Fashion Rules Exhibition at Kensington Palace


Fashion Rules Kensington Palace London Turban Worn by Princess Margaret

Turban, Carl Toms, 1976. Worn with a kaftan by Princess Margaret in Mustique, 1976

It is going to be a rather elegant summer. Along with the usual sartorial fanfare of Royal Ascot and the summer wedding season, Kensington Palace has an additional treat for us. And I’m not just talking about the pending arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s little baby (Ooooh the chic maternity wear! Ooooh what will the tiny one be wearing?).

Beginning July 4th the Fashion Rules exhibition will display 21 frocks sported by three of the 20th century’s most famous women – Queen Elizabeth II, her sister Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales. Now this is certain to set hearts a racing amongst both fashionistas and royal watchers.

Fashion Rules Kensington Palace Dior Even Dress

Evening dress, Marc Bohan for Christian Dior, 1977. Worn by Princess Margaret at the Silver Jubilee Celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II, 1977.

Starting with some of Elizabeth’s and Margaret’s dresses from the 1950s we’re then led through Margaret’s ensembles of the 1960s and 70s before delighting in Diana’s outfits from the 1980s. Even those who shudder at the memories of a surfeit of shoulder pads and ra-ra skirts will enjoy the colors and vivacity.

Fashion Rules Kensington Palace Jacques Azagury Dress Princess Diana

Dance dress, Jacques Azagury, 1985. Worn by Diana, Princess of Wales for a dinner given by the Mayor of Florence, 1985

But these aren’t simply clothes that were thrown on of a morning, picked from a jumble at the bottom of the wardrobe (ahem. Not that I would know of such things). The amount of consideration and strategy that went into the designs is rather spectacular. So you’re a well-dressed woman, the sartorial envy of all who know and behold you. There’s a lot of effort that’s gone into reaching such a level. Now imagine you’re a well-dressed lady who might be ruler of nations and a Commonwealth of millions, or maybe you’re the sister or daughter-in-law of said ruler. And the cameras of the world’s press document every move you make, ready for billions of people to watch and look at.

Fashion Rules Kensington Palace Nornam Hartnell Dres Princess Margaret

Grey lace dress worn by Princess Margaret, 1952

There’s just a teensy bit more pressure there, eh? You really don’t want to mess this up with a fashion faux pas of epic proportions. You want to look amazing and will use some simple but clever tricks to do so. In addition you couldn’t get a much better platform for promoting local fashion and setting trends that suit one’s figure best.

Take the Queen and an example of a simple but clever trick. Her frocks from the 1950s are in paler hues as film in those days was all in black and white (for those younger London Perfect readers, those were the days when dinosaurs also walked the earth. FACT) and she needed to stand out against the darker backdrops of say, crowds. The visual contrast on all those Pathé newsreels in cinemas of the day must have been very striking to her subjects.

Fashion Rules Kensington Palace London Exhibition 2013

Evening gown worn by HM The Queen, c. 1954

You see? Clever but simple.

As for British Fashion, well in the 1950s the Queen was all about Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell, with nipped in waists and full skirts inspired by the New Look of Christian Dior. By the 1960s Margaret was the trendsetter, dabbling in Mary Quant-style looks and in the 1980s Diana’s penchant for the likes of Murray Arbeid were absorbed and imitated by legions of admirers.

Fashion Rules Kensington Palace Princess Diana Red Dress by Bruce Oldfield

Evening dress worn by Diana, Princess of Wales, 1986

So get thee to Kensington Palace to marvel at the luscious fabrics, the exquisite embroidery and sigh-worthy elegance. Wonderfully, the Palace is only a leisurely stroll from London Perfect’s apartments. What a marvelous way to spend a day and consider how successfully the Duchess of Cambridge is following in the sartorial footsteps of her in-laws.


PS: If you’re planning a visit to Kensington Palace during your stay in London, it is just one of the top sights with free entrance and  skip the line access with the London Pass. Enjoy free entry to over 60 top London attractions, skip long lines at many sights, and get the most out of your time in London with unlimited travel on London transport, a guide book and discounts at restaurants and shops with your London Pass! Find out more about our 10% savings on the London Pass here.


Zoë F. Willis is a writer and enthusiastic London resident. You can read more about her adventures and creative exploits at


Photo Credits: All images © Historic Royal Palaces

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