I am reading the latest Philippa Gregory novel, “The taming of the Queen”, it’s about Katherine Parr. It’s very good verging on unputdownable.
It has made me think about the clothes that they must have worn then, and how many they would (or wouldn’t) have had. Dressing was so much about power in a completely different way to how we “power dress” now. Well, we might not power dress now in the way that we did in the 80s, no more power shoulders (although they might be poised for a return) or massive hair.
There is one description of the collection of jewels which belong to the Queen, the Queen’s Treasures, arriving for the Katherine to see. One bag contains belts and necklaces, grouped together. There are ropes of pearls and belts that are embroidered and encrusted with precious stones: sapphires, rubies emeralds, diamonds. So, it seems, belts were seen as jewelry. When choosing the gown for her wedding day from dresses stored in sandalwood chests and preserved with lavender, Katherine states that they “smell like wealth: the cool soft velvets and the sleek satin panels have an odour of luxury”. Katherine chooses from dresses made in cloth of silver and cloth of gold, and chooses from richly decorated hoods, and sleeves to go with the dress and underskirts that she has chosen. I know that she was the Queen of England, the wealthiest lady in the land, but even so other ladies, whether aristocratic ladies, or ladies from rich farming lands, would also have dressed in the same manner, if not to the same extent of luxury.
And my thought really is how much our criteria for what is luxurious has changed so much over the centuries. I suppose I have been left feeling that I must remember to reevaluate what would be luxurious and wonderful to wear rather than simply going with the flow. How much of those times would it be possible to recreate in our modern day clothing expression and still remain within the boundaries of what is practical. For practicality rules the day in our wardrobe now. Gone are the days of the lady’s maid, someone to spend time and attention ensuring that your clothes were kept in perfect working order. And we need to be able to pack it, certainly into a suitcase, maybe even into a carry-on flight bag. No sandalwood chests checked in as baggage!
But there is no reason for us not to have pieces in our wardrobe that are purely luxurious, worn infrequently and loved immensely. There is every good reason to have a couple of items in the wardrobe that do need a bit more tlc than other items. For next winter I’m thinking about a red velvet dress with seed pearl detail on the cuffs. The cuffs could be removable and cleaned separately from the rest of the dress. Just a thought. Or a beautifully hand embroidered top with semi-precious stones incorporated. I did once have an amazing pair of high heeled flip flops in pink suede with semi precious stones embroidered on to the leather.
It’s given me real food for thought. How to retain luxury in a practicality driven world. Watch this space!
Philippa Gregory, The Taming of the Queen, Simon & Schuster, London, 2015