Who Are The Royal Dressmakers & What Do They Do?

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British royal fashion is no easy game. From wearing a tiara to holding a clutch, there are tons of royal fashion rules to be followed. For example, dresses and skirts should not be more than three to four inches above the knee and jeans are only allowed for casual purposes. Apart from these well-established rules, some unwritten etiquettes are also meant to be observed. For instance, Queen Elizabeth II disliked wedge shoes so royal ladies used to avoid wearing them around her majesty. Royal wedding dresses required prior approval from the queen before the big day and royal women are advised to wear hats during formal events. With all these rules in place, dressing royals is no simple task.

Additionally, royal fashion has more than just style to offer. As Simon Doonan, an observer of royal attire told Vogue: "Royal style is quite hard to get right. Their clothes must attract attention, but not detract from the important work they are carrying out." From playing a huge role in diplomacy to impacting the fashion choices of millions of loyal royal fans, the responsibility on the shoulders of royal dressmakers is huge. While Princess Diana, Princess Catherine, Prince Eugenie, Princess Beatrice, and Meghan Markle are all known to have both long-lasting relationships with luxury fashion brands and are the saviors of up-and-coming labels, the royals still have in-house designers called "royal dressmakers." The job description of these dressmakers goes way beyond just designing clothes.

Maureen Rose was Queen Elizabeth's dressmaker and designer for 30 years

Maureen Rose was one of Queen Elizabeth II's dressmakers who served her for 30 years before retiring in 2003. The seeds of Rose's desire to become a designer were first planted when she saw the queen in her wedding dress in 1947. The little girl of 10 later went on to land her "dream job" making dresses for her inspiration.

In an interview given to the BBC, Rose recalled some of the most memorable instances of her time with the queen. "When you'd finished a set of outfits for her she would put one on and have a really serious 'Queen face' on," she said. "Then all of a sudden she would look across and absolutely beam — the room would light up with her smile and she would say 'I'm going to enjoy wearing this a lot because it is so comfortable thank you very, very much for all your hard work," Rose recalled adding that this memory will stay with her forever. 

After working with the queen for over two decades, Rose was awarded a Royal Warrant in 1999 and went on to design her own outfits for the monarch to wear. From 1973 until 2003, Rose conducted dress fittings for the queen, created skirts and blouses from fabrics gifted by the king of Thailand, and designed the dresses her majesty wore to celebrate her 47th year on the throne. 

Angela Kelly was Queen Elizabeth's dressmaker, designer, and senior dresser for 25 years

Angela Kelly is probably the most famous royal dressmaker. A close staff member of Queen Elizabeth II, Kelly had more than just a professional relationship with the monarch. Kelly started her career as a housekeeper at the residence of Sir Christopher Mallaby, the British ambassador to Germany, and met the queen when she and Prince Philip visited the ambassador in 1992. The queen offered Kelly a position as her dresser when she shared her interest to return home, and eventually joined the quarters of Buckingham Palace as the queen's dresser in 1993. As a close confidant of the queen, her majesty gave Kelly her blessing to write a behind-the-scenes account of her time on the queen's staff. The book titled "The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe" was released in 2019.

Since 2001, Kelly's title was Personal Assistant, Adviser and Curator to Her Majesty the Queen (Jewellery, Insignias and Wardrobe) but over the course of 25 years, Kelly's role encompassed dressmaker, designer, and senior stylist to the queen. Some of her notable designs include the buttermilk yellow outfit the queen wore to Prince William and Princess Catherine's wedding in 2011 and the powder outfit she donned for Princess Eugenie's wedding in 2018. In January 2023, the honor of Commander of the Royal Victorian Order was bestowed upon Angela Kelly by King Charles III.

Princess Catherine reportedly has a secret dressmaker

Princess Catherine is a fashion icon known for both her love of luxury fashion brands including Alexander McQueen and Erdem, and high-street fashion brands like Mango and Marks & Spencer's. Apart from these brands, the princess also apparently has a dressmaker whose identity is a secret. 

In 2019, Princess Catherine joined other members of the royal family at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the 50th anniversary of King Charles' investiture as the Prince of Wales and caught the media's attention by looking like a vision a in beautiful high-necked pale blue tea dress with soft curls and minimal jewelry. Later that day, Emily Andrews, a royal commentator revealed on Twitter that the dress was designed by a private royal dressmaker. "Lovely pic by @domlipinski of the Queen and Prince of Wales, with Camilla (in Bruce Oldfield), Kate (apparently dress by private dressmaker), Wills, Harry & Meghan. The Queen looks imperial in purple by Stuart Parvin," she wrote sharing a picture of the royal family.

