Queen Alexandra used clothes to fashion images of herself as a wife, a mother and a royal: a woman who both led Britain alongside her husband Edward VII and lived her life through fashion. Inside the Royal Wardrobe overturns the popular portrait of a vapid and neglected queen, examining the surviving garments of Alexandra, Princess of Wales – who later became Queen Consort – to unlock a rich tapestry of royal dress and society in the second half of the 19th century.
More than 130 extraordinary garments from Alexandra’s wardrobe survive, from sumptuous court dress and politicised fancy dress to mourning attire and elegant coronation gowns, and can be found in various collections around the world, from London, Oslo and Denmark to New York, Toronto and Tokyo. Curator and fashion scholar Kate Strasdin places these garments at the heart of this in-depth study, examining their relationships to issues such as body politics, power, celebrity, social identity and performance, and interpreting Alexandra’s world from the objects out.
Adopting an object-based methodology, the book features a range of original sources from letters, travel journals and newspaper editorials, to wardrobe accounts, memoirs, tailors’ ledgers and business records. Revealing a shrewd and socially aware woman attuned to the popular power of royal dress, the work will appeal to students and scholars of costume, fashion and dress history, as well as of material culture and 19th century history.
I am not sure what I was expecting from this book before I began reading it and I will be the first to admit that my interest in modern fashion is rather non-existent. For royal women, however, the way they dressed was often the only to express something. Fashion was used for a whole range of emotions and occasions. Alexandra of Denmark certainly mastered the art of fashion and continued to do so as Queen. However, I found the book rather boring and lacking in visual aides. Add to that the rather hefty price tag of $93. I probably wouldn’t have bought it.