Like so much of her 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II’s fashion choices were often understated – discreet yet diplomatic, respectful to others with some surprising Irish links…
NB: This post was first published in June 2022 to mark the Platinum Jubilee.
Pictured above and main featured image: The Queen at Windsor Castle, photographed by Ranald Mackechnie on on May 25, picture via Instagram @theroyalfamily.
HM Queen Elizabeth II does not do beige. Her biographer Robert Hardiman once suggested she never wore this shade because she wouldn’t stand out. Her reasoning? Bolder colours allow more people to see her even if it’s just a fleeting glimpse.
Long before the terms colour blocking, tonal and dopamine dressing became trends, the Queen had employed these tactics, finessing them throughout her 70-year reign with the help of trusted designers such as Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies and Stewart Parvin.
Though many people do, the Queen doesn’t consider herself a style icon; it is part of her job to look the part and fashion helps. She never puts a foot wrong when choosing outfits often taking inspiration from the classic styles of Chanel and Dior. Currently she’s helped by a team of dressers, chief of whom is her “gatekeeper” Angela Kelly. Originally from Liverpool of Irish descent, Kelly is a divorced mother of three and grandmother of four who has served as Personal Assistant and Senior Dresser to the Queen since 2002. Kelly is credited with always hitting the right note designing outfits which are appropriate, timeless and vibrant. Kelly often begins the process of creating the Queen’s wardrobe at Joel & Son in London – where she sources beautiful fabrics, exquisite laces and embroideries. “I look for movement with soft light materials, and might even switch on a fan to see how they behave in a breeze,” she recounts in her book The Other Side of The Coin: The Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe. “As the light changes or when Her Majesty moves into an interior space, this will have an effect on the colour and texture of a fabric, and this must be taken into account.” Of course the Queen’s choice of outfit and its colour is often diplomatic, symbolic and strategic.
According to Vogue, the Queen’s favourite colour is blue – and during lockdown she stuck to blues and turquoises for video calls. On Saturday, when she hosted a special reception at Sandringham House ahead of her Platinum Jubilee, she wore a soft blue dress, first worn on her Diamond Jubilee Tour to Northern Ireland during which she attended a Service of Thanksgiving in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, after which she attended St Michael’s Catholic Church – the first time the Queen had visited a Catholic church in Northern Ireland so it was an historic moment. Kelly knew instinctively that the soft blue neutral hued dress was appropriate for the occasion. As for the detailing, it was inspired by the Wedgwood collection at Windsor Castle. “The china was exactly the same colour as the blue material I had selected and I decided to recreate its delicate pattern in fine lace for Her Majesty’s dress and hat.”
When the Queen attended London Fashion Week in 2018 to present The Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design to London-based Irish designer Richard Quinn, she described the award as “her legacy to all those who have contributed to the British fashion industry.” For the occasion she wore a duck egg blue suit inspired by Chanel, the jacket of which was decorated with aquamarine Swarovski crystals. The Queen famously shared the frow with Anna Wintour, Sarah Mower, Anya Hindmarch and Caroline Rush. Apparently when Quinn found out that the Queen would be attending his show he added head scarves to his models – a nod to her love of Hermès silk squares, an essential part of her off duty style. The Queen’s collection of scarves – a mix of vintage pieces and custom options – includes graphic 1960s prints, paisley prints, traditional florals and even a dog-patterned number in a nod to her beloved pets. Hermès released a limited-edition scarf in honour of her 90th birthday in 2016. I wonder if designers Kate Spade, Michael Kors, Stella McCartney and Tom Ford were acknowledging the Queen when they sent models down the runways sporting scarves in recent years?
The Queen also loves green and has worn every nuance from neon to chartreuse. She associates the colour with hope and luck. When the Queen wore an emerald green Stuart Parvin hat and coat for her 90th birthday celebrations she trended on Twitter with the hashtags #NeonAt90 and #HighVisHighness. For her historic visit to Ireland in 2012 she wore lime green softened by some gold lace detailing added to an unusual double collar of her jacket as well as the hat created by her milliner
Rachel Trevor-Morgan. Who can forget her historic 2020 “We Will Meet Again” speech the message of which was stoicism and compassion? For that televised address the Queen wore a green dress. Some say the colour choice was a nod to the medical scrubs worn by NHS workers.
