Queen Elizabeth, fashion icon – The Globe and Mail



Monochromatic colours and Launer handbags were staples of Queen Elizabeth II’s attire.

Photos: Getty Images

The Queen once famously said, “I have to be seen to be believed.” Whether she was dazzling her subjects in lavishly embroidered fairy-tale gowns or making sure she stood out in a crowd in matching dress-coat ensembles in shades of chartreuse, fuchsia or tangerine, the Queen wrote her own fashion script and stuck to it throughout her long life.

“She was never a disinterested onlooker or a mannequin who was dressed by others,” said Alison Eastwood, editor-in-chief of Hello! Canada. “She may not have cared to follow the latest trends, but there was often a nod to the trends of the times.”

Even in her younger years, in the 1950s and 60s, she was already an undisputed style icon who spiced up her regal attire with leopard-print stoles, jaunty hats, Pucci swirls and the vibrant colours – worn head to toe – that eventually became her trademark look.

The Queen on a 1954 visit to Australia.Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Queen had to wait until she was 81 to be declared a style icon. In 2007, British Vogue named her – alongside supermodels Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell – as one of the world’s most captivating women. The magazine declared the Queen “as glamorous in her brogues and headscarf in Balmoral as she is wearing Crown jewels.”

The praise from a bible of fashion kicked off a tsunami of accolades from stylists and designers about the evergreen quality of the Queen’s immutable fashion. Soon after, Dolce & Gabbana created an entire collection – complete with kilts, silk headscarves and plenty of tartan – inspired by her look while summering in Balmoral, her Scottish retreat.

In 2016, the Queen made Vanity’s Fair’s international best-dressed list. And in 2018, she caused a sensation when she appeared with American Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour at British Fashion Week. The media event coincided neatly with a whole new generation discovering the Queen’s distinctive look through the acclaimed Netflix series The Crown, which paid homage to everything from her country attire (Barbour jackets and Hunter boots) to the sumptuous gowns and sturdy daytime outfits designed by court dressers Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies.

The Maple Leaf dress, designed by Norman Hartnell, that the Queen wore on her 1957 visit to Canada.Todd Lawson

“If you can do a line drawing of a person and know who that individual is by the length of the coat, the style of the shoe or the shape of a hat, then you know you have attained iconic status – that was the Queen,” said Suzanne Boyd, editor-in-chief and publisher of Zoomer Magazine, which featured her on the cover six times in 12 years. “She was not fashionable. Fashion is a moment and it’s ever-changing. The Queen was stylish and style is eternal and consistent.”

“The way she dressed reflected her commitment to duty, her backbone of steel and her ability to maintain a stiff upper lip and carry on,” said Ms. Boyd.

She described three distinct elements that made up the Queen’s style: One was majesty and what she wore on state occasions; another was well-heeled country land owner; and the last was working woman, a look carefully curated and emboldened in the later years by Angela Kelly, her in-house dresser and dressmaker. It featured details that became intrinsically associated with the Queen: the monochromatic colour, the Launer handbags, the Anello & Davide loafers and the see-through Fulton umbrellas, with trim that matched her outfits.

“That is the silhouette of the Queen that we will always remember,” Ms. Boyd said. “Hers was a soft power – a unique combination of sometimes shockingly bold colours rounded out by comfortable shoes and top-handled bags. It was a slide show of constancy and people found it reassuring and enduring.”

Assistant curator Sarah Hoare inspects outfits worn by the Queen at Balmoral Castle in Scotland during a Platinum Jubilee exhibition.Andrew Milligan/Pool via REUTERS

Her outfit at 2017’s opening of Parliament was interpreted by some as a statement about Brexit, since blue and yellow are the European Union colours.STEFAN ROUSSEAU/AFP/Getty Images

In her book, Our Rainbow Queen, fashion writer and Guardian newspaper columnist Sali Hughes wrote that there were never any “mistakes, no accidents” in what the Queen decided to wear. “Everything was forensically thought of, considered and documented. She does not forget who gave her something, and she doesn’t forget the meaning it has when she was given her gifts and her jewellery.”

This explains why the media often tried to decipher the thinking behind elements of the Queen’s attire, such as when she sported blue and yellow – the colours of the European Union – to the opening of Parliament after the Brexit referendum, or when she donned a brooch gifted by U.S. president Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, to her first meeting with president Donald Trump.

“The Queen had a uniform, which was synonymous with who she was and what she wanted to project to the world,” said Ms. Boyd. “She was very astute.”

She also had a light-hearted side, which was especially evident in what she opted to put on top of her head. “It’s funny to me that anyone would ever suggest that the Queen was boring or had a subdued personality,” said Ms. Eastwood. “All they had to do was look at her hats. They were so playful and joyful.”

It was these elements of surprise, in contrast to the Queen’s preference for comfort and practicality, that set apart her sense of fashion.

“Her style was approachable,” Ms. Eastwood said. “She dressed to make others happy, as well as herself.”

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