The outfits that say ‘The Queen’

The outfits that say ‘The Queen’

Though it is something the Red Queen might have said,it was actually uttered by Elizabeth II


Though it is something the Red Queen might have said,it was actually uttered by Elizabeth II. “I have to be seen to be believed,” she remarked,according to her most recent biographer,Sally Bedell Smith. That declaration is a shrewd assessment of monarchy management in an era when image rules supreme.

Not the least of the accomplishments of Elizabeth II is that she is the queen but is also the defining image of one. And how,after all,is a queen supposed to look? The current queen’s canniest tutor in brand management was likely her mother,said Andrew Bolton,a curator at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. From the time she married George VI,the plump and pretty Queen Elizabeth,queen consort and later queen mother,carefully crafted an image that conformed to the saccharine beauty ideals best portrayed by the 19th-century portraitist Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Guided by the photographer Cecil Beaton and the dressmaker Norman Hartnell,she refined a style that varied little throughout her long life. Her hyper-feminine manner set her apart from the steely,modern chic of royal relatives like Marina,Duchess of Kent.

Looking at Queen Elizabeth II,it would be easy to conclude that she lacks any interest in fashion. But that,Bolton said,would be a mistake. “She is not particularly interested in high fashion,but she is particular about clothes and interested in things that make her absolutely identifiable as queen.”


Like any star performer in an age dominated by the photographic image,the young queen needed an easily identifiable signature,something that instantly conjured the wearer: Elvis’ jumpsuit,Michael Jackson’s glove. The formula she arrived at,aided first by the dressmakers Hartnell and Hardy Amies and more recently by Angela Kelly,was of a series of simple shapes and colour blocks. The pastel rectangle of her customary coat and the bright disk of a matching hat,the black oblong of her handbag and the generic low-heeled pumps are almost Warholian in their Pop simplicity. “The way she looks is instantly recognisable,” said Sam Shahid,a branding expert behind labels like Calvin Klein. “Even the kids know who she is. ”

Unlike Jacqueline Kennedy,who deliberately distanced herself from the matronly style of former first ladies,helping to conjure up the seductive visual mood of John F. Kennedy’s Camelot,there is little hard evidence that Queen Elizabeth II consciously set about fashioning a “look.”

Her clothes are designed for specific functionality. The queen mainly works standing up,is routinely observed at full length and,small as she is,is required to stand out in a crowd.

“If she’s coming out of Parliament in New Zealand,you have to be able to see that figure in a lemon coat and hat from far away,” said Hugo Vickers,the biographer of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The queen,said Smith has evolved a flair for making an entrance—that flash of Easter egg colour—and an instinct for avoiding any wardrobe malfunction. If you cannot find a photograph of this much-photographed woman with her skirt inadvertently flying up,that is because those skirts are weighted. The armholes of her coats and jackets are cut generously to facilitate the famous windshield-wiper wave.

“There’s a theatrical component to the way she looks,and she’s very aware of it,” Smith said. Before foreign tours and state visits,a research team has been dispatched to do reconnaissance on national symbols,birds and flowers,etc. Yet in private,the undoubted queen has an unexpected streak of vanity. “She dresses much better in private than public,” Vickers said. “She wears lots and lots of jewels and really dazzles.”