Is there any pageant of state more chockablock with symbolism than a royal coronation? Almost every detail, from the crown itself to the “bracelets of sincerity and wisdom” presented to the new monarch, is redolent of meaning.
So it really shouldn’t be a surprise that the clothes of the ceremony’s stars, as well as many of the guests, were equally considered, down to the tiniest detail. Indeed, a scan through the looks on Saturday was, on one level, like a super fancy fashion Easter egg hunt.
It started with the coronation gown worn by Queen Camilla: a white silk dress by Bruce Oldfield, a British designer who has been a favorite dressmaker of not only the new queen, but was also often worn by Princess Diana (he made her silver lame dress for the 1985 premiere of the James Bond film “A View to a Kill”) and thus a sort of diplomatic family bridge.
Camilla’s coronation look was embroidered in silver and gold wildflowers — daisy chains, forget-me-nots and scarlet pimpernels — in reference to the affinity for the British countryside that she and Charles share. The dress also had roses, thistles, daffodils and shamrocks, meant to represent the four nations of the United Kingdom, on the cuffs of each sleeve.
As it happens, those flowers were likewise embroidered on the white crepe Alexander McQueen gown worn by Catherine, Princess of Wales, now the queen-in-waiting. Catherine also wore McQueen, which is designed by Sarah Burton, the rare woman at the head of a fashion house, for her wedding in 2011, and has worn the designer’s work to many major public occasions since. Along with the dress (worn under her royal robes) she chose not to wear a fancy tiara, but rather a crystal-and-silver floral headpiece, and earrings that had belonged to Princess Diana.
(Royal jewelry tends to almost always come with a genealogy: Camilla’s diamond necklace, which includes a 22.48-carat pendant, was made by Garrard in 1858 for Queen Victoria, and, along with matching earrings, is part of the “coronation suite.” It was also worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation in 1953.)
Before the actual coronation, it was rumored that Catherine would break with tradition and wear a “floral crown,” in a nod to the king’s wish for a more modern, less ostentatious coronation. She did, although her version, by Jess Collett x Alexander McQueen, was probably not the Glastonbury Festival-like floral crown that most had imagined.
In any case, it matched the crystal-and-silver headband worn by Catherine’s daughter, Princess Charlotte. Also matching: Princess Charlotte’s white McQueen cape and dress and its silver trim. Catherine has long adopted a strategy of color-coordinating her family’s outfits for their public appearances, in part to telegraph an implicit suggestion of unity in a clan that could use some of that messaging. (It also looks good, and she is a master of visual communication.) Think of it as Pantone politics.
And so it went.
Jill Biden, the American first lady, arrived in a sky blue suit with matching gloves and a bow in her hair (a sort of notional hat), all by Ralph Lauren, a designer who has built his own empire on Americana as well as a fantasy of olde England, and thus a choice that seemed particularly apropos (President Biden also wore a Ralph Lauren suit to his presidential swearing-in). Even more pointedly, Dr. Biden arrived with her granddaughter, Finnegan Biden, who was wearing a daffodil yellow caped Markarian dress, so that when the two women walked in together, they looked like … the Ukrainian flag!
That’s an impressively tactical approach to first — and social media — impressions.
It also made sense, since the Bidens were seated next to Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine, who herself was wearing a simple light blue dress and coat. In any case, Finnegan Biden was not the only guest in yellow: Queen Rania of Jordan was also in the hue, wearing a look from British designer Tamara Ralph, as was Catherine’s sister, Pippa Middleton.
Still, they were relatively subtle in their semiology, unlike Katy Perry, who was attending because she will be performing at the coronation concert on Sunday night. For her part, Ms. Perry chose to wear a lilac Vivienne Westwood skirt suit, matching elbow-length gloves, and a large lilac hat/flying saucer sprouting a “merry widow” veil — plus a three-strand pearl choker with a Westwood logo crown at its center.
Ms. Westwood, of course, famously had a somewhat, well, cheeky relationship with the monarchy (remember the notorious no-knickers twirl she did after receiving her OBE?), though by the time she died in December she had become her own sort of British treasure. In choosing to honor her memory and wear her brand, Ms. Perry was both supporting the local fashion industry, and the complicated national relationship with the royal family that King Charles has inherited. Hats off to that one.