When we talk about royal fashion — which we do pretty often — the conversation is generally centred around Meghan Markle or Kate Middleton. And for good reason: the two duchesses are known for being impeccably fashion-forward. (We still have trouble not taking Kate's gorgeous coat collection as a personal insult. How is it fair that she has so many custom-made Catherine Walker originals and we don't?!)
But there's one figure who's rarely included in these discussions, even though she absolutely deserves to be: Queen Elizabeth herself. It can't be easy being stylish at age 92, but she pulls it off.
Everyone knows her fashion sense as clean, elegant and monochromatic: she almost always wears one solid colour, often with a matching hat, pearl necklaces, and clean white gloves. And she's carried the same black leather handbag by Launer for more than 50 years, as Today reported. (She even uses it to send messages to her staff, apparently: royal historian Hugo Vickers once told People that the Queen's handlers will come rescue her from a boring conversation if she places her bag on the floor.)
Maybe some of the more critical onlookers out there would call the Queen's style boring, but as it turns out, she has been experimental —in her own, very narrowly-defined context, of course.
After she was crowned in the early 1950s, Queen Elizabeth generally wore modest and elegant versions of clothing that was popular at the time, which often included full and high-waisted skirts.
But you might be shocked to learn that in the '60s, she sometimes wore sleeveless dresses. Scandalous!
She always liked hats, but the accessory really took off in the 1970s. Several were turban-like, as was the fashion at the time, but she also likes Bretons, pillbox hats, and wide-brimmed top hats. Beyond their aesthetic purpose, hats were attention-getting for a reason, fashion curator Caroline de Guitaut told The New York Times two years ago, when she and her colleagues at the Royal Collection Trust organized a restrospective on royal fashion at Buckingham Palace.
Hats "enable people who want to catch a glimpse of her to spot her immediately," de Guitaut told the paper. "Almost every hat she wears is strategic, ensuring her face is fully visible but also framed in a range of styles over the years that were often considered very avant-garde for their day."
She continued to wear royalty-appropriate fashionable clothes through the 1970s and '80s, such as a caftan dress when she met Pierre Trudeau in 1977 and shoulder pads during a trip to Australia in 1986, Insider points out.
(Quick refresher in the Canadian history of admirably petty photobombing: that was the same year when then-prime minister Trudeau did a pirouette in a photo behind the Queen to "show his disdain for the monarchy.")
Of course, her choices often have diplomatic codes — just like Meghan Markle wore a "Fiji blue" gown while in the islands during last fall's royal tour, Queen Elizabeth often connects her wardrobe to the conditions of the place where she's visiting. For instance, on her delicate first post-WWII visit to Germany, the Queen wore a turquoise organza silk gown by another frequently collaborator of hers, the tailor Hardy Amies. According to the New York Times, Amies used silver thread and beading on the gown, meant to evoke to interiors of the palaces she visited.
And that same year, the Queen wore a green dress with the insignia of the Order of Ethiopia when she visited the east African country.
But her monochromatic coat-and-hat look is without a doubt the Queen's most iconic at this point in her life — it's largely all she's been seen wearing since the 1990s. The looks are tasteful and simple, often with details that add a dash of whimsy.
And it's not a brand-new look, either: the Queen, practical as she is, has long embraced the simple look.
Despite this impressive display, the Queen was never overly concerned with fashion, according to her longtime collaborator, the British couturier Sir Norman Hartnell, who designed many state gowns for her (including her coronation dress.)
"The queen and queen mother do not want to be fashion setters," Hartnell once said. "That's left to other people with less important work to do."
Could have fooled us.
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