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Tartan in royal dress explored in exhibition at the Palace of Holyroodhouse

Release date: Friday, 8 April 2016


The first of three special exhibitions marking the 90th birthday of Her Majesty The Queen, Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen's Wardrobe will open at the Palace of Holyroodhouse on Thursday, 21 April 2016.

Significant events in The Queen's life and reign, Her Majesty's support of British craft and design, and tartan in royal dress are among the themes explored in the largest display of The Queen's dress and accessories ever to be shown in Scotland.

For the wedding of her sister Princess Margaret and Mr Antony Armstrong-Jones on 6 May 1960, The Queen wore a turquoise-blue dress with a matching bolero jacket of silk taffeta, guipure lace and silk tulle by Norman Hartnell.  The British couturier was also responsible for designing Princess Margaret's wedding dress together with the ensembles worn by the principal female members of the Royal Family.  The occasion was a turning point in the protocol of royal dress, as it was the last time members of the Royal Family wore full-length day dress for a family wedding. 

Norman Hartnell, who first worked for the then Princess Elizabeth in the 1940s, also created the evening dress of embroidered duchesse satin worn by The Queen with a sash of Royal Stewart tartan for the Gillies Ball at Balmoral Castle in 1971.  Originally introduced by Queen Victoria, the Gillies Ball is given for neighbours, estate and Castle staff when
Her Majesty is in residence.  Traditionally gentlemen of the Royal Family wear Highland dress, while royal ladies wear long evening dresses with Royal Stewart tartan sashes.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert championed the wearing of tartan, both in their own clothes and in the clothing of their children.  A woven silk-velvet dress worn by Queen Victoria in 1835–7 will feature in the exhibition and is an early example of tartan in royal dress.

Today, members of the Royal Family wear a range of different tartans for both official and informal occasions in Scotland.  Balmoral tartan, designed by Prince Albert in the 1850s, remains the private property of the Royal Family and can only be worn with The Queen's permission.  

For the official opening of the Scottish Parliament on 1 July 1999, Her Majesty wore a purple coat made of a silk-wool blend with a green silk-crepe and lace dress, and a shawl of purple and green Isle of Skye tartan, woven on the Island of Lewis.  The ensemble was inspired by the Scottish landscape and reflects the designer Sandra Murray's interest in her Scottish heritage.  Born in Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Murray trained at Glasgow School of Art and continues to work in Inverness in the Scottish Highlands.  The matching hat, by the milliner Philip Somerville, is trimmed with a bow of the silk-wool fabric of the coat and curled dark-green feathers.

The exhibition at the Palace of Holyroodhouse will be followed by exhibitions at the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace from 23 July 2016 and at Windsor Castle from 17 September 2016.  In total, around 150 outfits worn by The Queen will be presented across the three Palaces, many chosen because of their close association with the location.


The three exhibitions Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen's Wardrobe are at:

Palace of Holyroodhouse, 21 April – 16 October 2016

The Summer Opening of the State Rooms, Buckingham Palace, 23 July – 2 October 2016

Windsor Castle, 17 September 2016 – 8 January 2017