Courtly costume

5th February 1999 at 00:00
Kensington Palace is so closely linked in our minds to Diana, Princess of Wales that might be advisable to explain before a visit that the state apartments are a separate section at the back of the Palace. They have been re-opened, after substantial restoration work, with a glittering exhibition "Dressing for Royalty" from the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection.

Wonderfully embroidered and glamorous gowns are exhibited in room sets with life-size figures.

Step back to the time when young women were presented at Court in an ornate drawing room scene filled with splendidly robed and bejewelled women and men in elaborate uniforms. A page spreads the train of one woman entering the Throne Room.

A bedroom setting shows a maid with two women, one in the shorter length dress allowed in the 1920s but still obliged to wear train, head feathers and veil.

A man at Court could change four times a day and in another set the large amount of clothing required is set out by the indispensable valet.

The industry that fed this finery is illustrated by a traditional tailor's shop displaying an extraordinary range of uniforms, hats, and helmets. In a dressmaker's workshop, among cases of exquisite materials, sequins, flowers, braid, gold and silver sewing threads, a a bowl of water used to increase the room's light hints at the long hours worked by the seamstresses.

The 18th-century room has an amazing dress with a six-foot wide hooped skirt. Nearby is a pink satin embroidered suit and court sword worn by a 14-year-old boy.

Betty Jerman

State Apartments, Kensington Palace, London W8 4PX. Group bookings 0171 937 7079. Entry adult pound;7.50, child pound;5.35

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