Acquired from the Theatrical Ladies’ Guild
The John Bright Collection is fortunate to own a number of garments once worn by members of the British Royal Family, including this dress originally belonging to Queen Mary, consort to King George V, and grandmother to Queen Elizabeth II. The royal garments were acquired in April 1981 from the Theatrical Ladies’ Guild (now the Theatrical Guild), a charity for front of house and backstage workers. They were formerly the property of Princess Alice of Athlone, a patron of the Guild, who had died earlier in 1981, and were presented by her daughter Lady May Abel in order to raise funds for the charity. Queen Mary was known to pass her clothes on to relatives, including to Princess Alice who was married to the Queen’s brother, Alexander of Teck, Earl of Athlone.
A tall, imposing figure with ramrod straight deportment, Queen Mary developed her distinctive regal style of dress after her husband’s accession to the throne in 1910, fashion taking a back seat to the grandeur appropriate to a royal consort. Like the example seen as a Related Item this dress is one of the Queen’s most magnificently ornate gowns, appropriate for a very grand occasion. Its black colour, however, signifies it was worn for mourning. In line with royal tradition the Queen reserved black for this purpose, and she may have worn it after the death of her husband George V in 1936 or for another member of her family – three of her sisters-in-law died between 1931 and 1938. The fine black net has been densely beaded in a vermicelli design, with solid areas of bugle beads forming dramatic diamond shapes on both the front and back; unbeaded net softens the line in the form of godets on the skirt and as translucent floating oversleeves, a practical solution to cover the upper arms of a woman of the Queen’s age. As with the other evening dress strings of breads fall from each shoulder and a deep narrow pocket has been inserted vertically on the right side of the skirt, probably to hold the Queen’s lorgnette. The dress is lined in satin-backed crepe, with an additional panel of taffeta beneath the train to give it more body. The underbodice is of cream silk with a border of pink tulle at the neckline.