16 June 2009

Costume Curator’s Holiday

I couldn’t better Keith’s description of yesterday afternoon’s Garter Service at Windsor Castle (at Zen Mischief), but have to say that I did have a wonderful time pursuing my lifelong habit of looking at what people are wearing.

Fashion commentators tend to agree that the British do formal wear better than casual. Maybe. There were certainly some nice effects, and they weren’t all on the young and slender, either. On the whole I thought the simpler female outfits and hats were the better, like the plain pink linen suit and matching hat on a woman about my age four or five seats to my right. Men had the choice of morning dress or lounge suit – there were some top hats, but not many.

As to the fashion victims, there were some exceedingly irritating pieces of ditsy headgear – I don’t think they merit the word ‘hat’, although one older woman was wearing a frothy confection which looked like vintage 20s or 30s court dress to me, the kind worn with a long dress in the daytime – and it really suited her. There was one hat which had coy veiling effects but did nothing at all to conceal the constant smirk on its wearer’s face, and one which had all the appearance of being decorated with a dead Yorkshire terrier! Frills and feathered hair slides do better on the under-thirties and best of all on the under fifteens, I feel. I’m old-fashioned enough not to like bare arms in a formal religious setting, especially when the dress looks like underwear, like the example in front of me. And one female across the aisle seemed to be having a size competition between her hat, her bosom and her knees!

The official stuff was the most eye-catching, of course. There’s no competing with the likes of Garter robes, Heralds’ tabards, Yeoman Warders' ruffs (glory be, they still prop them up at the back with a piccadill, of which no genuine 16th or 17th century examples survive!), and the like. I look at the band of the Household Cavalry and marvel at the sheer amount of gold braid and wire worked on their outfits – apparently a skill which is now in very short supply.

Apparently the tradition of an annual Garter procession and service only dates back just over 60 years. You’d never think it, is all I can say!


Jilly said...

Aren't those strange bits of feathers supposedly doing duty as hats called 'fascinators'? I suspect this description may be very much a 21st C invention. I think they're a bit pointless personally! I would always say simple looks best and the closest I ever get to frills is round th bottom of a skirt - preferably made of the same material.

The goldwork is a very specialised skill and when you consider the Royal School of Needlework only train 6 apprentices each year in this sort of traditional stuff its practitioners are likely to remain in short supply!

NAM said...

Yes, for some reason - beats me why. Fascinators were originally small shwals you could use to cover your head and/ or shoulders with, and I'm not sure they sound very aptly named either!