While the Duchess of Cambridge is the modern-day draw for royal style watchers, the show at the Palace of Holyroodhouse will turn the focus to the Tudor and Stuart dynasties.
The sartorial extravagance of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Charles I and Charles II will be explored through extensive displays of clothing, accessories and jewellery, as well as paintings and drawings.
The exhibition, which opens next month and will run until mid-July, will look at how central fashion was to life in the royal courts and how laws were enforced to dictate the fabrics, colours and types of garment that could be worn at each level of society. Clothes and the way they were worn conveyed messages about wealth, age, social position, marital status and even religion.
A spokeswoman for the Royal Collection said: “In the 16th and 17th centuries, entry to the inner circle at court, and subsequent political and professional success, was largely driven by personal appearance.
“A key obligation for the courtier was to reflect the glory of the monarch through splendid attire, and sartorial competition led to an insatiable search for the novel to distinguish the wearer from their rivals.
“High-maintenance and impractical clothing conveyed a clear message to the viewer that the subject enjoyed a privileged lifestyle, and had time to devote to the pursuit of fashion and the lengthy process of dressing.” The exhibition will lift the lid on how male fashions often matched those of women in the “luxuriousness of materials and complexity of design” – so much so that some elements of masculine dress were adopted by women.
But by the early 17th century, the growing trend of women wearing doublet-style bodices, hats and male hairstyles was of sufficient concern to be raised in church sermons.
Also featured will be quirky accessories from the Tudor and Stuart periods, ranging from a purse in the shape of a frog, to jewels set with stones reputed to hold magic powers.
Anna Reynolds, curator of the show – In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion – said: “The exhibition was at Buckingham Palace last year and was incredibly successful. We had around 134,000 visitors, which is actually second only to our Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. There does seem to be a lot more interest in historical costumes at the moment. A lot of it is down to the number of period dramas on television and the fact that there now seems to be so much more attention to detail with the costumes.”
Manuela Calchini, of VisitScotland, said: “Anything connected to the Royal Family is hugely popular among overseas visitors to Scotland, and we are lucky to have so many of these connections in Edinburgh.
“This new exhibition at the Palace of Holyrood House will be of great interest to fashionistas of all ages – and the 16th and 17th-century items on show will certainly be quite different to the outfits worn by the Duchess of Cambridge.”
• In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion is at The Queen’s Gallery at the Palace of Holyroodhouse from 14 March to 20 July