Victoria season 2: The real life story behind Queen Victoria’s fashion statements
Until 2016, the public image of Queen Victoria had long been that of a stiff, monotone, eternally old woman. That was, of course, until the colourful and vivacious depiction of the monarch in her younger years, starring Jenna Coleman, arrived on ITV.
The series Victoria has taken great strides in changing the public perception of Britain’s second-longest reigning monarch, especially in highlighting her genuine interest in fashion.
To celebrate the release of Victoria‘s second season on Blu-Ray and DVD this Monday, November 13, we went behind the scenes at her former home of Kensington Palace to learn more about the real Victoria’s relationship with clothing – and how that impacted all those around her.
The first thing we learn is Victoria was very aware of her own public image.
“She developed very quickly a sophisticated approach to her public image,” says Kensington Palace Senior Curator and Victoria expert Deirdre Murphy. “She wore very carefully designed garments ripe with symbolism.”
“She treated her public appearance almost like tableaux, considering the backdrop she was standing in front of and dressing her family and friends to coordinate with her.”
While growing up and as head of the royal family, Victoria’s clothing was constantly under scrutiny from onlookers and the blossoming media industry. It was something the Queen was enormously aware of and used to the advantage of her people.
“For public events, she always wore British,” says Murphy. The reason was to promote British manufacturing in the face of a decline in the British silk weaving industry in Spitalfields. During the nineteenth century the British silk weaving industry was struggling, and Victoria’s solution was to promote it through her fashion choices.
“She knew other people watched her clothes. She read the newspapers, which included descriptions of what she wore at every public event. She was also very aware of this public expectation that she should wear clothes manufactured in Britain.”
Victoria famously demonstrated this in style on February the 10th, 1840 – the day of her wedding to Prince Albert. Like with Princess Elizabeth a century later, the subject of what the young royal would wear to her wedding day was much discussed in the national press. Queen Victoria ultimately chose to endorse British industry by wearing a dress made of British-made silk and lace.
It wasn’t only at home that Queen Victoria’s style impressed. The Queen picked up many compliments for her choice of attire while travelling, often choosing clothing that used symbols local to the country she was visiting. On her many trips to Scotland with Albert, one of which is depicted in the second season of the series, Victoria adorned herself with Scottish tartan.
“It’s clear from how frequently she wore tartan dresses and accessories this wasn’t clearly a matter of preference,” Murphy said. “She was conveying a diplomatic message here, using dress to relate to local people and using clothing as a communication tool in a way that – probably from today – seems quite modern for the 19th century.”
While visiting Canada, she wore maple leaves. In Ireland, her clothing included shamrocks. Wherever Victoria went, she localised her look to her audience.
“Victoria understood the potential of connecting with people through dress. While she may not have had the Instagram feeds that people have now, the Queen was clearly aware of how her clothing was going to be expressed in the press.”