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Magnificent evening gowns go on display at Windsor Castle
A selection of dresses from Fashioning a Reign in the State Dining Room, Windsor Castle. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016.

WINDSOR.- Visitors to Windsor Castle are now able to explore a fascinating display of The Queen's dress in the third of a trilogy of special exhibitions to mark Her Majesty's 90th birthday year, Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen's Wardrobe.

Throughout the Semi-State Apartments magnificent evening gowns worn during State Visits and overseas tours are on display alongside Her Majesty's childhood pantomime costumes and outfits worn for family celebrations, with special emphasis on occasions hosted at Windsor Castle.

The Queen's support of British couture has been enduring throughout her reign, with designers such as Sir Norman Hartnell, Sir Hardy Amies, Ian Thomas and Angela Kelly creating dazzling evening gowns for a world stage. Her Majesty's ensembles are carefully designed to ensure they are appropriate for the occasion, often paying subtle compliments to the host nation through colours and embroideries such as the specially designed dress worn by The Queen during the historic first State Visit to Ireland in 2011. Created by Angela Kelly for the State Dinner at Dublin Castle, the white silk-crepe gown featured embellishment of 2,091 chiffon shamrocks, representing the national emblem of Ireland and a diamanté harp, both designed to pay homage to the host country.

The use of subtle messaging through dress has been employed since the early part of Her Majesty's reign. During a tour of Canada in 1959, the blue-grey silk-organza evening gown worn by The Queen to a dinner at Government House, Nova Scotia, featured pink and white embroidery of sprigs of blossom. Designed by Sir Hardy Amies, the simple fitted bodice and full pleated skirt belies the diplomatic message conveyed by the dress, the sprigs of blossom represent mayflowers, the regional emblem of Nova Scotia.

As an official residence, Windsor Castle is regularly used for ceremonial and State occasions. In 2014, The Queen hosted a State Visit from the President of Ireland and for the State Banquet held in his honour Her Majesty wore a glittering evening dress of white silk satin and lace embroidered with crystals. Designed in 2011, the striking gown was first worn for the official Diamond Jubilee portrait by John Swannell, released in 2012 to mark the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty’s accession to the throne.

The Queen spends many weekends at Windsor Castle and takes up official residence for a month during Easter Court, and a week each June when she attends the service of the Order of the Garter and Royal Ascot.

St George’s Chapel within the Castle Precincts is the spiritual home of The Most Noble Order of the Garter, the oldest order of chivalry in the world. The Queen, as Princess Elizabeth, was made a Lady of the Order of the Garter in 1947 and upon her accession to the throne became the Sovereign of the Order. Her Majesty's mantle, fashioned from dark blue silk velvet lined with white silk taffeta, features a metal and enamel badge of the cross of St. George, circled by the orders motto 'Honi soit qui mal y pense' (Shame on him who thinks ill of it). Supplied by the royal robe makers Ede and Ravenscroft, the mantle and black velvet hat are worn to the Service of the Order of the Garter each year, as well as for numerous portrait sittings, notably for Cecil Beaton in 1952 and more recently for Annie Leibovitz in 2012.

Each year Her Majesty attends Royal Ascot, one of the most important occasions for horse racing and millinery in the British social calendar. Throughout her reign hats have formed a distinctive part of The Queen's wardrobe, created by some of the most well-known names in British couture millinery, including Philip Somerville, Simone Mirman and Frederick Fox. A selection of hats from the 1950s to 2016, including those worn for Royal Ascot, are on display as part of the exhibition.

Windsor Castle has been the location for many family celebrations throughout The Queen's life, including the weddings of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999, and Peter Phillips and Autumn Kelly in 2008 at St George's Chapel. The marriage of The Prince of Wales to Camilla Parker Bowles was also celebrated in Windsor, with a service of blessing at St George's Chapel on 9 April 2005. For the service, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury and attended by over 800 guests, Her Majesty wore a pale yellow and white bouclé wool dress and coat with a matching hat, designed by Angela Kelly.

The Queen's weekend home has also been the setting for memorable off-duty moments in Her Majesty's life. Having ridden in Windsor Great Park since childhood, The Queen has enjoyed a lifelong love of equestrianism. On display for the first time, riding ensembles made for Princess Elizabeth in 1947, and later The Queen in the 1980s by the equestrian and livery tailors Bernard Weatherill, are typical of the style of clothing worn by Her Majesty when riding at Windsor.

During the war years Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret spent much of their time at Windsor, safely away from the bombing in London. From 1941 to 1944 the Princesses took part in Christmas pantomimes each year, including the 1943 production of Aladdin when Princess Elizabeth played the title role. The oriental-style costumes worn by the Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret are on display for the first time, alongside the outfit worn by 'the Emperor'.

The exhibition at Windsor Castle is one of three unique displays in celebration of The Queen's 90th birthday at each of Her Majesty's official residences during 2016. A total of around 150 outfits are being shown across the Palaces, and the content of each exhibition has been selected to have particular association with the location. At the Palace of Holyroodhouse the use of tartan in royal dress is explored, while at Buckingham Palace the exhibition presents the fashions of ten decades, from the 1920s to the 2010s. It shows the unique requirements of royal couture, from ceremonial and military attire to ensembles worn at family celebrations, such as weddings and christenings.

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