Britain

The Designer Diaries – Norman Hartnell: Pt.5

Parts one, two, three and four can be found by clicking the appropriate links. This post could not have been written without info from fashionera.com. Be sure to check it out as well as all of the other links. They really help to flesh out the stories!

Although there is no denying that The Duchess of York/Queen Elizabeth had charm, all the charm in the world can’t help someone pull off “haute couture.” Unlike her glamorous sister-in-law the Duchess of Windsor, Elizabeth didn’t have the long, lean frame so well suited for high fashion. Her diminutive height, short legs and “less than slender” ankles made it hard for Hartnell to transform her matronly figure into the fashionable one that featured in his sketches. So in an effort to keep her as stylish as possible, The Queen’s evening wear usually consisted of a slim, minimally adorned gown, with some sort of removable wrap embellished with sequins and/or glass beads.

Photo Credit: liveauctioneers.com

Designing “everyday” outfits was even more of a challenge, and it continued to be so until the start of WWII in 1939. The war ushered in austerity, and austerity came to the rescue of Hartnell’s daywear dilemma. It was decided to:

1.) eliminate all of the fussiness of HM’s clothes

2.) give her a basic “uniform” that could bridge the seasons, consisting of a dress with matching coat and hat.

Since Regulated cloth as well as rationing and clothing coupons were now the order of the day, these uniforms would basic, yet undeniably royal when accented with gloves and pearls. In a now famous story , one nervous courtier asked the Queen if, “Your Majesty feels it is quite correct for you to wear your best dresses when visiting the bomb sites.” “But of course,” replied Elizabeth. “They would wear their best dresses if they were coming to see me!”

Photo Credit: liveauctioneers.com
Photo Credit: liveauctioneers.com
Photo Credit: liveauctioneers.com
Photo Credit: liveauctioneers.com
Photo Credit: liveauctioneers.com
Photo Credit: liveauctioneers.com
Photo Credit: liveauctioneers.com
Photo Credit: liveauctioneers.com
Photo Credit: liveauctioneers.com

As the years rolled by and she entered her 70s and 80s, her style eventually morphed into what most of us probably remember best, “The Queen Mum” look, and it’s accompanying “The Nation’s Granny” persona. Lots of floral dresses topped with a basic, often matching coat in a multitude of pastel and primary colors, usually topped by a large, coordinating, turned up brimmed hat, decorated with masses of feathers, flowers and netting; her evening gowns a throw back to the ruffles and crinolines from her early days as queen. Always quite floaty and frilly.

So what is your opinion on The Queen Mum’s evolving style? Do you have any idea which of her outfits might have materialized out of the initial Hartnell sketches? Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!