How the Queen came to be a fashion icon

Why Her Majesty’s developing sense of style is a masterclass in creating a royal image, from ballgowns to Barbours. Daisy Woodward looks back on a journey through fashion unlike any other.

The Queen has experienced significant societal change over her 70 years in power, as well as previously unimaginable scientific and technological advances and – unavoidably – the development, decline, and reemergence of innumerable fashion fads. It may be claimed that Her Majesty beat Billie Eilish to the punch in popularizing neon green, popularizing the Gucci horse-bit loafer, and setting the bar for British country chic, to name a few of the trends she helped inspire. Others, like the sophisticated 1950s New Look favored by Christian Dior or the flamboyant 1970s prints, she has wholeheartedly embraced. However, she has largely developed her own, distinctive visual identity with the help of a variety of advisors, stylists, and designers.

The Queen’s signature outfits today consist of monochromatic matching sets and headgear, together with a variety of accessories, such as silk scarves, pearls, Fulton umbrellas, gloves, brooches, and her favorite boxy handbags. Her former personal assistant, Robin Janvrin, tells BBC Culture, “The Queen has always struck me as having a very practical sense of style. She wears clothing that stands out so that people will notice her, such as bright colors, hats, and gloves that are ideal for accepting gifts from passersby.”

The monarch’s excitement for zingy patterns and her love of color serve as evidence that she also has a soft spot for sartorial surprises. The Queen “has very much considered her clothes as a uniform, but she keeps it original and exciting within those limits,” claims Elizabeth Holmes, author of HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style. Her immaculate sense of style pays subtle homage to both domestic and international countries, cultures, people, and events. We investigate how the monarch’s distinct aesthetic developed in celebration of her Platinum Jubilee, as well as the different ways that she has utilized dress as a powerful and entertaining tool over the years.

1950s

The Queen’s most trend-focused decade was the 1950s. With assistance from her primary designers Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies, Elizabeth embraced the splendor of the post-war era as a 25-year-old newly crowned monarch, promoting British fashion and achieving her own position as a style hero along the way. She entered the worldwide scene at a period when males ruled the globe for the most part, and Holmes finds it delightful to see her maintain her glitzy femininity.

Elizabeth II made a big splash when she showed up to a special movie screening at Leicester Square’s Empire Theatre wearing this dramatic black-and-white Norman Hartnell gown, complete with long white gloves and a tiny tiara. According to Bethan Holt, author of the recently released book The Queen: 70 Years of Majestic Style, “For the first impression, it’s a magnificent, very classic ball gown, which is what you’d anticipate at a major gala performance.” “But as you look closer, you see that it has a tuxedo-lapel finish at the top, a menswear touch. Hartnell and the Queen are demonstrating that they aren’t scared to stand out in terms of fashion.” The so-called “Magpie dress” made headlines the following day, inspiring numerous copies and do-it-yourself patterns.

1960s

The Queen kept up her love of glitz in the early 1960s. HM wore a light blue evening gown with ruffled tulle—a Hartnell trademark—when she hosted the Kennedys at Buckingham Palace in 1961, while the First Lady chose a sleek column dress that was much more in style. The event was dramatized in the television series The Crown, which capitalized on rumors that Jackie had been unimpressed with the Queen’s “traditional” attire. Holmes contends that both women’s clothing communicated who they were and what they stood for and that the Queen placed unshakeable importance on this, particularly during momentous occasions. If she stays true to what she knows, which is the classic silhouette, she can never go wrong, claims Holt.

The monarch did in fact reconsider her role as a trendsetter as the renown for being free-spirited decade advanced, bringing with it miniskirts, bell-bottoms, tie-dye, and other items, and instead set out to lay the groundwork for her now-iconic style. The time of solid colors, sleek silhouettes, and skirts that stayed consistently at or below the knee had arrived.

1970s

The Queen has been to 117 different nations during her reign, making her the most traveled monarch in history. According to Elizabeth Revealed author Lucinda Hawksley, each of her royal visits has been accompanied by a meticulously prepared, tailored wardrobe that reflects “the attitudes, or flora and fauna, of the place she’s in, whether through color, style, pattern, or jewelry.” It’s just one of the qualities that make her a superb diplomat. “Her graceful gestures express everything without having to say anything at all,” agrees Holmes, “and have inspired the way a lot of female politicians dress now.”

During a state visit to Mexico in 1975, the Queen is pictured wearing a bright yellow polka-dot dress by Hardy Amies and a matching headdress by Frederick Fox. Yellow has long been associated with rebirth and hope, and in Mayan tradition, the color represents maize, a crucial source of life. The Queen’s stunning self-expression, which was seen in her eye-catching day and evening clothing throughout the decade, is evident in the strong choice of color and pattern. In the meantime, quirky headgear was evolving into a crucial royal staple. In her middle age, the Queen “reached a point when she hit her stride with her role,” according to Holmes. She understood the importance of keeping her presence intriguing, and she knew that unique hats made for amazing photos, especially up close.

