Royal costume has long been a source of fascination for us onlookers. How will the new King measure up? Chrissy Harris meets dress historian Dr Kate Strasdin

For many of us, May 6 will be our first Coronation. As we settle down in front of the television, sandwiches, crisps and tea at the ready, there will be one viewer here in Devon who will be paying particularly close attention to the screen.

Historian Dr Kate Strasdin is a national expert when it comes to who’s wearing what. The senior university lecturer, curator and writer has spent her career studying the art of royal dress through the ages.

Her book Inside the Royal Wardrobe: A Dress History of Queen Alexandra, documented the incredible way Queen Victoria’s daughter-in-law used clothing as her public voice.

Since then, Kate, who lives in Ashburton, has carried out further in-depth research into how our monarchs dress, as well as looking at the craftsmanship that goes in behind the scenes to make sure our royals look the part.

Kate is looking forward to seeing how King Charles III will interpret centuries of dress protocol as he prepares for his historic ceremony this month.

Great British Life: King Charles' style is far more low-key than some of his predecessors. Photo: AlamyKing Charles' style is far more low-key than some of his predecessors. Photo: Alamy

‘It’s going to be really interesting,’ says Kate, sat at her kitchen table (she’s wearing a lovely simple green shift-style top, by the way). ‘For me, it’s about seeing how the clothes contribute to such a unique ceremony.

‘You have points in history where the coronation has created quite a lot of controversy,’ she adds, talking about George IV’s “fantastically elaborate” spectacle in 1821 that cost a then staggering £230,000 and caused public outrage.

‘By the time Queen Victoria came to the throne, she was aware that people wouldn’t tolerate that kind of expenditure, so she really dialled down her coronation,’ continues Kate.

‘Now with the cost-of-living crisis and the way people are feeling about the gap between the wealthy and poor, I think it will probably be scaled back but still have those key moments.’

Many of the garments traditionally seen during a coronation are hugely symbolic, such as the elaborate crimson robes worn by the monarch when they enter Westminster Abbey.

This contrasts with the plain, white linen garment, called a Colobium Sindonis (symbolising humility) worn when the new king or queen is anointed.

Great British Life: King Charles will probably make his mark is in his approach to sustainability. Photo: AlamyKing Charles will probably make his mark is in his approach to sustainability. Photo: Alamy

‘The garments are often very ecclesiastical in a way because the whole point of the monarch’s right to rule is that they were chosen by God,’ says Kate, a senior lecturer at Falmouth University. ‘All of the garments are associated with symbolic things because it’s from a time when kings were still rulers.

‘Somebody might have become a monarch off the back of a battle or after a lot of upheaval and so it was all about reassuring the population that everything’s fine, we’ve got a new king.’

Kate says King Charles’ style is far more low-key than some of his predecessors and his environmental conscience influences what he wears.

‘Menswear is always a bit more sober, particularly in the Establishment,’ she says. ‘I mean, he’s never going to turn up somewhere in a really bright Ozwald Boateng suit – that’s not his generation or his upbringing.

‘Where he’ll probably make is mark is in his approach to sustainability,’ adds Kate. ‘So although he uses a really good tailors, as you would expect, he is also known for making things last. His suits cost a lot of money in the first place, but he’ll have things mended.

‘His style is quietly conscious, I would say.’

Great British Life: The coronation of King George IV caused a public outcry due to the expense. Photo: Getty ImagesThe coronation of King George IV caused a public outcry due to the expense. Photo: Getty Images

Appearance is everything when you’re a royal, even more so in today’s society when the slightest change in accessory can quickly become a global talking point.

‘There will be commentators during the Coronation who will be poring over the details of what not just the King and Queen Consort are wearing, but everyone else, the prominent attendees,’ says Kate.

‘All of those details about what brooch someone might have chosen will get picked over now in a way that wasn’t possible at the Queen’s coronation.’

Kate is, understandably, also quite excited about these details. She’s had an eye for this kind of thing since she was nine years old.

‘I don’t know if you remember the Brooke Bond Tea Cards?’ she says. ‘I had the British costume series and collected them avidly. I’ve always been interested in old clothes and fashion.

‘I think it’s just the idea that clothes, particularly surviving clothes, tell you so much. You can’t really get closer to people than that. It’s the shell of who they are.’

It’s taken a while to prove how much people say through what they wear, says Kate.

‘Dress is often written off as being superficial or shallow and if you’re interested in clothes, well that’s not a serious branch of historical research,’ she says. ‘It’s taken a long time for people to start seeing that actually dress is massively important.’

As part of her next project, Kate is going behind the scenes to research the royal makers, the embroiderers, the dressers, laundrywomen and tailors.

‘I’m interested in the people whose stories don’t get told,’ says Kate, who is spending regular sessions at the Royal Archives in the Round Tower at Windsor Castle. ‘It’s all those unseen makers who are really busy behind the scenes.’

On May 6, one thing’s for sure, we’ll all be on the front row. Time to enjoy a right royal fashion show.

Dr Kate Strasdin’s latest book is called The Dress Diary of Mrs Anne Sykes (published by Vintage). It’s based on a rare album containing more than 2,000 swatches of fabric, owned by a Victorian dressmaker.

READ MORE: The most amazing coronation outfits through history

Royal fashion icon

Her Majesty the Queen certainly had an eye for colour and design.

‘She was really good,’ says Kate. ‘It was in the later years of her life that she really found her uniform of block, bright colours and hats to match. She had to be the brightest person in the room.’

The Queen wore a dress designed by Norman Hartnell during her coronation in 1953. He is said to have paid close attention to how the dress would look for the cameras during the televised event.

‘Like early costumer designers in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s, Norman Hartnell had to think about how the garments would come across on black and white tv screens,’ says Kate.