‘The Crown’ Costume Designers on Dressing the Queen and Other Female Royals for the Final Season


Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II in Season 6 of 'The Crown,' which sees the monarch come into her own with fashion. Photo: Netflix

The Crown, the marquee Netflix series following several generations of the British Royal Family, comes to a close this week (Dec. 14), with the second part of its sixth and final season.

Part One ends with the Queen (Imelda Staunton) kneeling in prayer in the aftermath of Diana’s death and in Part Two, the tone remains mournful. The series timeline ultimately ends in April 2005 with what trailers have teased as the wedding of Prince Charles (Dominic West) and Camilla Parker-Bowles Olivia Williams)

I can’t say for sure, because I’ve seen all but the final episode, but after her shapeless black 50th birthday gown, I hope Camilla finally gets her fashion moment.


The Crown
Olivia Williams as Camilla with Dominic West as Prince Charles during Camilla’s 50th birthday celebration in Season 6 of The Crown. Photo: Justin Downing/Netflix


Either way, for many it’s the end of an era. 

Seven years ago I had an early look at the series ahead of its global première when I interviewed actors Vanessa Kirby (Princess Margaret) and Jared Harris (King George VI) about their roles, on the eve of what became an instant global phenomenon few of us anticipated. I recently caught up with series costume designers Amy Roberts and Sidonie Roberts (who also happen to be mother and daughter) to talk about coming full circle dressing the principal royal women – and a would-be hopeful – and Queen Elizabeth coming into her own with fashion in the final season.

Heading into the season felt palpably different, Amy says, “not in terms of costume, but just the shift where we go in this story, both the ending for us of The Crown and then all the kind of deaths in The Crown. And, also, what was happening and what happened to the Queen in real life.” (Production paused following the death of Queen Elizabeth II last September and didn’t resume until after her funeral.)

“We could feel a real difference because of all of that loss, I would say,” she adds. “That was just in the atmosphere.”



A New Reign of Fashion


The first half of Season 6 charts the final transformation of Princess Diana (Elizabeth Debicki), in part through her clothing choices, strongly communicating how she weaponized her outfits and shaped a new public image through a Faustian bargain with paparazzi while, for example, wearing bold leopard print swimwear to upstage Camilla’s 50th birthday celebrations.

With the institution of the Crown itself at a crossroads, facing waning popularity Season 6 covers a period of existential reckoning (and potential renewal). Behind closed doors in her private life, for example, the Queen favours muted colours. But at this point, the series emphasizes how she begins to don colour seriously in the phase of her reign modern audiences are more familiar with. 

Is it fair to say the costume department is suggesting, through fashion, that the Queen is being more deliberate and even strategic with her clothing choices? “I like that question, and I like that observation,” Sidonie says.Like, for the Women’s Institute [event], with that bright green — kind of what we call ‘the tennis ball.’”

The vivid lime green cloth coat and matching hat plays back, she continues, to the Queen feeling as if Tony Blair was really in favour in the polls, as the monarchy plummets. “And then she went to her kind of domain with these women [at the Institute]. So, we very consciously and on purpose put her in that colour, as a kind of fight back.”


The Crown
Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II in her lime green cloth coat and matching hat. Photo: Netflix



Sister, Sister


While tracing teenage Prince William’s (Ed McVey) reluctant rise to international heartthrob status as he struggles with his grief and an increased public profile, the final season’s timeline also covers the real-life period when significant members of the core Royal Family pass away – principal royals Princess Margaret (Lesley Manville) and Elizabeth the Queen Mother (Marion Bailey) die in 2002 within weeks of one another (as do others in their entourage), resulting in profound family shifts.

Costume aficionados will have noticed that the first four episodes boast many ground-level shots of characters’ feet to set the scene: playboy Dodi Fayed (Khalid Abdalla) in Tod’s driving moccasins, relaxed Diana in tennis shoes. Shoes are emotionally and thematically important in Episode 8 (“Ritz”), which recalls the most moving, early episodes of The Crown and is easily my favourite of the final season. 


