By avi maxwel / in , , , /

Love the monarchy or not, they put on a heckuva show. The coronation of King Charles III was a grand display of maximum pomp that was enough to lure many of us out of bed at 5 am to be swept up in the ancient rituals of scepters and stones of destiny, horse choreography, golden carriages and some very sparkly crowns.

Matching the coronation splendor with the public mood in Britain right now — a cost of living crisis paired with grumbling about the relevance of the Royal Family in a modern world — meant that the trickiest part of this first coronation since Elizabeth’s 70 years ago involved ensuring that the fashion messages presented a modernized monarchy.

The Palace walked the line between tradition and modernity in clothing quite successfully. At coronations’ past, the peers of the realm all showed up in their heirloom velvet and ermine coronation robes. This time, only a fraction of the nobles in the land won an invitation — the tickets went instead to ordinary citizens of notable public service — and the toffs were told to leave their coronets and capes in storage. The dress code was formal during the day, also observed by heads of state and foreign royals. The efforts at inclusion meant faith leaders from across the religious spectrum were also invited to reflect modern Britain and the Commonwealth.

This sartorial strategy also has the benefit of making King Charles and Queen Camilla stand out.

Seeing King Charles do as many changes as a fashion montage in a rom-com was fascinating, but since it was done in the context of an elaborate two-hour religious service, it has real gravitas. The King arrived in the Robe of State, a rewear from this grandfather, George VI’s 1937 ceremony. Underneath, he wore the Crimson Coronation tunic and Royal Navy trousers to add military flavor to the mix as Head of the Armed Forces. When his robes were removed for the anointment ceremony, he wore a simple cream Turnbull & Asser silk overshirt: the stripping down of all the regalia showed his humility before God. You can’t get more literal in fashion than that.

The King continued his commitment to recycling parts of his coronation wardrobe, donning pieces like the embroidered gold silk Supertunica from his grandfather under the Golden Imperial Mantle which dates back to George IV from 1821. These are known as Coronation Vestments. He also wore his grandfather’s Coronation Glove.

Prince William, Prince of Wales watches as a robe is put on King Charles III

Each piece he was handed, from the glove to the ring to the Scepter, Orb and Rod holds specific symbolism. Seldom do accessories in life hold so much meaning and history and tradition. These rituals were the key to letting the King’s subjects, and the hundreds of millions of broadcast viewers the world over, a way into the understanding of the ceremony. But it was the King’s clear emotion that really sent the message of humility in the face of all this history. The King’s powers today are symbolic, but that he wears his responsibilities with such earnestness was moving indeed.

Queen Camilla in a gown by Bruce Oldfield, her go-to couturier.

Queen Camilla also met the moment in style. From her impeccable makeup — something she usually doesn’t wear in any kind of substantive manner — to her golden-tinged hair and that perfectly judged Bruce Oldfield gown, she looked the part. It could have read as bridal, but the creamy effect of the color, the rich embroidery and elegant fit made it regal. We know Camilla as more down-to-earth than most of the Royal Family, but the seriousness of the occasion was upheld by the heft of her symbolic wardrobe. Her Robe of State was the one Queen Elizabeth II wore in 1953. Her Crown was a rewear from Queen Mary. In recycling coronation gear, the pair both made an effort to exemplify their commitment to (let’s face it, relative) thrift and sustainability.

All eyes, of course, were on Kate, Princess of Wales. The Waleses have been colour-coordinating heavily of late, a show of unity in a family rocked Prince Harry’s content creation. Kate went for white (the traditional color all nobles usually wear to coronations) and twinned with daughter Charlotte, 8, in matching Alexander McQueen dresses. Kate’s was a gown, worn beneath the Garter Mantles all senior working members of the Royal Family wore (save those wearing military uniform). Charlotte’s was an elegant little cape dress; perfect for her age, it also denotes her station.

Kate Middleton, the Princess of Wales, in custom Alexander McQueen embodied the best of royal pomp and pageantry.

Kate and Charlotte also wore matching headpieces, by milliner Jess Collett x Alexander McQueen. These were not just beautiful but strategically brilliant. In the old days, all noble women and princesses would have worn a tiara or a coronet (a mini crown) for the ceremony. But since the daytime formal decree effectively meant no tiaras (these are for nighttime wear, in specific circumstances, or for formal coronations), then Kate and Charlotte gave us the glamor look we were all expecting, but the crystals meant they were simply technically excellent headpieces.

Kate and Charlotte also wore matching headpieces, by milliner Jess Collett x Alexander McQueen.

As for the other Wales children, George was dressed in the scarlet breeches and jacket of a pageboy. Little Louis looked all grown up in a tiny Savile Row suit.

The garter mantles were also worn by The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh and the Duke of Gloucester. Prince Andrew was allowed to wear his Garter robes because today was declared a “collar day.” Prince Harry is a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, which does not have a robe. He wore a Dior morning suit, as he was not allowed to wear his military uniform as a non-working royal. Princess Anne, who was given a very special job, that of Gold Stick in Waiting, which meant that she led the King’s carriage back to Buckingham Palace, was in full military regalia.

The guests wore day dresses and morning suits — everyone looked like they were dressed for a particularly fancy day at church. There wasn’t quite the gaiety in the ensembles one would see at a royal wedding. But the effect was similar. Standouts included Princess Charlene of Monaco in beige, Queen Rania of Jordan in pale yellow, Katy Perry in pale pink Vivienne Westwood and Queen Letizia of Spain in pink Carolina Herrera with an instantly meme-able hat.

Overall, seeing the solemnity of the religious ceremony itself, with all those jewels released from the Tower of London — some for the first time in 70 years; others made an appearance at the Queen’s funeral, which means they have a further sense of symbolic heft — made the crowning of the King into an event with more meaning than expected.

Many of us have an enduring fascination with the lore of the British monarchy, from our collective obsession with all things Tudor to the abdication of Edward VIII to all things Princess Diana. Then there’s “The Crown,” the fictionalized TV series and movies about the House of Windsor over time. Today’s coronation ceremony made it all seem somehow more real. Things in this king’s court may not be that much more inclusive or diversified or democratized, but King Charles used visuals, including fashion, to signal his vision for the future: a monarchy rich in symbolism, but pared back enough to meet the moment.


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