09 September 2022

Why the Queen’s signature style was so iconic, according to fashion experts

09 September 2022

During a reign that spanned eight decades, Queen Elizabeth II was pictured in thousands of outfits, from casual, off-duty ensembles to glamorous ballgowns and glittering tiaras.

Her Majesty, who has died at the age of 96, was primarily known for one unmistakable look, featuring a brightly-coloured coatdress, a prim hat, sensible shoes and her trusty top-handle handbag.

But how did the monarch’s fashion become so iconic? Here, experts talk through the elements that made up the Queen’s signature style…

The colours

Queen Elizabeth II after the wedding of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (Alastair Grant/PA)

“The Queen wore her signature bright coloured coats, such as sunshine yellow, poppy red, fuschia and her favourite cornflower blue, for a practical reason – so that she could always be spotted in a crowd,” says Caroline Young, fashion writer and author of The Colour Of Fashion.

“She humorously once commented that she could never wear beige, as no one would be able to see her. These bright colours were also the antithesis of a sometimes staid reputation, and injected warmth into her appearances.”

Queen Elizabeth II during a garden party at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

Her Majesty also tailored her choices to the occasion, being mindful of the meaning behind certain colours.

Young explains: “For her historic state visit to Ireland [in 2011], the first since 1911, she chose emerald green. On her 1961 state visit to India and Pakistan she wore an ivory and green duchess satin gown for a dinner in Lahore, to represent Pakistan’s national colours.”

The coats

Queen Elizabeth II at Royal Ascot 2021 (Andrew Matthews/PA)

To further enhance her visibility at public appearances, the Queen generally preferred block colours rather than prints.

“Most often this came in the form of carefully tailored coats, which she adopted as a uniform in the early 1960s,” says Bethan Holt author of The Queen: 70 Years Of Majestic Style.

The sturdy coats had a practical purpose too, Young says: “Often her 300 engagements a year would involve standing outside for along time, good quality wool was chosen for her coats.”

Queen Elizabeth II, stands in the quadrangle at Windsor Castle at Christmas (Glyn Kirk/PA)

Angela Kelly, the Queen’s wardrobe adviser, was responsible for the design of the coats, which evolved throughout the years.

Holt continues: “The silhouettes changed with the times and at one point were even considered a little frumpy, but in recent years they looked better than ever and cemented her status as a nonagenarian style icon.”

The hats

Queen Elizabeth II attends an armed forces act of loyalty parade in Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

“The Queen grew up at a time when women rarely left the house without a hat, a habit which would have been underscored by her mother and grandmother,” Holt says.

Continuing the tradition, hats became an integral part of her look. Created by milliner Rachel Trevor-Morgan, who was granted a royal warrant in 2014, in recent years the Queen’s brightly-coloured hats were embellished with floral, bow or feather decorations.

“She always had to consider hats which would be statement pieces without obscuring her face,” Holt says. “Each of her hats was crafted to perfectly coordinate with her outfit.”

The handbag

Queen Elizabeth II at the Braemar Gathering (Andrew Milligan/PA)

For decades, the Queen was rarely pictured at public appearances without a black or white top-handle handbag, created by Launer London.

“The Queen’s handbags were a sign of her timeless style – they looked just as good in the 1950s as in the 2020s,” says Holt. “The frame style she loved was much copied by designers, too.”

The Queen’s handbags were made by Launer London (Aaron Chown/PA)

While most people use a bag to carry their belongings, the Queen’s handbag served a different purpose.

“A handbag was like a shield for The Queen,” Holt explains. “Although she perhaps had no practical need for one, the accessory was incredibly useful for her as a way to occupy her hands during engagements and also to subtly signal to courtiers if it was time to leave or move on.”

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