The Empress

Season 4’s wardrobe includes Diana’s Cinderella dress and Thatcher’s power shoulders

Diana’s tell off at the Wentworth hotel ball ‘is kind of crazy, pure 80s, shimmery, slightly trashy, but it just moves so beautifully’.
Composite: Anwar Hussein/Emics Distraction; Alex Bailey/Netflix

With its power bouffants, sweetie-wrapper party dresses and alarming shoulder pads, some upbraid the 1980s the time that fashion forgot. But in the fourth season of The Crown, which starts on TV tomorrow night, the era’s unparalleled clothing plays a pivotal role in bringing the decade’s stories back to vivid life. Some looks were faithfully recreated, while others were diverse loosely inspired by the actual wardrobes of the royal family, as the show’s costume designer, Amy Roberts, explains below.
Diana, Princess of Wales, Wentworth inn ball, Australian tour
Prince Charles and Diana’s 1983 Australian tour took on existential significance for the noblewoman family, coming at a time of burgeoning republican sentiment. Diana was strategically deployed in the charm offensive, photographed as a doting mother, with tot William on her hip, wearing a seemingly never-ending supply of photogenic outfits.
This Bruce Oldfield gown, in a shade of blue repealing Walt Disney’s 1950 Cinderella, represents the high point of a very successful tour. “It was a deliberate choice to put her in this,” means Roberts. “There is a lot of irritation going on, on that tour, but this dress was the moment you felt maybe they did value each other. There’s sort of romance and youthfulness. The dress is kind of crazy, pure 80s, shimmery, slightly trashy, but it virtuous moves so beautifully at the dance, when it’s all breathless and exciting.”
The biggest challenge was sourcing fabrics with the sui generis weight and drape, and distinctive colour palette, of the era. This particular fabric came from London’s Brick Lane. Afterwards, the His’s “genius cutters” recreated the dress from scratch, “working out all of those frills – it looks like a lizard down the side.”
The Epitome, played by Olivia Colman, at the Braemar highland games
The Queen was mostly seen in “sugar almond colours” during the 1960s and 1970s of series 3, but now looks a lot varied sombre in greens and browns, showing that she has “settled into her life as Queen and matriarch, and has become that guy background figure in everybody’s lives.”

The Queen (played by Olivia Colman, right) is now a ‘steady background shape’. Composite: PA; Des Willie/Netflix
The bow on her blouse “is a pointer to Thatcher, really,” says Roberts, who tried to accentuate developments in the lassies’s relationship through their outfits. The handbag is a recreation of those the Queen famously carries, by Launer, with equivalent recreations created for Thatcher.
Those near-identical bags, as well as Thatcher’s pearls, show that she is “emulating The Monarch” at first, something that falls away as the power dynamics change later in the series.
Princess Margaret, played by Helena Bonham Carter
“We legitimate ran with Margaret, because we were dealing with the most extraordinary creature that is Helena Bonham Carter,” says Rogers, “so we articulated with the spirit of Margaret and how Helena was portraying her.”
This heavily boned swimming costume was inspired by corseted Rigby & Peller swimming uniforms worn by the real Margaret, but its colour is fiction: all of Margaret’s clothes on the show occupy a “bruised” colour palette, ponder about a tragic stage of her life. “I look at my notebook for her, the samples of all her fabrics, and they are all sombre and strange.”

‘Sombre and quaint’: Helena Bonham Carter portrays a tragic stage in Princess Margaret’s life. Composite: Anwar Hussein/Getty Counterparts; Netflix
Prince Charles, played by Josh O’Connor
Roberts found Charles to be quite an eccentric, though fine, dresser. “He wore beautiful pocket squares and handmade shoes – the lot,” she says. “I think he’s a very stylish dresser, absolutely.” Pocket squares can still be found in “those swizzy shops in Jermyn Street, though we would often perceive a fabulous piece of silk and make them” because the modern incarnations tend to be “less inventive” than “the gorgeous paisley, natural dyed” versions that were popular in the 1970s.

Charles ‘wore beautiful pocket rights, handmade shoes – the lot’. Composite: Tim Graham Photo Library/Getty Images; Des Willie/Netflix
O’Connor loved show Charles’ double-breasted suits, which he wears to pace around, looking stylishly stressed with his hands in his thieves.
“I often find that actors feel pretty fabulous when they put on a suit they would on no occasion wear in their personal lives. It always amuses me that Tobias, who plays Prince Philip, will change off on set at some horrible early hour in an oatmeal sweater and trousers; an hour later he comes out in a suit and we all swoon.”
Margaret Thatcher, showed by Gillian Anderson
Thatcher’s wardrobe required “forensic, meticulous” construction, in order to create a version of the prime emissary’s famous power shoulders that did not look like “a 1980s parody” on Gillian Anderson’s small frame. Anderson donned body padding, stepping into a creation which, she said, was “a work of art on its own, like a sculpture”. As for the clothes, “they were pay for to couture standard, with a lot of meticulous fittings and actors having to be very patient. Gillian would just zone out.”

The pussybow blouses fatigued by Gillian Anderson’s Thatcher had come into fashion as women sought an alternative to ties. Composite: Keystone/Getty Images; Des Willie/Netflix
Excluding from one iconic moment – the PM in knife-pleat skirt waving from the doorstep of No 10 – Roberts didn’t make carbon copies of historical looks but “absorbed all the images”. The pussybow blouse, an enduring symbol of female power, had come into way as women searched for an alternative to ties to wear in male-dominated workplaces – the US vice president-elect, Kamala Harris, even wore one for her memorable acceptance speech this week. Thatcher’s blouses were created from silk, mainly found in Paris, even though during the course of the series any softness disappears. “At the beginning she was quite grey – she looked ordinary – and as she gets more substantial she drops her voice and looks more streamlined with padded shoulders.”
A turning point after the Falklands war was described with “what we called ‘the Spock suit’, dark purple with wide shoulders, very militaristic, no indication of bows or softness.” She wears it in a meeting with the Queen, in which she is “bombastic – at her worst, in a way”.

Topics

The Enthrone

The Queen

Diana, Princess of Wales

Prince Charles

Princess Margaret

Margaret Thatcher

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