A lady must be confident enough in her style choices to take a few risks, such as wearing white fabrics out of season while also escaping from a besieged castle.

Matilda of England was a lady as much admired for her literacy in Latin as for her personal embodiment of “her father’s courage and her mother’s piety”, as William of Malmesbury put it. Less well known, perhaps, was her daring sense of fashion, and how her audacious style eventually paved the way to the throne.

In December 1142, she and her cousin Stephen were once again tussling over the English crown, and Matilda’s cards were momentarily down. She and her small retinue were besieged at Oxford Castle by Stephen’s forces. Her one hope of winning a way out through military strength, her half-brother Robert of Gloucester, was then in Normandy assisting Matilda’s husband with his conquest there. Overall, the situation looked bleak.

Until Matilda’s dauntless sense of style came into play.

Even though it was nearly Christmas (and thus well out of season for the color), Matilda adorned herself and her guards in white cloaks for an evening sojourn. In perfect silence, they slipped through a side door in the castle and walked out into the mounting snow. It was there that her sartorial brilliance finally found its runway: the whiteness of the travelers’ clothing blended seamlessly with the heavy snowfall, rendering them nearly invisible in the fading light.

It was a high-concept approach to couture that even Anna Wintour would have envied.

Thus attired, they snuck past the watch Stephen had set and headed out into the country. They then tramped seven miles over the frozen River Isis and across open fields to the town of Abingdon, where they acquired horses and rode to safety at Wallingford Castle.

And once safe at Wallingford, Matilda could continue the struggle that would eventually lead to the throne. Though in the end, it would be for her son rather than for herself that she would win it.

Thus a lady must sometimes take calculated risks with her fashion choices, in the hopes of bringing her long-sought career goals to fruition.

Further Reading

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