royal Collection Publications, price £9.99
Date added 19 July 2009 - Ref:
Some of the dresses on display at the exhibition are shown on this page.
All photos Royal Collection Copyright 2009, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth
II and remain so.
same time the range of hat styles increased with designers Simone
Mirman and later Freddie Fox introducing livelier millinery.
You can see pictures of
hats the Queen wore here.
State Apartments, Kensington Palace web site where royal ceremonial robes
Jubilee Colouring In Pictures
of the Coronation Dress.
Go straight back to Hartnell's
Design of the Queen's Wedding Dress
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