As Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, the Queen is both a cherished and consistent part of public life – her image synonymous with stability and tradition to the British people.
When masses gather and wait dutifully to catch a glimpse of Her Majesty, the color she steps out in is more important than you might think, too. Standing at 5 feet 3 inches, vivid hues like yellow, fuschia, purple, chartreuse and periwinkle make her easier to spot in large crowds. The Queen’s bold wardrobe is so distinctive, it has spawned entire books dedicated to recording each beaming outfit. In “Our Rainbow Queen,” Welsh journalist Sali Hughes notes Her Majesty’s color wheel considerations: “(she) won’t wear green to grassy venues, nor dark colours against dark upholstery.”
The monarch’s commitment to a vibrant color palette is a sign of respect for those who take the time to support her in person. “She needs to stand out for people to be able to say ‘I saw the Queen,’” says Sophie Rhys-Jones, the Countess of Wessex, in the 2016 documentary “The Queen at 90.”
There is an art to dressing one of the most photographed women in history. Over her 70-year reign the Queen has amassed an army of staffers, but few have been trusted with the task of royal dressmaker. British designers Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies, Stewart Parvin and Angela Kelly have all helped develop her style – steering clear of trend cycles that can quickly fall out of favor.
Kelly – the Queen’s sartorial adviser for almost three decades and a close confidante – has created an air-tight formula that ensures every one of the her 300 annual engagements hits the mark. From fail-safe weighted hem-lines and wager-worthy hats, to extensively researched weather forecasts and local customs – the Queen’s outfits are nothing if not judicious.
“Our role as her dressers is to ensure that Her Majesty is appropriately attired for each occasion,” writes Angela Kelly in her 2019 monarch-approved memoir, “The Other Side of the Coin.”
“I look for movement with soft light materials, and might even switch on a fan to see how they behave in a breeze…As the light changes, or when Her Majesty moves to an interior space, this will have an effect on the color and texture of the fabric, and this must be taken into account.”
Her monochromatic looks are typically decorated with a three-strand pearl necklace and a sparkling antique brooch set in either gold or silver, while a glossy Launer handbag can usually be found in the crook of her elbow. Not only do these mainstay accessories bring a sense of occasion to the Queen’s ensembles, they are a kind of sartorial crest on-lookers have come to expect and dissect – with many eager to unearth sentimental stories behind each item. Take, for example, the hand-painted Centenary Rose Brooch commissioned by the Queen as a 100th birthday gift for the Queen Mother, which she in turn wore during a Christmas broadcast less than a year later after her mother passed.
For languid afternoons spent walking the grounds of the Balmoral Estate in Scotland, the Queen is quick to switch out of her color block couture and into muted country wear made of tweed and tartan. Her off-duty attire is of equal importance, and often sets the mood for political arrangements. In 2016, when the Obamas arrived at Windsor Castle to meet Her Majesty for the third time, the Queen wore a silk scarf fastened under her chin (a defining feature of her more casual outfits), signaling familiarity and an informal tone.
Poised, appropriate and always strategic – the Queen’s styling choices are as much a form of diplomacy as they are an expression of identity.
In 2011, Her Majesty became the first British monarch to visit the Republic of Ireland since its creation – and the first to enter the country in a century.
The historic state visit was not taken lightly, with tactful considerations infusing every detail of the trip right down to the stitches on her garments. The Queen masterfully demonstrated the soft power potential of fashion, arriving in Dublin wearing a green coat and matching hat – Ireland’s de facto national color. Later in the visit, she donned a white, silk gown embellished with more than 2,000 hand-sewn embroidered shamrocks and an Irish harp brooch made from Swarovski crystals.
Even in her early career, the Queen was well versed in the value of image-making and optics. Coming to power (and of age) during World War II, the young princess quickly became a vision of hope and optimism in war-torn Britain. She stoked those fires anyway she could – carefully constructing an image that conveyed authority, elegance and decorum. One of the most readily available sources was her wardrobe.
In 1947, two years after the war had ended, the Queen used clothing ration coupons to purchase her wedding dress – a common practice for brides at the time. It was a gesture of commonality, although Her Majesty did receive 200 extra coupons from the government to help cover the cost. The gown, made of ivory silk and duchess satin with a 15-foot train, was designed by Norman Hartnell.
At one of her more recent public engagements – the funeral commemorating her beloved husband, the Duke of Edinburgh – the Queen wore all black in line with a mourning tradition. Typically seen in bold colors, Her Majesty’s somber outfit was all the more poignant for its rarity. Pinned to her coat was the Richmond Brooch, a diamond-encrusted wedding present gifted to Queen Mary in 1893. Her Majesty inherited the piece in 1953 and wore the flourish to Harry and Meghan’s 2018 wedding, reinforcing its connection to marriage and coupledom.
Top image: The Queen during a visit to the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory near Salisbury, UK.