The Designer Diaries – Norman Hartnell: Pt.7

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 can be found by clicking the links.

Welcome to Part Seven! This is a “round up” of things that didn’t quite fit in with the other parts, or aren’t royal related. Unless you count some serious Hollywood Royalty, that is. We’ll start with Queen Mary.

According to Hartnell’s 1953 autobiography “Silver and Gold”, Queen Mary’s dresser called him up one day and informed him that the queen was sending her over to “select some gowns.” The Queen suggested that one should have “silver brocade” and maybe another could feature “mauve lace”, which are most likely the sketches shown below. He whipped up three sketches in total (the third being a blue embroidered number), sent Miss Weller home, and waited. The next morning he received a call from one of HM’s ladies in waiting, who began “haggling” over the price of one of the dresses.

Hartnell continues the story:

‘Her Majesty approves of all three sketches you sent – but I am commanded to inform you that your estimate of 35 guineas for the blue embroidered dress does not meet with the Queen’s approval.’ ‘Please…’ I started to stammer, as my heart’s hopes drained through the soles of my shoes. ‘No’, continued the voice, overwhelming my awkward interruption. ‘Her Majesty desires me to say that the price of 35 guineas for the dress is much too little. Her Majesty desires to pay 45 guineas for the dress, and the same amount for the other dresses, the designs of which Her Majesty finds perfectly beautiful.’ (p. 90-91).

Whew! Lucky for him, right?! I think this is a good time to point out that Q Mary’s “look” was not necessarily due to her own personal taste, but rather to the tastes of her husband, George V. According to one of her ladies in waiting, Mary really wanted to have some shorter, more fashionable skirts in her wardrobe but the king wouldn’t hear of it. So she remained trapped in long skirted, Edwardian fashions.

Here are two designs for Princess Marina, The Duchess of Kent. Daywear for a tour of Canada, a gown for a trip to the Far East. I’m giving you some homework. Find these dresses! I’ve looked and looked and nothing.

The Duchess Of Gloucester on the left and Princess Elizabeth, complete with Corgis on the right. You really have to click on the link for the DoG. It’s a short video of her wedding trousseau that I mentioned in Pt. 2. Too bad I didn’t come across it then!

A suit from QEII’s 1957 North American tour. She wore it on the flight from Ottawa to Virginia, and it looks nothing like the sketch in real life. Although I suppose it’s possible she was wearing it under the coat.

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The drawing on the left is a costume design for actress/model Iris Lockwood, for the 1941 revue “Get a Load of This.” On the right an illustration for a cocktail dress from 1923.

Two of his designs for the SSAFA, the Soldiers’, Sailors and Airmen’s Families Association exhibit. Hartnell drew the sketches and sewed the clothes for 20 dolls, which were then displayed as a fundraiser. It ran from 1943-1946, toured major cities throughout England and Scotland, and raised £10 000 for the organization. Make sure to click the link for more sketches and a look at one of the last surviving dolls.

Now we move on from sketches to actual clothing.

Model Sally Jamieson wears ‘Limey’, a full length figure hugging evening dress embroidered with diamonds, silver and crystal paillettes worn under a short loose jacket. (1964) Another model wears a long white evening gown during a fashion show (1962). For a fashion show clip, click here.

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A Silk crêpe gown faced with velvet. c1933 from The Victoria and Albert Museum, London. An Embroidered evening dress and matching stole in silk jersey, sequins & white fox fur. c1960 from Fashion Museum, Bath. Be sure to click the photo link for this one. It will take you to a totally different and way better photo. Here’s a link to his 1938 Spring fashion show

A Silk evening gown. c1948. The Museum of London, London, England. An embroidered satin gown with bead work. c1953. The Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

A boned, tulle embroidered ball gown with sequins, trimmed with tulle, lined with rayon taffeta and moiré. c1948. The Victoria and Albert Museum, London. A couture green taffeta ball gown, with a boned bodice featuring graduated pleats. It also has a flounced, graduated hem, and is studded overall with copper and silver faceted beads of varying sizes. c Early 1950s. Auction. The links will take you to different views if I remember correctly.

A French-lace & satin party dress with heavily-beaded bodice and matching belt. A fully beaded net dress of silver bugle beads and round beads over a white silk lining. Both c.1950s. Both auctioned. I think the dress on the right comes in around 1:02 in this video. Does it look like it to you?

And lastly, in what might have been his greatest “score” outside of dressing British Royalty, he provided the costumes for some Hollywood Royalty, the one and only Katharine Hepburn. Kate was dressed solely in Hartnell for the movie “Suddenly, Last Summer.” The film also starred Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. It was well known that if Ms. Hepburn really liked a costume from one of her films she would have a copy made for herself, and Hartnell’s design of a silk dress and coat was soon added to her collection.

I could go on, and on, and on some more, but I’ll leave you with this Getty link to Hartnell’s page, where you will find designs from the 20s right through to the 70s, and this Twitter link that should take you on a trip through the hashtag “#normanhartnell”. If it doesn’t, type it in yourself. You won’t be sorry.

So that just about wraps it up! I hope you have enjoyed this series as much as I have. Next week we’ll begin a four part (That’s right! A FOUR PART) mini-series featuring his wedding gowns. No sketches, but I think you’ll enjoy them all the same.

So what do you all think of these outfits? Were you surprised by anything? Have you seen anything over these past few weeks that you’d like to see in your own fantasy closet? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


The Designer Diaries – Norman Hartnell: Pt. 6

Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the series can be found by clicking on the appropriate links. Make sure you check out all of the links for the photos as well. They’ll lead you to lot of fun things!

One of the main reasons Norman Hartnell became the “go to” designer for three generations of royal ladies (after the Gloucester wedding he also picked up Queen Mary as a client) was no doubt his discretion, his ability to create just the right gowns for the occasion, and his ability to grasp what royal dressing was all about. He understood that royalty should be elegant rather than fashionable; more timeless than trendy. Today we’ll take a look at some of his designs for Elizabeth and Margaret’s formal wear, as well as some of their daywear.

Gowns for Princess/Queen Elizabeth. The one on the left has “reject” in the top left hand corner. I wonder why? It looks good to me!

Gowns for Princess Margaret.

Elizabeth. Dress or suit, hat, gloves, jacket or coat. Very much like what her mother wore during the war years, but designed for a young princess/queen. A working “uniform” that HM, as well as countless other royals, still employs today.

Margaret. Perhaps a bit more “trendy” as she was further down the chain, but still very royal in design and execution.

Lastly, I tried to match an outfit from sketch to final design so we could see how it all worked out in the end. Instead of spending days and days and days combing through a gazillion photos, I decided to feature two from The Queen that were fairly obvious to figure out. First up is a dress that became known as “The Magpie Dress.” This gown was very well received in it’s day, as it “became a best-selling pattern for women who wanted to sew it at home, as well as selling in the thousands in Oxford Street.”

Next up is HM’s green maple leaf gown from the 1957 tour of Canada and the US. Government House commissioned Hartnell to make this gown especially for HM, and make a gown he did. Fashioned out of satin and green velvet maple leaves, it was embellished with tiny flowers and beads. HM wore the gown to the State Banquet at Rideau Hall.

There you have it! Part six in the books. I have enough for two more installments if you are interested. One on miscellaneous royal gowns, and the final will be on Hartnell’s wedding gowns. His over the top style really lent itself to weddings and I have a few gowns that I think you’ll enjoy.

So which of these, if any, are your favorites? Can you figure out which dresses these sketches turned into? Are you interested in the last two parts? Leave your comments and photos below!


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 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.

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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!”

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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!