Princess Anne in a crimson-plumed bicorn hat, swashbuckling through Westminster Abbey in a Napoleonic velvet cloak. Penny Mordaunt stealing the show in a teal two-piece that echoed the commanders’ wives in the Handmaid’s Tale, accessorised with a giant sword. Nine-year-old Prince George, a Nutcracker toy soldier come to life, resplendent in crimson and frogging.
As a catwalk for King Charles’s Britain, the coronation was undeniably spectacular. A feast of pageantry served up glorious visual entertainment during the long hours in Westminster Abbey.
Advance briefings from the palace had suggested Charles wanted a modern, pared-down event reflecting a 21st century country in the grip of a cost of living crisis, but the optics of the clothes were surprisingly jazzy and eccentric. This was a grandstanding of Britain as the land of Mary Poppins and Strictly Come Dancing, of Hogwarts and Glastonbury, rather than the home of umbrellas and bowler hats.
The tone was set, naturally, by the king. Charles’s decision to swap out the silk stockings that would traditionally have been worn under his ceremonial robes for the navy trousers of his military uniform was announced in January, but the eye-catching details in the first images of Charles and Camilla to be beamed around the world, glimpsed through the window of their golden coach, struck a rather different note: the outsize white silk taffeta bows at the shoulders of Charles’ ermine robe, and the gobstopper diamonds at Camilla’s throat.
Beneath royal blue ceremonial robes, the Princess of Wales wore an ivory silk caped gown designed by the Alexander McQueen designer Sarah Burton, to whom Kate has remained largely loyal on grand occasions since her McQueen wedding dress.
The dress, embroidered with rose, daffodil, thistle and shamrock motifs to represent the four nations, flew a flag for the love of the British countryside and respect for nature and the environment that is a central manifesto pledge of the new-look royal family. Kate, who had been rumoured to be considering wearing flowers in her hair in place of a tiara, chose a wreath-like headpiece of silver bullion leaves set with crystals, which walked a middle ground between old-school ballroom bling and new-age festival fashion.
Camilla’s gown, by Bruce Oldfield, echoed the sentiment of her daughter-in-law’s dress. Made from silk woven in Suffolk, it was embroidered all over with sprays of wildflowers entwined with tiny ribbons of celebratory bunting. Oldfield told Women’s Wear Daily that the design “reflects a more fluid and modern representation of the king and the queen consort’s affection for nature and the British countryside”.
The jolly A Midsummer Night’s Dream aesthetic as seen on the invitations for the coronation, which featured a folklorish green man and bees and beetles rendered in watercolour, was on the day a quiet side note to the Wolf Hall-esque pomp and splendour, rather than a radical vibe-shift.
The Paddington Bear role of bittersweet cameo was played at the coronation by Prince Harry, who made a low-key appearance with military medals pinned to his dark suit.
The picture-perfect wardrobing of the Waleses framed them clearly as the glamorous, Camelot-esque family-in-waiting to the king and queen. Princess Charlotte was also dressed in pale Alexander McQueen, with a miniature version of her mother’s dress and headpiece, worn with Mary Jane buckled sandals.
Among the best-dressed guests was the South African soprano Pretty Yende, who sang in the abbey during the ceremony wearing a sunshine yellow gown with butterfly-wing shoulders by the French designer Stéphane Rolland.
Katy Perry served up fashion content, with a look that was an homage to the late Vivienne Westwood, made for her by the atelier using lilac leatherette fabric from the house archives, and matched by a hat with pale Merry Widow-style veiling. Dames Maggie Smith and Judi Dench both wore tailored wool ensembles with matching trilby hats, in blue and oatmeal respectively.
The majority of the audience dressed, despite the gloomy weather, as if for a summer wedding. There was jaunty off-centre headgear: black for Akshata Murty, lipstick red for Samantha Cameron, coral for Sophie Grégoire Trudeau. Cherie Blair, Jill Biden and Pippa Middleton wore pastel outfits so smoothly tailored that they appeared to have been iced, rather than dressed.