Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022, the throne passed immediately to the heir, Charles, the former Prince of Wales, who became a monarch at the age of 73. Even though the title of king had been automatically granted to him, Charles still needs to be crowned. This event is known as the Coronation, the symbolic high point of the accession where a new monarch will be formally crowned. For Charles, the day of his coronation arrives on May 6th, 2023.
The coronation is a solemn and religious ceremony where British monarchs have been crowned in a similar manner for over 1,000 years. At the climax of the ceremony, the Archbishop of Canterbury will place St Edward's Crown on Charles' head—a solid gold crown that weighs a hefty 2.23kg, dating from 1661. Then, the new King will take the Coronation oath in front of the watching world. He'll also receive the orb and scepter as symbols of his new role. Sounds like a whole deal, right?
Traditionally, the monarch will wear opulent vestments that reflect their holy mandate, such as an embroidered robe made of gold silk known as the "Supertunica," which is worn for part of the ancient ceremony, with the crowd that dresses formally to match. Those with aristocratic titles wore coronets (small crowns) and "coronation robes"—fur-lined velvet cloaks that are often passed down through generations and which have been worn at every British coronation since the 17th century. With the monarch at the top, coronations are a place where status and rank correspond directly to how people are dressed.
Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II/ Foto: Getty Images: Hulton Archive
Yet, it has been 70 years since the last royal coronation. It is safe to say that a lot of things have changed which includes fashion and style. Surprisingly, not even the most sacred customs are safe from the grip of modern wardrobe. The official coronation invitations noted the following dress code for men: "Morning Dress, Lounge Suit or National Dress." Translation from the British-coded languages business suits. Yes, business suits.
Morning dress entails a pairing of a black tailcoat, dove-gray dress waistcoat, and gray striped trousers, and is often worn to weddings, memorial services, and other daytime events . National dress is basically a nod to the international heads of state and foreign delegations who will be in attendance—they can wear whatever is traditional to them. And lounge suit is just another word for business attire. So in other words, the coronation of King Charles III will feature a less formal dress code than the Met Gala.
Charles did the unthinkable but absolutely possible by putting together a whole new approach to the attire guide. The new king understands the value and importance in reflecting modern rather than medieval life. As the Palace stated, "The Service will reflect the Monarch's role today and look towards the future, while being rooted in long standing traditions and pageantry."
However, of course, the new mandate was greeted with horror in aristocratic circles. One hereditary peer told The Telegraph, "Our robes go back to the 19th century and I would have been the fifth generation to wear them. It's very sad." Luckily, there has been a change of heart as they have been informed in the last 48 hours that they can now wear coronation robes should they wish. One of the original concerns was that not everyone would have coronation robes, they said. Which brings us to the next point for the fresh breath of change; inclusivity.
The change in dress code is also perhaps made so that everyone attending the ceremony will feel comfortable. Not only the royals, there are reportedly 2,000-plus guests who scored the hottest ticket in town, over 850 community and charity representatives will join the royals, politicians, heads of state, foreign dignitaries, and aristocrats at Westminster Abbey for the coronation.
Moreover, the royal dictate, Rowland, said that the King is a pretty modern person. "You would want everybody to be invited on an equal footing rather than have too much hierarchy within dress codes. It's far friendlier to people who are attending internationally or from the causes and different groups that he works with." he continued.
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales (Now King Charles III) attended the Braemar Highland Gathering at The Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park on September 3, 2022 in Braemar, Scotland/ Foto: Getty Images: Max Mumby/Indigo
Of course, the King himself will also be dressing down. Unlike his ancestors, who tended to wear traditional attire like silk stockings and velvet robes wreathed in ermine and covered in rich embroidery, Charles is expected to take the throne in his Royal Navy military suit made by the tailor Malcolm Plews, a signifier of martial virtue and steadiness at a time when the British economy is struggling.
Along with his Royal Navy suit, the King will be wearing a silk undershirt by the Royal Warrant-holding shirtmakers at Turnbull & Asser, and opera slippers by Gaziano & Girling of Savile Row. Instead of a newly sewn royal coronation robes, Charles will also be sporting the Supertunica that was originally created for King George V. He will also be reusing a royal sword belt and glove of ceremonial significance that belonged to his grandfather.
It seems like not only the attire is planned to be less-grandiose. The Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal, who is responsible for masterminding the King's coronation, has been tasked with designing a simpler, shorter and more diverse ceremony that reflects modern Britain. Much of the grandeur had been stripped out and it is expected to be more religiously and culturally diverse than previous coronations. All in all the ceremony will be reduced from three hours to just over one.
Another day, another history. What a time to be alive.(HAI/alm)