Over the years, the monarch’s brand of country chic has been so extensively imitated that it now has an almost kitsch appeal.

1980s

This photograph of the Queen was taken at The Royal Windsor Horse Show in 1988. She is wearing her steadfast and classic off-duty attire—no puffy sleeves for this picture. According to Holt, “the tweed skirts and jackets, the jodhpurs, these classic British rural pieces she has made her own,” and “that reveal her as a woman who loves horses and the outdoors,” are what define this. These outfits are typically completed with a Barbour jacket and a silk headscarf with a boisterous pattern, frequently an equine print by Hermes, which according to Holmes “shows her personality and somehow makes her more approachable.”

The rustic chic aesthetic popularized by the monarch has been so often imitated throughout the years that it now has a kitsch appeal. This was arguably best exemplified by Gucci’s spring/summer 2017 women’s fashion show, which was held in Westminster Abbey and included models dressed in garish headpieces, vibrant tartan skirts, box handbags, and decorated loafers in homage to HM’s casual attire. Numerous wealthy outdoor enthusiasts have long embraced this fashion elsewhere, albeit in a more subdued way. The Queen, according to Hawksley, “looks like any other older woman at a horse show since so many others dress like her, with the headscarf and so on.”

1990s

The Queen dubbed 1992 an “annus horribilis” because of royal marriage failures and a tragic fire at Windsor Castle, which gave the 1990s a poor start for the Windsor family. The highly public dissolution of Prince Charles and Diana’s marriage and Diana’s passing in 1997 only made matters worse. The Queen, however unsettling the times, can be counted on to show up and carry out her duties while occasionally throwing in a fashion curveball for good measure.

One of her most daring evening outfits ever, this one was worn in 1999 to the Royal Variety Performance in Birmingham. The “Harlequin dress,” created by Karl-Ludwig Rehse, features a sequined bodice covered in multicolored diamonds on top of a gold, V-striped skirt. According to Holt, “This is a terrific example of the Queen going above and above for an event.” “This type of attire by royals conveys their respect for the occasion they are attending. They understand that the key to the evening is their presence.” It also shows how open the Queen is to experiment, albeit very wildly in this case.

2000s

The Queen, who is never afraid to make a festive statement, wore this holly-berry-red-edged tweed coat and matching hat to the church service on Christmas Day at Sandringham in 2008. It is a look representative of the Queen’s distinctive aesthetic, which her personal stylist Angela Kelly, who assumed the position in 2002, has tailored for her latter years. It also shows her persistent devotion to her favorite British accessory designers. She has worn the same style of buckled block-heeled shoe, made by Anello & Davide rather than Gucci, and patent leather handbags during her reign (“patent leather [styles] in black, white, or beige for day use, and gold or silver for the evening,” as the brand’s director Gerald Bodmer has stated).

Of course, this is about more than just personal preference. According to Holt, the Queen has been very clever in her use of fashion since the late 1950s because it has come to symbolize the Royal Family as an anchor in a crazy, constantly changing world.

2010s

With a neon-green two-piece made of wool crepe and silk by royal favorite Stewart Parvin and a matching hat by Rachel Trevor-Morgan, the Queen celebrated the beginning of her nonagenarian years. Trevor-Morgan has once again established herself as the reigning queen of color blocking, with no shade of the rainbow’s spectrum appearing off limits.

‘Yes, I might be 90, but I’m still the head of my family, still the Queen the world has known and loved for decades, and I’m going nowhere soon,'” adds Holt. Funny enough, the Queen in her 90s has embraced wearing lime green: She now frequently wears this color. She, in my opinion, embodies the perception of a new generation of elder women in society. Why care about clothes at this age, was the prevalent narrative surrounding ladies in their 80s and 90s for a very long time. But over the last ten years, she has truly shined. Being anticipated and exciting at the same time is quite difficult for public figures, yet the Queen handles it so wonderfully, says Holmes.

2020s

Her Majesty continues to dress positively in the 2020s. She paid homage to nature in her choice of a delicate floral-print dress by Angela Kelly worn to a charity event during the G7 summit in 2017, which was held at The Eden Project, Cornwall’s lovely “global garden.” She accessorized with the Botswana Sorghum Brooch, which was given to her by the President of Botswana in 2007.

In Holt’s words, “The Queen always uses clothes and jewelry to send a little message. She is not someone who can come out and give her opinion in big speeches, and she would not like to.” “I believe that everyone has grown quite enthusiastic about social media in the modern era, According to Holt, these specifics “underline her sentiments in a non-controversial way.” In fact, Holmes observes astutely, “The Queen has never once had her attire judged to be unsuitable since she was a 25-year-old woman. She makes it seem simpler than it is, but it takes a tremendous lot of time, effort, planning, and money to never miss in 70 years.”

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