The Crown Style: “Paterfamilias” and “Mystery Man”

Posted on January 24, 2018

Hey, remember that show, The Crown that we used to write about?

Darlings, an avalanche of awards season red carpetry kept pushing back this final installment of our examination of the costumes of season two, but rest assured, it was not because we lost interest. Still, episodes like “Paterfamilias” don’t offer much opportunity for costume analysis when half the costumes are either Nazi uniforms or school uniforms. And “Mystery Man” wound up being notable from a costume perspective because the costumes themselves were so UN-notable. You’ll see what we mean as we make our way through, but it felt to us like the version of The Crown starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith was winding its way down, reiterating the themes it set up along the way before allowing the two leads to take their final bows.

In other words, it felt like a bit of a victory lap for all involved.

As Elizabeth has progressed in her role as Queen, we’ve seen her “work” or day wardrobe occasionally tip into more business-like wear. Specifically, we’ve seen her in more jackets and fewer cardigans.

The color story here is somewhat uncharacteristically neutral; a motif that will play out through this episode, as she dresses in a succession of pale pinks and beiges. This light neutral tone will tie her to Charles:

Who is also depicted in a series of beige or yellow sweaters when he’s not in school uniforms. Thus the reason why this color story struck us as slightly odd for Elizabeth. It’s because it’s underlining her role as a mother; a role the series has only referenced in passing up until now. They’re as well-coordinated as a fashion ad.

Elizabeth as mother, advocating for her child. Elizabeth as wife, bowing to her husband’s will. Both sides of her are rarely glimpsed, which is as good a reason as any for her somewhat neutral, feminine tones. Florals work well as a shorthand for underlining or highlighting conventional femininity (when they’re not denoting romance). It’s notable she’s wearing one here simply because she so rarely wears them unless she’s doing a tour of some country, acting as a de facto diplomat or ambassador. Just as she’s attempting to do here on behalf of her son.


Soft, feminine, yielding  – and perfectly matched to the decor. There’s also a slight power differential being underscored here, with one person in formal wear and the other in day wear.

Elizabeth’s soft tones are repeated in Charles’ clothes, showing their connection as mother and son, sovereign and heir apparent:

But they also serve to tie mother and son together as people Philip quite literally sees as “soft.” The fussy little boy in front of him frustrates and angers him; the implication being not only that Philip is attempting to mold him into more of man (and to get him out of his mother’s clothes, so to speak), but that there’s deep anger about how little power he holds in his family and he’s using Charles as one of the few areas in his life where he can exert his will.

The soft, neutral tones of mother and son also draw a sharp distinction between their lives and the flashbacks to Philip’s youth, which buzz with blacks, red, and military tones:

As one would expect in Nazi Germany-set scenes. There’s an ominous sense in the costuming, especially his sister’s, whose outfits seem designed to tie her to Nazism or foreshadow her death.

Note the military uniform color scheme and details on both of them; khaki green, stripes, and rows of buttons. Her stripes also evoke the black, red, gold color scheme of the German flag, underlining how decided Un-English Philip’s family actually was.


This doesn’t need to be analyzed for its costume choices, because a Nazi state funeral can really only be costumed in one way. Still, these were some of the most impressively cinematic scenes of the entire series, due at least in part to the meticulous costume design, which helped lend the scene an air of great tension.

Aside from those motifs, it was all just a parade of English schoolboy uniforms:

A charming set of scenes that truly serves as setup for this moment of bonding/disappointment illustrated through costuming:

The actor playing young Philip seems to have been cast to draw sharp distinction between him and the actor playing Charles, rather than attempting to find a kid who looked like a young Matt Smith.

Anyway, this is a fairly short episodic entry, since there’s not much to be said about Nazi and schoolboy uniform recreations and almost half of this episode was stocked to the rafters with them. Still, Elizabeth’s placidity and neutral tones make a nice juxtaposition and setup for the season finale, in which she sheds her neutrality and gets more queenly than ever.

Here she is, arriving at newlywed Margaret’s apartments at Kensington Palace in her role as family matriarch, to ask her to be more considerate of the other members of the extended family who live there. She’s also shown leaving this meeting to call on the prime minister, who has suddenly summoned her. She’s awash in her queenly duty color of blue, with one of her biggest and most crownlike hats to date perched on her head, in the other strong color motif of the season: brown. She is meant to look formidable here and she does, especially in comparison to most of what she wore in the previous episode.


Margaret is, as always, dressed in a manner that highlights her bond with her sister (matching blues) and also the ways in which she’s freer, more modern, and presumably more sexually active (pants, a lower neckline, barely existent sleeves, a modern head scarf in place of Elizabeth’s massive hat).


Note also how businesslike and military in tone this dress is; especially when she shifts from sisterly, familial duties to official duties of state.


Note how she’s dressed in a similar manner when she confronts the prime minister with her disappointments, fueled by anger at her husband. Again: a strong military color, defined shoulders and standing collar, large buttons, and a huge hat.

Contrast this with the softer shoulders, necklines and colors she sports as she ponders the disappointments of her marriage:

And then note how she sort of armors-up again when he shows up unexpectedly:

She’s closed off from him emotionally and covered in protective gear, as if to limit any contact.


But here, in the scene of their big reconciliation, which served as a conclusion of this storyline as well as the actors’ portrayals, they’re dressed similarly, in blue sweaters over gray. They not only match, but are combined as one at the end of the scene, both visually and emotionally.

We can’t say if the series will ever return to examining fidelity issues in their marriage, but this scene certainly had a sense of finality and closure to it; as if to say, “And that’s why they’re still together, fifty years later.” After all, you can only tease a “this marriage is damaged” storyline for so long when talking about one of the longest public marriages in history.


And finally, another hint of soft pink, to denote her motherhood…


… before we’re out on this portrayal of the family, in an explosion of springtime colors, as if they’d all come out of something together and were facing forward to the next stages of their lives. A perfect goodbye to this cast and a perfect end to this part of the story.

Next season, we get to see Olivia Colman, Paul Bettany and Helena Bonham Carter bring the grumpy middle-aged versions of Elizabeth, Philip and Margaret to life as the full weight of societal upheaval brought on by the late sixties and seventies hits this family like a freight train. But for now, they’re all perfectly coordinated and unified, having survived and grown as a family around its once-new, once-naive, now fully realized central figure, Elizabeth.



[Photo Credit: Netflix – Stills: Tom and Lorenzo via Netflix]


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