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Queen The Royal Tour Exhibition

Queen & Commonwealth: The Royal Tour
A Special Exhibition at the Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace
26 July – 30 September 2009

Edited By Pauline Weston Thomas for

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 II.


Queen & Commonwealth

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.The Queen's fuchsia evening dress designed by Norman HartnellThe Queen's yellow cape evening dress of 1974 was designed by Ian Thomas

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 life.'

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 working wardrobe.

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.


1952 - The Queen - A Young Head of the Commonwealth

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 clothing.Norman Hartnell 1953 one-shoulder gown for The Queen.

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 Queen's Dresses at Buckingham Palace Exhibition

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


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 material.

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.

Dazzling Jewellery Gifts1954 - The Queen's  Diamond ‘Wattle’ brooch, Australia, 1954. The Queen's ‘Women of Auckland’ diamond and platinum fern brooch prseneted to the Queen in 1953. It is the national emblem in New Zealand.

Women of Auckland Diamond Brooch

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.

Australian Diamond 'Wattle' Brooch 1954

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 countries.  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.

February 1956 The Queen in Africa - Cream Dress Designed by Norman HartnellThe Queen's Cream Evening Dress Designed by Norman Hartnell

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 previous decade. 

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 of 1953.

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.

1961 The Queen in India & Pakistan White  & Green Gown Designed by HartnellThe Queen's White  & Green Gown Designed by Norman Hartnell for India and Pakistan 1961.

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.

1963 The Queen in New Zealand Oyster Dress Designed by Norman Hartnell1963 The Queen's Oyster Dress for New Zealand  Designed by Norman Hartnell

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 a 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 figure.1967 - Malta dress worn by The Queen on her visit. 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.

1967 The Queen in Malta - Island Peoples & Pacific Realms Evening Dress1967 - Detail of Malta dress worn by the Queen.

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 life.


1967 The Queen in Canada - Blue and White Maple Leaf DressQueens Clothes. This outfit was worn during the tour of Canada for a State dinner at Rideau Hall, Ottawa, 30 June 1967.  Norman Hartnell  Deigned the ensemble.

Left - This ensemble was worn during the tour of Canada for a State dinner at Rideau Hall, Ottawa, 30 June 1967.  The Queen's 1967 Canadian Royal Tour - Dress detail of maple leaves and berries created from crystal beads, silver bugle beads, sequins, diamanté and blue beads.

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.  The Queen's Turquoise blue evening dress worn on the tour of Canada,1976 and during the Montreal Olympics. The dress was once again designed by Norman Hartnell.

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 the event.

You can see more of the modern day wear The Queen wore in the 1970s here.

1976 The Queen in Canada (Montreal) - Olympic Rings DressOlympic rings embroidery on Queen's dress.

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.Australia Day mimosa straw hat - Simone Mirman milliner to The Queen1970 The Queen's daywear fashion working wardrobe - Australia Day mimosa yellow dress and coat

1970 The Queen in Australia and New Zealand

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.

1972 The Queen in Asia Singapore and Malaysia1972 - The Queen wore this bright-green lightweight silk-crêpe day dress by Hartnell.


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 flowers.

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.

1972 State Visit to Singapore and Malaysia Evening WearThe Queen's 1972 State Visit Evening Dress. White velvet and red.


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 figure.

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 Queen in royal robes. The Queen's Robe of State of Crimson Velvet.

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.

1974 The Queen in Australia - Zig Zag Gold Embroidery Dress

The Queens Clothes - 1974 Zig Zag Gold Embroidery Dress for Australia This 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.

Gifts to the Queen - Feather CapeThe Queen's gift of a traditional Maori feather cloak (Kahu Kiwi), a symbol of chieftainship. New Zealand 1953.

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

1974 Ian Thomas - Yellow Wattle Dress

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.

1975 Hartnell Jamaica Fuchsia Dress

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.

Exhibition Details

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).

Exhibition Book - The Royal Tour: A Souvenir Album, Published by Royal Collection Publications

The exhibition is accompanied by the book The Royal Tour: A Souvenir Album, published by Royal Collection Publications, price £9.99 (hardback).

Date added 19 July 2009 - Ref: P.735

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.

At the 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.


Looking for a colouring in picture - Golden Jubilee Colouring In Coronation Dress Picture

Link to State Apartments, Kensington Palace web site where royal ceremonial robes are kept.

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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