This wasn't the first instance that the existence of this "private dressmaker" was speculated. In 2013, Maire Claire reported that the apricot dress worn by Princess Catherine during her visit to Naomi House Hospice in Hampshire, England was also designed by a "private dressmaker." In 2015, Hello! magazine also credited an outfit the princess was spotted wearing to this private dressmaker. Whoever this secret designer is, they are definitely a talent powerhouse behind some of Princess Catherine's most iconic looks.

Dressmakers have a huge role in the royals' fashion diplomacy

Fashion diplomacy refers to the subtle ways in which world leaders and their spouses incorporate different elements in their outfits to convey their support to their counterparts. Queen Elizabeth II was famous for her fashion diplomacy. A fan favorite would be the white evening gown with Swarovski crystal maple leaves that the queen wore to a state dinner during her 2010 visit to Canada.

The Toronto Star reported that the gown was the same one the queen had worn to a state dinner in Trinidad and Tobago and that Angela Kelly "had jazzed up the side and hem with appliqués of T&T national birds, the scarlet ibis and cocrico, and a wild poinsettia" for that visit. For the Canadian event, the dressmaker removed the imagery and replaced it with maple leaves as a gesture of friendship with the host.

In her book (via The New York Times), Kelly also revealed that the queen was in the habit of repeating outfits and that she would wear the same dress at least two to three times in public. After every wear, slight modifications were made to the outfits. For this, the fabrics that were gifted by foreign dignitaries were often used.

Dressmakers ensure the comfort of the royals

In her book, "The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, the Dresser, and the Wardrobe" (via The New York Times), Angela Kelly revealed that Queen Elizabeth II may have needed up to five outfit changes depending on her agenda for the day. A team of nine, including three assistant dressers and a private milliner, helped her during this tedious process. The ultimate aim of the dressmaker is to ensure that the royals are comfortable while also looking their best. 

In her tell-all, Angela Kelly admits to breaking in her majesty's shoes. "The Queen has very little time to herself and not time to wear in her own shoes, and as we share the same shoe size it makes the most sense this way," Kelly revealed (via the Mirror). Well, sounds like quite an ingenious way to make sure the feet that the entire population of Britain worships aren't harmed by shoe bites.

Royal dressmakers ensure that even the minute details are not forgotten

A royal dressmaker's primary duty is to ensure that the royal member looks perfect before they go about their official duties and activities. In an interview given to The Telegraph, Angela Kelly said: "I just want everything to be right for The Queen — to make life easier for her because she is so busy. My job is to ensure that when the queen meets people she looks right." 

The dressmaker is responsible for even the minute details of the monarch's looks. Yet again, thanks to Kelly's book, we have some insights into the lengths they go to in order to get their job done right. Kelly revealed that she used to clean the queen's expensive jewels before the monarch wore them. "A little gin and water come in handy to give the diamonds extra sparkle — just don't tell the jeweler!" she wrote (via People). "A drop of washing-up liquid and water will get rid of any hairspray stains."

Angela Kelly made a new royal christening robe upon the queen's orders

According to The New York Times, Angela Kelly's hefty role is a reflection of the fact that each piece of clothing and jewelry worn by the queen ultimately becomes a piece of history in and of itself. In her illustrious career spanning over a quarter of a century, Kelly has also made some direct contributions to royal history.

The royal christening gown that was originally commissioned by Queen Victoria had been worn by royal babies since 1841. However, after being worn by 62 regal babies over 163 years, it was time for a new one. In 2004, the queen tasked Kelly with creating a new royal baptismal gown that replicated the original Honiton lace worn by King Edward VII, King George V, King Edward VIII, King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth II.

Kelly and her team took nine months to create the gown. "Together, we sourced lace to complement that being made in Italy, and to make sure it looked authentic we dyed it in Yorkshire tea," she said (via Tatler). Kelly also revealed that the queen's approval was sought after each stage. "Her Majesty was very interested to see how it was developing. From start to finish, it had taken us, appropriately, nine months." The latest royal babies to have worn the replica christening gown are Prince George, Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis, and Prince Archie.

Angela Kelly arranged the makeup artist for the queen's televised Christmas speech

Even though the queen was one of the most photographed people on the planet, she used to apply her makeup herself except for one event of the year — her televised Christmas speech. For this event, the makeup was entrusted by a professional. "The only other thing left for me to do is to arrange for the makeup artist, Marilyn Widdess, to be there on the day of filming," Kelly revealed in her book (via Forbes). "You might be surprised to know that this is the only occasion throughout the year when Her Majesty does not do her own makeup."

Angela Kelly's book is a great text that adds to our understanding of the relationship the royal dressmakers might have had with their monarchs. Like in Hollywood, where a stylist becomes the close confidant of the celebrity, based on Kelly's book, it can be deduced that the royal dressmakers share a similar relationship with the royals.