With the close of the modern Elizabethan era, legacy is a word that is reverberating strongly following the news of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s death. She was 96-years-old.
As the role of the monarchy shifted during her 70-year reign, and the entire understanding of its existence was increasingly questioned, Her Majesty remained a popular, recognisable figure of quintessential Britishness. For those of us that have known no other British monarch, we are left with a legacy that will be marked by her inescapable sense of duty to the Crown and country, but also a decidedly strong sense of self and identity that feels singular in a world of chameleonic idols and a quickening trend cycle.
Few before, and likely few after, will have spent as long as a recognisable figure in the public eye, with such a reaching global impact. Like her style of reign, Her Majesty’s sartorial approach was informed by a quiet confidence and an assured sense of self that prized personal style over trends and fads. Sure, she might not have had the glamorous allure of a Hollywood star or the subversive ability to shift our notion of dress like others have done, but Her Majesty’s legacy will be a fashion journey that proves a lesson in a distinct, unwavering sense of style.
The Queen’s fashion legacy will also be marked by a savvy, often understated, means of communicating with her people, which dates back to her coming of age in a post-war Britain. Married at Westminster Abbey in November 1947, her wedding dress was assembled using duchess satin bought with ration vouchers. Of course, unlike her peers, it was Norman Hartnell that designed the 13-foot gown, but the message of her purchasing her fabric through this 'just like us' nature was one of kinsmanship not lost on a recovering Britain.
Throughout her reign, other fashion choices have needed to be more diplomatic and significant in message. Arriving in Ireland in 2011, the first British monarch to do so in 100 years, the Queen wore a very specific shade of green. Not too emerald, not too bold, it was a careful choice that didn’t assume Her Majesty to be reclaiming Ireland, but instead proved a sensitive homage in the landmark moment.
Other sartorial decisions had a more sentimental attachment. Consider her brooch for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s 2011 nuptials. From amongst her wealth of heritage jewels she chose The True Lover’s Knot, the largest in her hefty collection. Its sweet bow-like design was an emblem of the day’s significance in her life as a proud grandmother and for the line of succession.
Brooches, like dress suits, brimmed hats, patent pumps and top-handle Launer handbags, are amongst the pieces that made up Her Majesty’s uniform-like approach to her on-duty wardrobe. A dedicated Monarch, who always placed service first and foremost, it makes sense that she should treat her approach to dress with such regimented formula. It must also be noted how traditionally feminine these pieces are. The message she sent to the commonwealth and the wider world was one of feminine strength, never intimidated by the meetings of senior dignitaries her diary scheduled or falling victim to needing to dress to 'keep up with the boys.'
Now, the Queen’s style legacy has impacted nowhere more than in the wardrobes of her family members. As protocol dictates, her tiaras and jewellery are often borrowed by the family members for wedding days or state affairs, with Princess Beatrice even opting for one of granny’s dresses for her 2020 nuptials, but Her Majesty’s influence extends to the day-to-day too.
Look to the wardrobes of Duchesses Cambridge and Sussex and you’ll notice the Queen’s approach to colour permeating. A long-time fashion tool employed by Her Majesty, it continues to prove particularly useful in ensuring that royals can be spotted by those even at the farthest end of the waiting crowds. It’s clear to see that Catherine and Meghan have taken note.
The overarching message that the Queen’s wardrobe told was one of a quieter, more subtle influence. It’s long been clear that Her Majesty, who was most happy in her headscarf, Barbour and kilt in the countryside, was never as fussed on the flashier side of royal privilege as perhaps her sister, the Dior-wearing Princess Margaret, was.
For the last 20 years, Angela Kelly has been at the helm of the Queen’s wardrobe, becoming a close confidante of Her Majesty’s in the process. Yet, you can’t ever imagine the pair conspiring — and to use a modern glam squad term — to create a 'moment' throughout their time working together. As she entered her latter years the formula that worked didn’t flinch apart from moving through the rainbow. But that’s not to say Her Majesty didn’t have fun with her wardrobe.
With what was, and remains, arguably the world’s greatest dressing-up box at her disposal, there were flashes of experimentation and brilliance that hint at a bolder experimentation. Think harlequin sequins, floral turbans or diaphanous candy pink gowns and fur stoles paired with dazzling diadems and parures. But the greatest smiles and moments of clear sartorial satisfaction were when Her Majesty was buttoned up in her cardigans, her signature neat perm wrapped in an Hermes scarf and heading out into the Highlands.
Though fashion is quick to praise reincarnation, Her Majesty will be celebrated for her opposite approach. The familiarity of the hats, the quietly diplomatic choice of brooch, the shocks of colour and the sensible worn-in shoes will remain bastions of the 20th and 21st century in style, no matter what else moved quicker or louder around it. The phrase style icon is too often touted or wasted on those that have spent little more than 18 months in the public eye, but, when it comes to Her Majesty The Queen, here is a chance to use it for all its worth.
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