After seven decades on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II passed away on Thursday, September 8. While many articles will doubtless be written about her political, cultural, and social legacy, it’s also important to note that Queen Elizabeth’s life lasted throughout nine decades of fashion history. Britain is often known in the fashion industry for sharp, precise tailoring and fabulous hats; two things that the Queen wore in abundance. The Queen was aware of the power of clothes to tell her own story and communicate strength and duty to a nation. While not as glamorous or as influential as other members of the royal family (particularly Princess Diana), her style remains a cultural touchstone and one that exemplified confidence, dignity, and elegance.
She first ascended the throne in 1952, a few years after the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the popularity of Christian Dior’s New Look. After strict rationing of silk and other luxuries, fashion began to embrace over-the-top luxury. By saving her ration coupons, then-Princess Elizabeth purchased the rare duchesse silk used for her Norman Hartnell-designed wedding dress. (She was also given an extra 200 ration coupons for her dress.) Inspired by the Botticelli painting “Primavera,” meaning “spring” in Italian, her wedding to Prince Phillip came to symbolize the hopeful attitude of many Britons during this period.
After the death of her father, King George VI, in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne. Turning again to Norman Hartnell, her coronation gown had to symbolize the transfer of power and a political unification. Made from white duchesse satin, the gown was covered in metallic and pearl embroidery of flowers and national symbols from across Britain and the British Commonwealth. The gown, of course, had to be stately and extravagant enough to match the ermine-trimmed velvet coronation robe and the famous Crown Jewels, including two crowns, the sovereign’s scepter, and orb. It’s important to note here that many of the jewels used in these garments have tumultuous, often bloody histories that result from the legacy of colonization and subjugation in the British Empire.
After the coronation, the Queen kept to uniform, classic styles. It was confirmed by her granddaughter, Zara Tindall, that she chose bright, loud colors in order to be recognized, even from afar. While occasionally experimenting with different silhouettes, she tended to stick to ‘40s inspired suiting for all state events. For eveningwear, she often chose conservative, yet classic gowns with luxurious fabrics. Her casual wear was quintessentially English; head scarves, tweed jackets, and Wellington boots galore!
Queen Elizabeth will perhaps be most remembered by her classic monochromatic hat, gloves, handbag, and coat combination. In a variety of Technicolor shades, this uniform dressing indicated her status as a monarch, even without a tiara or scepter. Famously, she matched every look with detailed precision, down to the edging of her umbrellas! For many of us, this is the look that we most commonly associate with the Queen, and was most likely our first exposure to Queen Elizabeth.
Queen Elizabeth’s fashion sense was one of quiet confidence, dignity, and elegance. As the longest-reigning monarch in British history, it most certainly set the style precedent for other members of the royal family to follow. In the following days and weeks after her death, I anticipate seeing many fashion designers and style icons pay tribute to the Queen’s sartorial legacy.
What were your first memories of Queen Elizabeth II? Let us know in the comments below!