Costuming The Royal Family: The Crown

The fourth season of The Crown has captured the attention of a worldwide audience with its glamorous and trendy costumes.

With a high budget (the production of the fourth season spent 13 million U.S. dollars per episode), The Crown has been telling the contemporary and intimate royal story of England from the 1940s until contemporary times. The fourth season, released in November 2020, focuses on the crucial period between 1977 and 1990.

Photogram of The Crown. Season 4, chapter 1: Gold Stick. Queen Elizabeth II in official parade in commemoration of her birthday.

The first image we want to talk about is a photogram of the first scene in the first chapter of the fourth season and is presented in the promotional trailer. As Commander-In-Chief of the British Armed Forces, Queen Elizabeth II (performed by Olivia Colman) is portrayed in the English uniform called the Trooping of the Colour (also known as the riding habit) to celebrate her birthday. The present costume shows the historical accuracy this show is known for. This costume involved four wardrobe fittings with the actress Olivia Colman due to its complexity. It is composed of a long dark riding skirt, the uniform of the Scottish Guard, a tricorn hat with regimental plume, and white gloves. Above the six medals, she is wearing the Order of the Garter star. This image transmits a feeling of strength and power in the royal family and fervent English patriotism.

Season four adds two iconic female figures of this particular era: Diana, Princess of Wales, and the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The presentation of these two emblematic figures in the show reflects on their character, with it will evolve in different manners for both of them during the season. 

Princess Diana:

the crown s4 picture shows princess diana emma corrin and prince charles josh o connor filming location ragley hall
Photogram of The Crown. Season 4, chapter 1: Gold Stick. First appearance of Diana Spencer.

The first encounter between Diana Spencer (performed by Emma Corrin) and Prince Charles (portrayed by Josh O’Connor) has a level of fantasy, mystery, and playful flirt kept throughout half of the season. The 16-year-old teenager is hiding with her ‘mad tree’ costume for a school production of Midsummer Night’s Dream, composed of a green leotard and a mask, both covered in green and yellow leaves. Costume designer Amy Roberts talked to Dezeen magazine about Diana’s first appearance in the show: “The first sighting of Diana is very unexpected. We start off seeing her as a young girl with very little fashion sense. She’s a plump, shy, charming, very appealing girl, and then she’s sort of grabbed by the palace.”

Watch Emma Corrin, as Princess Diana, Singing The Phantom of the Opera's  'All I Ask of You' in The Crown Extended Clip | Playbill
Photogram of The Crown. Season 4, Chapter 9: Avalanche. Princess Diana performing The Phantom of the Opera for Prince Charles.

We can compare the intention behind the previous costume with the one appearing in chapter number 9: Avalanche when Princess Diana performs for Prince Charles in a recording of The Phantom of the Opera. She blends with the set as if she always belonged to this fantasy world. Princess Diana appears wearing a spectacular period dress decorated with yellow stones and small pink roses, partially covered with her Christine Daaé seafoam green hooded cape. The costume shows her soft, naive and young self. The qualities that once captivated the prince now are increasing the gap between them. This becomes evident when we see him laughing and cruelly mocking the princess’ gift in the next scene.

Diana’s color palette was chosen among the actual garments the princess wore. The costume design department decided to isolate her colors from those of the royal family to emphasize the narrative of ‘her’ vs. ‘them.’ Usually, when Diana is wearing red, black, green, or purple (her primary colors), the rest of the Windsor’s family is dressed in a different color or shade.

Margaret Thatcher: 

Photogram of The Crown. Season 4, Chapter 1: Gold Stick. First appearance of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Margaret Thatcher (performed by Gillian Anderson), on the other hand, is presented with her iconic 70’s suit in a bright blue color and her signature pussy-bow blouse underneath, after being elected as prime minister, and starting a new era for the country and the rest of the world as well. Even though the first impression of Thatcher in the present show is an iconic image, borderline stereotypical, her wardrobe, in general, reflects herself beyond politics and helps the spectator get to know a different side of the ‘Iron woman.’

The countryside as a place of unity for the royal family:

The Crown Season 4: Why "The Balmoral Test" Is the Best Episode Yet
Photogram of The Crown. Season 4, Chapter 2: The Balmoral Test.

During the entire season, numerous scenes are occurring in Scotland, at the Balmoral castle. An earth color palette composed of green, brown and beige, the use of tartan pattern, waxed Barbour jackets, and garments for hunting are elements that the audience only see in this particular context of royal leisure, and as an attempt to blend with the Scottish culture and landscapes. This scenario is where the royal family appears to be closer to each other and relaxed.

