Royal Fashion: From Palace to Runway

Errika Gerakiti 23 February 2023 min Read

Social status has always been signaled through fashion. The monarchs knew their garments needed to stand out in order to distinguish themselves from the common crowd. Even though the role of the monarchy is different today, contemporary fashion designers still draw inspiration from the royal fashion of the past. During the last five years, we have seen amazing outfits on the runways that could be seen in royal portraits – ravishing clothes made of high-quality fabrics, exceptional jewelry, and elaborate designs featuring religious symbols. The revival of royal fashion raises several questions; how can royal fashion be translated into today’s people’s needs? In an era of a vivid feminist discourse, can a corset be relevant?

Fashion is part of today’s pop culture. We see celebrities wear extravagant outfits for photoshoots, events, and movies; outfits that make them look like royalty. This is how we get the message that royal fashion is still relevant and up-to-date. Since members of royal families continue to attend events to stay in the public eye, one way to establish themselves as relevant is through fashion, as they always have. The royal institutions – which we will not examine politically here – had many ways of expression, one of them being fashion. Today, many designers incorporate elements of royal fashion, such as waistlines, symbols, and jewelry, as a way to make people feel like royals.

royal fashion: Anya Taylor Joy for Harper’s Bazaar, November 2022. Harper’s Bazaar.

Anya Taylor Joy for Harper’s Bazaar, November 2022. Harper’s Bazaar.

We do not mean to say that this is the only way for someone to feel important; rather it is one of the many ways that someone can express themselves. From haute couture designers to department stores, this is the goal. If someone wishes to make a bold statement, they can do it by dressing like a royal. So, as we see in the runways, many elements have been reinvented to fit today’s fashion standards.

Empire Waist dresses

The empire waist dress is a typical 1800s style, which we recently saw in the Bridgerton series. Erdem designed dresses with an empire waist and paired them with shawls and fine and dainty accessories to resemble the fashion customs of the time. However, the fashion house kept the design very modern and avant-garde with chunky shoes, keeping the 1800s dress on trend with today’s fashion.


Ball Gowns

A ball gown is pretty basic when it comes to royal fashion. Thus, it is a great example to understand the transformation of royal fashion when it hits the runway. They become actual fairytale dresses with a twist: we see them with bondage and motorcycle accessories, as the designers wish to make people not fragile princesses, but powerful modern divinities.


Hair Jewelry

Jewelry is one of the trademarks of royal fashion from ancient times to today. The clothes may have changed over the years, but the jewelry remains the same. This is the case for hair jewelry too. In the most recent runways, hair jewelry has been present a multitude of times, from beautiful little flowers to sparkling headpieces and artsy accessories.


Religious symbols

As Eliane Bedu states,

Love Jesus, but make it fashion.

Eliane Bedu, Love Jesus, but make it fashion, September 2021, Varsity.

Religion is another characteristic of royal fashion. This specific element has been a great inspiration for fashion designers since the 1990s. We saw Madonna wear a religious symbol on a dress, Dolce&Gabbana designs entire collections influenced by catholic symbols, and even the MET Gala hosted an event based on Catholic imagery. The Catholic religion has been used and reinvented numerous times, as a means to connect the symbolization of the divine for each person.


15th-16th Century Royal Fashion

Haute couture designers are now going even back further in time, like the 15th and 16th centuries, to draw inspiration. The exhibition, The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England at the MET museum shows that even the most extravagant and pompous royal fashion can be turned into contemporary garments.


What do we learn from royal fashion?

If one observes royal fashion, one will observe one common thing in all periods: consistency. Be it Queen Elizabeth II, with her vibrant and colorful ensembles, Queen Victoria with her super tight corsets, or even the Tudors with their exaggerated dresses, there is always consistency. The fact is that every royal, such as the aforementioned ones as well as Marie-Antoinette, Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Diana, Queen Rania of Jordan, Grace Kelly, and so many others, has deliberately created their public image through clothing so everyone would notice them.


royal fashion: Harris Reed SS2023. Vogue.

Harris Reed SS2023. Vogue.

The royals continue to be influencers today: they inspire designers to make majestic garments as they translate conservative elements into lavish creations that fit the needs of today’s people. Contemporary designers have given a complete twist to royal fashion as the clothes are no longer designed to limit the body’s movement, but rather to embrace it and enhance its strength and beauty.

The corset does not suffocate anymore; it is readjusted so that it becomes armor, an iconic garment for anyone who wishes to make a powerful statement. So, while there are strong opinions around this matter, one can only acknowledge this for sure: every person has the choice to dress however they want and feel like royalty. And while fashion is not, and should not, be a substitute for mental happiness, it can always add a little something to the way we express ourselves without having to speak.

royal fashion: Wiederhoeft SS2023, Heather Wiederhoeft Twitter account.

Wiederhoeft SS2023, Heather Wiederhoeft Twitter account.

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