Pinks from salmon to fuchsia are also wardrobe staples as is red – most notably worn during for her first poignant Christmas message last year after the death of Prince Philip. Regardless of what dress she is wearing, she takes special care with her jewellery. Like the American politician and diplomat Madeleine Albright or Lady Hale, the British judge who served as President of the Supreme Court, the Queen loves a brooch and her collection of over 200 is one of the most significant in the world. Favourites include The Prince Albert Brooch – a sapphire and diamond piece given to Queen Victoria by Prince Albert, which the Queen wore on her wedding day. Prince Philip gifted her several brooches including the “Venus” ruby and diamond brooch created by jeweller Andrew Grima. When she visited Ireland in May 2011 – the first British monarch to do so since 1911 – the highlight of the trip was the State Banquet hosted by Irish president Mary McAleese held in Dublin Castle. Not only was the bodice of her dress decorated with 2,000 shamrocks (and one green one hidden from view) but her brooch featured a specially commissioned Irish harp made of Swarovski crystals. (Kelly relates that she had to keep checking the harp design was not the same as the Guinness logo!). To the funeral of Prince Philip, the Queen wore the diamond-encrusted “Richmond Brooch” which had been a wedding present given to Queen Mary in 1893, which she wore to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding in 2018, reinforcing its connection to love and marriage.
Apart from brooches, part of the Queen’s uniform is her trusty pearls – usually a three-strand necklace and earrings. Other style signifiers include Cornelia James gloves and her two-inch heel Rayne shoes in cream, white or black which are worn in by Kelly. It’s estimated she has more than 200 bespoke long-handled Launer handbags, her favourites being, according to Launer CEO and owner Gerald Bodmer, a black leather Royale, a black patent Traviata and a custom handbag. Bodmer explains, “The style she has been using most in recent years is the Traviata, a simple shape with short handles and the famous Launer silver twisted rope logo used as a clasp on the front.”
Should you check photographs you’ll note the Queen always wear her bags on her left arm, often using them to send signals to staff. If she changes the bag to her right arm she needs to be rescued. If her bag is left on a table she wants to make a speedy exit. As for their contents, that has been the subject of a book by Ashley Walton and Phil Dampier – What’s in the Queen’s Handbag And Other Royal Secrets. Mints, a metal make-up case gifted by Prince Philip, glasses, a fountain pen, family photos and good luck charms (of miniature dogs, horses) treats for her dorgi, a small camera and a pen knife. Come again, a pen knife? The latter is a throwback to her days as a Girl Guide.
Let’s not forget her now iconic hairstyle. Viewers of The Crown will know Prince Philip teased her about her so-called “helmet hair”. Central to the Queen’s team is her London-based Scottish hairdresser Ian Carmichael who tends her hair twice a week and has been doing so for 24 years. Though she has a natural curl, her hair is permed and has remained the same structured style since the 1950s, though it has been of various lengths and colours – she stopped dyeing it with a product called Chocolate Kiss in 1990 and went grey within a few months. The Queen, a stickler for detail, insists that her hair is “entirely symmetrical.” Her hair has to look the same from one profile and then to the other, so that whatever side people are watching her from, her hair always looks exactly the same. During lockdown it was rumoured that the Queen styled her own hair.
Off duty, the Queen’s style switches from vibrant colours to country casuals in muted shades. She prefers practical tweeds and tartan skirts, gilets and waxed jackets worn with blouses and shirts made by Karl Dunkley and Juan Credidio of Grosvenor Shirts in their factory in Ireland.
No outfit is complete however without a splash of bright lipstick. Sally Bedell Smith, author of Elizabeth the Queen: The Woman Behind The Throne, says the Queen’s most important handbag items are her lipstick and compact mirror. “At the end of a luncheon or a dinner, even a banquet set with silver gilt and antique porcelain, she has the somewhat outré habit of opening her bag, pulling out a compact and reapplying her lipstick.” Among her favourites are Elizabeth Arden’s “Beautiful Colour” lipsticks, especially the Rose Petal shade; she commissioned Clarins to make her a personalised shade to match her ceremonial robes for her coronation. Charlotte Tilbury paid tribute to the Queen’s love of cerise shades when she launched The Queen Matte Revolution – described as a rosy jewel-inspired pink matte lipstick, now a bestseller.
As for her preferred perfumes, she chose Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue for her wedding day in 1947 – the spicy scent has notes of florals and citrus. Another favourite is White Rose by Floris, which holds a Royal Warrant. Blending roses with iris, warm amber and musk, this scent is described as “a story of contrasts – the old world and the new, the perfect with the imperfect, drama and poise, town and country.” Rather like the Queen’s inimitable style, character and reign I’d say …
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