King Charles Coronation: The message behind Princess Catherine and Queen Camilla's looks on the day

The coronation fashion saw prominent figures from around the world dressed in clothes full of meaning

By Vanessa Friedman

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Prince and Princess of Wales, Prince William and Kate Middleton, Prince Louis and Princess Charlotte arrive for the coronation ceremony of Britain's King Charles and Queen Camilla at Westminster Abbey, in London, Britain May 6, 2023. Dan Charity/Pool via REUTERS
Prince and Princess of Wales, Prince William and Kate Middleton, Prince Louis and Princess Charlotte arrive for the coronation ceremony of Britain's King Charles and Queen Camilla at Westminster Abbey, in London, Britain May 6, 2023. Dan Charity/Pool via REUTERS

Published: Sun 7 May 2023, 3:06 PM

Last updated: Sun 7 May 2023, 3:41 PM

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 Saturday was, on one level, like a super-fancy fashion Easter egg hunt.


Britain's Queen Camilla arrives on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the coronation of King Charles III, in London, Saturday, May 6, 2023. (Chris Jackson/Getty via AP)
Britain's Queen Camilla arrives on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the coronation of King Charles III, in London, Saturday, May 6, 2023. (Chris Jackson/Getty via AP)

It started with the coronation gown worn by Queen Camilla: a white silk dress by Bruce Oldfield, a British designer who has been a favourite dressmaker of not only the new queen, but whose creations also were 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), making him 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 Saturday’s actual coronation, it was rumoured 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.

Prince Louis and Princess Charlotte arrive for the coronation ceremony of Britain's King Charles and Queen Camilla at Westminster Abbey, in London, Britain May 6, 2023. Phil Harris/Pool via REUTERS
Prince Louis and Princess Charlotte arrive for the coronation ceremony of Britain's King Charles and Queen Camilla at Westminster Abbey, in London, Britain May 6, 2023. Phil Harris/Pool via REUTERS

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 colour-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.

U.S. first lady Jill Biden arrives outside Westminster Abbey ahead of Britain's King Charles' coronation ceremony, in London, Britain May 6, 2023. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
U.S. first lady Jill Biden arrives outside Westminster Abbey ahead of Britain's King Charles' coronation ceremony, in London, Britain May 6, 2023. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

U.S. first lady Jill Biden 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 old England, and thus a choice that seemed particularly apropos. (President Joe Biden also wore a Ralph Lauren suit to his swearing-in). Even more pointedly, Jill Biden arrived with her granddaughter, Finnegan, 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.

Ukraine's First Lady Olena Zelenska and Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal arrive at Westminster Abbey in central London on May 6, 2023, ahead of the coronations of Britain's King Charles III and Britain's Camilla, Queen Consort.  (Photo by Andrew Milligan / POOL / AFP)
Ukraine's First Lady Olena Zelenska and Ukraine's Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal arrive at Westminster Abbey in central London on May 6, 2023, ahead of the coronations of Britain's King Charles III and Britain's Camilla, Queen Consort. (Photo by Andrew Milligan / POOL / AFP)

It also made sense, since the Bidens were seated next to Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska, who was wearing a simple light-blue dress and coat. In any case, Finnegan 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.

US singer Katy Perry, left, leaves Westminster Abbey following the coronation ceremony of King Charles III and Queen Camilla in London. (Jane Barlow/Pool Photo via AP)
US singer Katy Perry, left, leaves Westminster Abbey following the coronation ceremony of King Charles III and Queen Camilla in London. (Jane Barlow/Pool Photo via AP)

Still, they were relatively subtle in their semiology, unlike Katy Perry, who was attending because she will be performing at the coronation concert Sunday night. For her part, 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.

Westwood, of course, famously had a somewhat, well, cheeky relationship with the monarchy (remember the notorious no-knickers twirl she did after receiving her rank as Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire?), although 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, Perry was supporting the local fashion industry and the complicated national relationship with the royal family that King Charles has inherited. Hats off to that one.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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