Rhiannon D’Averc explores the fashion legacy of Queen Elizabeth II following her passing.
Much has been said following the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Analysis of her reign and her personal life, her family and legacy, the position and responsibilities.
It seems there’s not much to add to the conversation, but as a fashion magazine, we’d be remiss if we didn’t provide coverage of the fashion legacy that our Queen left us with over her long reign.
And what a legacy! One could easily imagine seeing one of Queen Elizabeth’s outfits hanging in a museum and being able to identify it without reading the card. Her sense of style was incredibly clear, becoming a personal brand later in life which was never broken.
The uniform of Her Majesty was strong. She would wear an outfit consisting of a coat or a jacket, a skirt, a hat, and a handbag. The clothing and hat would be matched in a colour-blocking combination, with the handbag and a pair of shoes usually in a complimentary tone.
Dressing in this way allowed the Queen to embrace bright colours and feminine styles, far removed from the solemn dark suits usually worn on formal occasions by the male royals and former Kings.
She also loved clean-cut silhouettes and structured outfits, leading to a very clear look which could be recognised easily. Top them off with a string of pearls, matching pearl earrings, and a brooch, and voila – a recipe for royal fashion perfection.
But her fashion was not just frivolity. There was often a deeper meaning to what she wore. For example, many of her brooches had been gifts or heirlooms from her family – she wore pieces that had once been owned by Queen Victoria or by her own mother.
There was also a deliberate choice regarding the colours that she wore – always bright enough to stand out, no matter where she was or who she was with. Her desire was that the public would always be able to see her, quite literally.
“She needs to stand out for people to be able to say ‘I saw the Queen,’”
Sophie, Countess of Wessex, explained in the documentary The Queen at 90. “Don’t forget that when she turns up somewhere, the crowds are two, three, four, 10, 15 deep, and someone wants to be able to say they saw a bit of the Queen’s hat as she went past.”
She did change her normal routine on occasion. For example, when she was in residence in Scotland, she would wear tartan to represent her love for the people and her position as Queen of the country.
When she became the first British monarch to visit Ireland for a hundred years, back in 2011, she wore green – a very knowing choice.
She sometimes went even further with the messages she sent via her clothing. When she met President Donald Trump, she wore a very special brooch: one that had been gifted to her by Barack and Michelle Obama.
And she even showed solidarity with the people of her nation when she used ration vouchers to pay for the materials used in the creation of her wedding dress. Designed by Sir Norman Hartnell, it would be a match to one created by him for her coronation later on – and many other gowns that he designed over forty years of a working relationship.
From the year 2000, it was Stewart Parvin who made her clothes. He said, in 2012: “I see beautiful, wealthy young women looking in the mirror and all they see is their faults. The Queen looks squarely in the mirror and she likes what she sees. She has a confidence that transcends beauty – that’s the most fascinating thing with her.”
Her style inspired generations of women who stepped to the forefront of politics and leadership in the years following her rise to the throne. You only have to look at the likes of Margaret Thatcher, as well as women in halls of power in the UK, US, and beyond to see that a certain uniform has proliferated – and continues today.
There were even practical messages behind her choices. She preferred Launer handbags and reportedly had over 200 of them, rarely being photographed without one on her arm. Eagle-eyed viewers noticed she was even carrying one in her last official photograph as she met with new Prime Minister Liz Truss – a meeting which took place inside her own home.
Some commentators saw this as a mark of some deep conspiracy – after all, why would she carry a handbag inside her own home? Well, the reason was simple: for years, her handbag had served as a way to send a message to those who attended her, while maintaining her polite facade.
She habitually carried the bag on her left arm. Therefore, if she moved it to the right, it was a sign she wanted to begin wrapping things up in order to leave. Putting it down on the floor was a signal that she was uncomfortable and wanted to escape from the situation as soon as possible. As for a handbag placed on the table during a dinner event, this was a sign that she wanted to leave within the next five minutes.
This messaging system wouldn’t have been possible without the Queen’s long reliance on a uniform, and it was also emblematic of her style as a monarch. Quietly understated, keeping her opinions unspoken but letting her clothes do the talking – and always seen.
One final example of her usage of clothing came when she met the Archbishop of Westminster, who serves as the UK’s head of the Roman Catholic Church. He was dressed in the holy red of a cardinal – and so was she, cementing a reminder that he was no more powerful than she was.
The Queen’s fashion is sure to have a lasting impact on the world of style and design, particularly in terms of the ever-favoured colour blocking and those boxy, powerful yet still feminine skirt suit silhouettes. One thing that can never be forgotten about our late monarch is that she achieved her goal: she was always Seen.
For more of Rhiannon’s work, follow her on Twitter @rhiannondaverc