The Costumes of Royalty

A look at the designer dresses created for "The Crown" and "The Queen's Gambit" at the Brooklyn Museum

Two of Netflix’s most popular shows are currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum – or at least, their costumes are. As most binge watchers know “The Crown”, (premiering in 2016), is based on the real life exploits of Queen Elizabeth II as she ascends to the throne while “The Queen’s Gambit” (released in 2020), is a fictional account of a woman chess phenom set in the U.S. during the 1960s. They are both highly successful dramas, steeped in passion, intrigue, notoriety and human foible. They are both steered by strong women characters. And they both boast of brilliant costuming, which you can now see either online or by actually going to the Brooklyn Museum in New York.

Amy Roberts designed the costumes for “The Crown”, which has so far received a veritable treasure chest of awards, including a Golden Globe for Best Drama, Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Ensemble and two Emmy Awards for Best Costume. The one above appears in season 4, episode 2 and is worn by Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth. (Colman also won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of the beleaguered monarch)

It’s a fine wool tweed suit with a silk blouse and as the caption describes it, “With this look, Elizabeth has moved away from last season’s palette of 1960’s clear pinks, lilacs and blues to slightly more sombre colours. These reflect both her age and a settling into her role as monarch and reflective of the general move away from the optimism of that time to the now ‘broken Britain’ of the 1980s.”

In season 4, “X Files” star Gillian Anderson takes over the role of Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister. (Great Britain has historically done far better than the United States thus far in promoting women to leaders of power).

She wears a boucle wool suit, which was popular in the 1980’s. “Thatcher’s style evolves with the fashion changes from the early to late 1980s but also as her political stature changes. She starts season 4 after getting elected as prime minister, and we see her with her signature pussy bow blouse spilling out from her late 70s suits. Her style here has more feminine touches. Later, as the shapes begin to change throughout the decade so do Thatcher’s. She gets more established within her role, and we see her dressing in much sharper shapes and wider shoulders. The journey of her style feels very reflective of her journey as prime minister.”

“The Queen’s Gambit” is an American drama miniseries starring Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon, a troubled woman chess player trying to make it in a field overwhelmingly dominated by men. She begins her life in an orphanage and is taught to play chess by the local handyman. She rises quickly through the ranks of the chess world, displaying phenomenal gifts but with her success comes a dependency on drugs and alcohol to keep her at the top.

The costume designer for “The Queen’s Gambit” is Gabrielle Binder, who also worked on “The Lives of Others” and “In The Land of Blood and Honey”. “This beautiful dress has an ease to it, but also has a high fashion aesthetic. Beth wears this outfit to one of her most pivotal matches in the series. From a production point of view, the scene with this dress involves Beth running through a hotel, and the light fabric flows beautifully as the character moves throughout the space.” A number of the outfits were inspired by fashion designer Pierre Cardin.

The simple but elegant designs work perfectly with the time period and the location as Beth and her mother make their way through middle America. The limited series has received rave notices from the critics and is one of the watched TV shows in the U.S. right now. The online exhibit is open through December 13th.

All photos courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

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