When we close our eyes and think of Queen Elizabeth II, what do we see?
Solid color, a sensible pair of shoes, the Launer handbag and maybe a hat.
Was this instantly recognizable look created by the design?
“Her image is cemented in our brains,” says newspaper columnist and royal fashion expert Miranda Holden.
“We think of this dear lady who has had the same shampoo and set for as long as we have known her.”
“She wears them to be easily seen and identified. It’s all about creating a personal brand, and it’s a brand. It’s Queen branded.”
The Queen enjoyed a 70-year reign and had plenty of time to build an image that will last forever in photographs and in the nation’s psyche. But how did we get here?
The Queen’s Fashion Through the Ages
In the public eye from a young age, like a princess The Queen wore the usual modest and classic attire worn by royal children.
Perhaps her first big fashion ‘moment’ was in 1947 when she got married in a dress designed by Norman Hartnell, who allegedly wanted it to be “the most beautiful dress he had ever made”.
At the time, two years after the end of World War II, textile rationing was rampant and the young princess was saving up her ration coupons to buy the fabric, eventually receiving another 200 after a vote in parliament. When the dress was made, the Queen even insisted that all the nation’s emblems be sewn onto it, using Hartnell’s signature embroidery.
“This was the birth of the Queen as the ultimate diplomatic dresser,” says Holden.
In the 1950s, with the rationing of clothes, the Queen embraced dressing with small waists and large skirts. Christian Dior postwar silhouette that defined an era.
“All the young ladies in fashion echoed that silhouette and it suited the young Queen Elizabeth perfectly,” says Holden.
In the 1960s, the Queen, while unable to fully embrace the sexual and fashion revolution of the time, managed to trim her fringes. But this did not happen until the 1970s, and its spread color photography in the press, that she really hit her stride.
The Queen took her fashion of diplomacy to every continent. Dubbed the ‘Million Mile Queen’, she and husband Prince Philip went on rigorous tours of the Commonwealth, where she was able to impress nations by wearing their flag colors and emblems – even modeling a maple leaf pin on Canada.
The 1980s represented a lull and a period where she was often unfairly contrasted with glamour. Princess Diana. However, the introduction of a new designer, Andrea Kelly, revamped it of the Queen look and brought the style we all know today.
“She saw it as her role to give the Queen’s image a bit of a makeover – more modern, more stylish, more youthful and vibrant,” says Holden.
“It was masterfully executed.”
What impact has the queen had on the fashion industry?
The queen’s look is carefully crafted and her status as a country girl turned no-nonsense style is well earned.
To this day, there is a huge appetite for Launer handbags in the Middle East and who knows how many Barbour jackets the Queen has inadvertently sold.
During her lifetime, she influenced the fashion industry in some unexpected ways, with designers from Alexander McQueen to Vivienne Westwood including its iconography in their collections.
A more on-the-nose demonstration of the enduring influence the Queen’s style has had comes in the form of young British designer Richard Quinn.
In 2018, Quinn was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design at London Fashion Week. The award was even presented to him by the queen herself.
Forewarned ahead of time, Quinn added some ‘Queeny touches’ to the collection, sending an abundance of floral prints down the runway, with his signature camouflage patterns embellished with silk felt.
The Queen sat in the front row, next to Anna Wintour.
“That’s life goals right there,” Holden says.
“The world of fashion and design is circular. What happens is that designers absorb what is happening in the world around them and this informs their next season’s collection. Whenever there’s a coronation or a jubilee that can’t help but inform what designers create next.”
“Opera gloves are back in fashion and I don’t think it’s a coincidence between this and platinum jubilee happen this year.”
A constant in British life
Throughout the years, the Queen’s fashion has remained a constant in British public life.
Her use of fashion diplomacy continued throughout her reign, modeling a bright green dress as the first monarch to visit Ireland since its independence, and even – it was speculated – wearing a hat reminiscent of the flag of EU after Brexit.
“Fashion is a language… The Queen was the first monarch to embrace it and understand that,” says Holden.
Although the royal family can never be too trendy to avoid looking dated in pictures (which is why Prince William’s children are always wearing tartan shorts), the Queen managed to create a look that has stood the test of time .
Her hats, bags and color coordination continued throughout the difficult times of her reign.
“There’s a comforting familiarity there,” says Holden.
“I think the sight of the Queen has become a great source of comfort to the nation. During troubled times… The Queen is a constant figure of stoicism.”