In chapter 2: The Balmoral Test, we can appreciate the differences between the two outsiders getting closer to the royal family and testing before becoming part of their intimate circle: Thatcher and Diana. When we compare their arrival and first conversation with the castle staff, we notice that the Prime Minister brought exclusively indoor shoes. At the same time, the future princess of Wales packed only outdoor shoes. This small detail can pass unnoticed, but indeed is a pure reflection of their character and expectations.

Photogram of The Crown. Season 4, Chapter 2: The Balmoral test.
Thatcher Balmoral Test: Inside the real royal initiation shown in the Crown
Photogram of The Crown. Season 4, Chapter 2: The Balmoral test.

When comparing the two images presented above, the character of both female figures is strongly emerging. With her bright blue coat and the scarf tied around her neck as a style decision instead of covering her hair as practicality, Thatcher is portrayed as an outsider. She does not fit with the countryside activities. The substantial differences she and her husband encounter with the royal family’s costume drive them to cut their stay shorter and push her to take more decisive political decisions when she arrives in London. Thatcher makes a critical breakthrough concerning her leadership style.

On the other hand, Diana is blending in with the Windsors. She appears to pass all the tests that are presented to her. She looks like she always belonged there. But, as we all know, appearances can be deceiving. They tell only a fraction of the story. While the prime minister chooses to go to a different path from the royal suggestions early, Diana will encounter the differences between her and the royal family in an advanced stage, when she is already married to the crown and has royal responsibilities.

Prince Charles:

Image may contain Clothing Apparel Tie Accessories Accessory Human Person Suit Coat Overcoat Jacket and Blazer
Photogram of The Crown. Season 4, Episode 4: Favorites. The Queen goes to visit Prince Charles to his new house.

Prince Charles’ wardrobe for The Crown is worth mentioning due to his specific style. As Roberts says it at an interview for GQ, the prince “has that classic ‘boy at university who hasn’t found himself’ look.” He wears to perfection his vast collection of Savile Row suits.

What caught my attention was not the bold and fashionable wardrobe choices, such as the linen double-breasted suit and a short-sleeved patterned shirt that he wears in an intimate scene with his aunt Princess Margaret (performed by Helena Bonham Carter). I was more impressed by the little details, such as the color choice for the pocket square. When the end of the season is approaching, and the Prince starts to give up on his marriage and fight for his love for Camilla, we can notice the presence of her color -burgundy- in small details in his wardrobe. As he says in a heartbreaking fight scene with Princess Diana: “Camilla is who I want. That is where my loyalties lie. That is who my priority is.” His pocket square changes from light tones of blue or even white to darker tones, such as patterned black or the burgundy color as mentioned above. His transition to a more mature phase is reflected in a way in his pocket squares.

Josh O'Connor, Olivia Colman and 'The Crown' Showrunner Discuss Season 4 |  Esquire
Photogram of The Crown. Season 4.

This season has many emblematic costumes, from original pieces created by the costume designer Amy Roberts in imaginary private scenes to perfect historical recreations. For more information on Princess Diana’s wedding dress, see the linked article by  Mariana Sandoval. This article is going to finish with a reflection from Roberts about the fourth season’s general mood. She says that the aesthetics are more solid than in the other three seasons. She further explains: “There’s a steadiness with [season] four, there’s a darker palette. Everybody’s kind of in their middle; middle age, middle ground. Anne is married, there are children… The Queen is more settled in her role, her marriage.” The exceptions, the curiosity, and interesting elements are brought by Thatcher and Diana. They are like “a breath of fresh air” for the spectator, as Roberts says. 


Reference list:

“The Crown: Watch Emma Corrin’s Sweet, Cringey Phantom of the Opera Performance”. Vanity Fair Magazine. August, 2021.

“The Queen and The Crown”. Virtual exhibit, organized by Netflix and the Brooklyn Museum.

IMDB.

“The Crown Season 4: a glimpse inside the wardrobe”. Financial Times. November, 2020.

The Crown’s ‘Balmoral Test’ Barbours Are Not Just Jackets”. Vulture, New York Magazine. December, 2020.

“The Crown costumes move ‘from forensic accuracy to flights of fancy’ says Amy Roberts”. Dezeen Magazine. November, 2020.

The Crown Dives Into the Powerful Mediocrity of Royal Style”. GQ. November, 2020.

“The Crown’s costume designer on the challenges of re-creating royalty”. GQ. November, 2020.

“A love letter to Prince Charles’ suit collection in The Crown”. GQ. November, 2020.