The Crown
A Royal Family group photo in Season 6, one of several ground-level shots boasting key characters’ footwear. Photo: Netflix


We open with an establishing shot of young Margaret’s polished pumps as the BBC announces the end of the war before present-day Princess Margaret snaps out of her wistful reverie. The episodes moves back and forth in time between her health travails and the young princesses’ once private but now-famous VE Day excursion to celebrate, incognito, among civilians

The 1945 outing that the late Queen once described as “one of the most memorable nights of my life” has been the subject of speculative movies and novels, and no photos are known to exist. Yet how the Roberts dress the pair – deciding what each sister would choose to wear to be out among civilians – is telling. Their contrasting outfits, one in pink, the other in uniform, speak volumes to the series core theme of duty. “That absolute correctness of Elizabeth,” they laugh, careful not to reveal a plot twist: “But slowly it comes off. The hat goes, jacket comes off…”


The Crown
Above: Viola Prettejohn as Princess Elizabeth and Beau Gadsdon as Princess Margaret in a flashback scene from the second half of Season 6, during which the future monarch and her sister snuck out for a private but now-famous VE Day excursion to celebrate, incognito, among civilians. Photo: Netflix Below: Lesley Manville as Princess Margaret in the final years of her life. Photo: Justin Downing/Netflix


Increasingly infirm, Princess Margaret begins using a wheelchair after the first of an eventual series of strokes and other medical incidents. In real life, for example, per my cursory visual research, the once-glamorous sister wore ugly Velcro shoes to her 70th birthday soirée. At this point she can barely walk on injured feet but, taking creative licence, the costume designers give her apocryphal rhinestone evening shoes, which her character dons through pure force of will. I tell them I find this scene among the most poignant. Before formulating a reply, Sidonie first thanks me for bringing Margaret and that episode up. (They clearly also share a deep affinity with the character.) “We’ve not been asked!”

“The very first thing that I personally bought for Season 6 was those slippers!” she enthuses. “We always buy just one thing that’s our springboard – becomes our kind of holy grail. They sat on our desk looking at me every morning,” she laughs. “We’d wave them at Lesley saying, ‘This is coming up.’”

Margaret wears an icy blue dress and matching evening coat that recall young glamorous Margaret’s New Look heyday (the early Vanessa Kirby episodes), holding onto her dignity “for dear life, really,” Amy adds, before having to give in and wear pleated elastic-waist dresses. Her colour palette gets softer and pastel, with silk scarves gently draped over her shoulders instead of stylishly tied and placed just so, with a more childish effect: “slightly more soft edged, not razor sharp any more.” Episode 8’s teasing, needling, loving lifelong bond between the devoted sisters is arguably made all the more touching given the current rift between their contemporary counterparts.



The Once and Future Queen


Our brief costume chat is coming to an end, but I simply must get a last question in, about the future Princess of Wales. We see a little bit of Kate Middleton (Meg Bellamy) as a teen and, later, at the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland (where she and future husband Prince William first met). It’s striking how her self-possession is communicated succinctly through conservative tailoring (well, except for That Dress), notably out of step with the fashions of the naughties. “I think it’s really interesting,” Sidonie adds, as she unpacks their costume choices, “because we’re telling the story with her mother, Carole.” I laughed out loud, for example, at a scene when Kate tells her scheming mother she is, “worse than Mrs. Bennett.”


Meg Bellamy as Kate Middleton in a sheer dress during a college fashion show for which Prince William was in attendance. Photo: Netflix
Bellamy as Kate Middleton and Ed McVey as Prince William. The final season of The Crown depicts the future king and queen in the early years of their courtship. Photo: Justin Downing/Netflix


We’re introduced to the mother and daughter in a shopping scene where, instead of an eye-catching spangled party dress, Kate gets chided for selecting a sedate outfit. “You’re 15, not 50 years old!” Sidonie repeats with a chuckle; “the mom’s younger than the daughter. And actually, interestingly, their wardrobes when we first fitted them were interchangeable. So we had some things in Carole’s [costume] rail and then some things that we then tried on Kate.

“She’s so equipped for the life that she leads now, isn’t she?,” they muse, in unison. “Whereas, Diana never was. Those neat shapes … waisted shapes and sensible dresses.” 

Even in the naughties period 20 years ago, and especially in relation to other students like Lola (Honor Swinton-Byrne), who is experimenting with expressing identity, “there’s a safeness in what she [Kate] wears … kind of dutiful, dutiful and conservative.” Through costume, the suggestion is that even 20 years ago the future Duchess of Cambridge – now Princess of Wales – was more equipped for the sort of life that awaited Prince William than he was.

Or as Cosmopolitan magazine used to say: Dress for the job you want.