When the official Coronation invitation was unveiled last month featuring a bee, bluebells and a Green Man, an ancient mythological figure symbolising rebirth, it hinted that the new monarch’s investiture was perhaps, going to break away from tradition.
Further hints came via the meat-free Coronation quiche recipe, news that the anointing oil was set to be vegan and Charles’s decision to ditch the customary silk stockings and breeches. The Princess of Wales was even rumoured to be swapping a tiara for a flower crown.
It wasn’t until Saturday morning, when Charles and Camilla set off down the Mall in their spectacular carriage, Camilla’s diamond necklace glinting through the gilded windows, that it became clear the jolly Green Man was purely symbolism, the idea of a “modern monarchy” was still a bona fide oxymoron.
With floor-sweeping robes, swan-plumed hats, a Stone of Destiny and a costume change behind a pop-up screen, for onlookers it felt like a melting pot of Harry Potter, the Met Gala and an influencer at fashion week.
Instead of breaking from tradition and wearing wild flowers in her hair, Kate chose the middle ground approach. Her headpiece, made with silver bullion, crystal and silver thread-work, was fashioned in a wreath shape. The design was a collaboration between the British milliner Jess Collett and Sarah Burton, the creative director of Alexander McQueen who also designed Kate’s ivory dress, which sat beneath her blue silk mantle.
There was further symbolism in the dress itself with embroidery detailing featuring rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock motifs representing the four nations. These were the same flowers that had appeared on the royal’s wedding dress in 2011, also designed by Sarah Burton.
The eight-year-old Princess Charlotte wore a simplified version of the same dress and headpiece, while her older brother George was in a crimson frog webbed trimmed coat studiously carrying the train of his grandfather’s mantle. Prince Harry chose a dark grey morning suit, in lieu of a military uniform; his military medals were pinned to his lapel.
Guests seemed keen to embrace Britain’s unofficial dress code for summer events – florals. Emma Thompson was pictured in a rose-printed red silk coat while Lady Louise, the eldest daughter of Prince Edward chose a pale blue iris-printed dress from the British brand Suzannah London.
It wasn’t just the king’s guards in extravagant headgear either. Westminster Abbey was peppered with everything from neat pillbox hats to netted fascinators. Queen Letizia of Spain’s wide brimmed hat with neon pink veil detailing, worn at a jaunty angle was quickly turned into “lampshade” memes.
The real unexpected star of the day was Penny Mordaunt. As the leader of the House of Commons, she was required to carry the 17th-Century Sword of State, showcasing some serious core control by holding it upright away from her body for the entire ceremony.
The first woman to carry out the role, she wore an outfit that broke with tradition too. Instead of the black and gold attire worn by the Marquess of Salisbury at the late Queen’s Coronation in 1953, Mordaunt told Politico she wanted “to come up with something that is modern and will give a firm nod to the heritage.”
She commissioned a teal-coloured dress from the London based label Safiyaa and a hat from the milliner Jane Taylor. Both featured a fern motif embroidered by the atelier Hand & Lock who worked overtime to change all the cyphers on the uniforms in the lead up to the coronation too.
Mordaunt’s substitution felt radical, especially compared with Camilla, who commissioned the British couturier Bruce Oldfield to design a gown made from silk woven in Suffolk. Oldfield has a history of designing for the royal family, working closely with Diana, Princess of Wales in the 1980s.
Camilla’s dress featured bracelet-length sleeves with each cuff embroidered with the floral emblems of the four nations while tiny threaded motifs of the British countryside including daisies, forget-me-nots and celandine appeared on the body of the dress.
There was also plenty of floral symbolism to be seen on Charles’s garments. The Pallium Regale mantle, originally made for the coronation of George IV in 1821 features a pattern of coloured roses, thistles and shamrock, while the singular white coronation glove, presented to George VI in 1937 is decorated with oak leaves and acorns.
Heading back to Buckingham Palace, amid all the pomp Charles sat looking somewhat glum as he waved to his subjects. Camilla, wearing the Queen Mary crown reset with diamonds from Queen Elizabeth II’s personal jewellery collection, was the only one to flash a smile.