In fine style – Buckingham Palace (#infinestyle)

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Last week, I was invited for a preview visit to the In fine style exhibit at the Queen’s Galleries in Buckingham Palace. It was a bloggers’ breakfast, you see. And we got a guided tour as well, which was really great!

how this came about

The amusing tidbit is that it wasn’t because of my UX, web design and social media blog… (although that’s what we talked about the most with the organisers) but because of my lesser-known (and much more often discovered by strangers) sewing blog. I love to sew and I make dresses and bags. I started the blog around the time when I got my sewing machine here in the UK, to document my projects. It’s been running since 2009, and is (alliteratively) named Seamstress Sophie. Feel free to read about my sewing projects there. This blog post was written for that blog and is only cross-posted here for friends to see.

If I were to summarise the whole thing, I would say “If these clothes could talk…”, because that was precisely their purpose. From fabrics lawfully restricted to those of royal birth, to building a silhouette that makes you look bigger, taller, manlier (Henry’s codpiece anyone?), every single garment, piece of jewellery and painting thereof had something to say.

If these clothes could speak…

Exotic feathers for travelling and links to the orient. Ruffs as a sign of wasteful wealth, given how expensive they were to make, and even more, to maintain! Hand-washed, ironed, and set in those overwhelming folds by hand, with sticks and starch. About embroidering certain things to showcase your lineage on your dress and then having an official portrait painted, to the King who had his son depicted wearing breeches and leaning nonchalantly against a column at the age of 5 – when most other children are still wearing dresses and caps – to signify to the world that this was the next King! Amusingly enough, this was in the second of two paintings. Clothes really tell a story, don’t they?

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one collar, three ways of looking at it

A very interesting piece was what I’d call a triptych. King Charles had a collar made of lace, which he wore when posing for a bust of him. The collar features in it, and the artist hasn’t managed to render the meticulous detailing of it, but you can see it worn as it was in real life. Then, a painting of the man himself, colourful, friendly, and of course with the collar taking centre stage on its owner. Beautifully rendered in painstaking detail on the canvas. The last piece of the triptych is, surprisingly, the collar itself! Made of the most exquisitely and head-spinningly detailed lace, it has survived and is now sitting near the bust and the painting, to be seen in all its real life glory.

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So many customs have been forgotten. Like how we should all wear hats, so we may uncover ourselves in front of someone of higher rank. There is a painting in the collection which is almost a showcase of this particular point of etiquette. It also features, unwittingly perhaps, an interesting detail: the back of the head of one of the ladies, where we discover how it was put up and decorated.

the many lives of fabric

For instance, unlike today, where we can pick up a dress for £10 from Primark, wear it five times, watch it deteriorate in the wash and then throw it away, in those days, it was more of a Make it and Mend it attitude. This is why collars, ribbons, hats, and other items have survived better than skirts and petticoats. Those were invariably scavenged for their swathes of fabric and turned into bodices, children’s clothes, or smaller items still. I wonder how many lives one piece of fabric really had!

And with the growth of the Empire, the discovery of new lands, new fashions and new fabrics, the joke was that the English were incredibly fickle with their fashions and changing them so fast, they risked showing up naked due to indecision (or a seamstress’ inability to finish something new quickly enough).

Surprisingly enough, there wasn’t quite as much as I had hoped on patterns, shapes, fabrics, and other everyday details. Well, none that I could use in my projects, anyway.

I did delight in meeting the organising team and talking about technology, fashion, and children-yet-to-come with them. They are all really lovely individuals and did a great job at putting the morning together. Everything was beautifully organised, and I’m really glad I was invited and took the day off to attend!

Featured image: The strange fold found in dresses of the Spanish Court. This allowed ladies to sit down and keep their feet and ankles covered. And if folded on the outer side, it created a pocket in which one could carry a fan or a book.
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As a follow-up, the team posted a flickr set of photos from the day. This is me, and there are more photos in the set for your browsing pleasure.