Like the three-strand pearl necklace, block-coloured outfits and Launer London handbag, Queen Elizabeth II’s trademark curly crop was central to her signature style. In fact, her hair was arguably the most recognisable feature she presented, given how its perfectly symmetrical shape has appeared across our currency, stamps and royal memorabilia throughout the last seven decades of her reign. This unwavering consistency was steadfast dedication to a look.
“She’s been constant in all our lives and her hair has been equally as constant,” Ben Cooke, a leading London hairstylist – who works with members of the royal family – tells me. “It makes her even more iconic.”
Cooke says that the Queen’s haircut (which was the work of her personal hairdresser, Ian Carmichael, a senior stylist at the Trevor Sorbie salon in Covent Garden) was, technically speaking, “a long, round layer” – which “means all of the hair is the same length all over”. Then, to style it, “the Queen had a classic ‘shampoo and set’”. After washing, with small rollers specifically placed using what’s known as an ‘Italian boy’ technique, an identical pattern was created time and again as her hair dried.
“It’s very 1940s old Hollywood – Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, they all had sets,” he says. “The next generation moved on to blow-dries, so you didn’t really see those shapes anymore.” Except, of course, on the Queen. Always. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, when lockdowns prevented Carmichael from visiting the palace, her hairstyle remained consistent – both behind the scenes and for virtual public appearances.
It was Angela Kelly, the Queen’s former personal assistant and dresser, who stepped in during this time to play hairdresser. In her book The Other Side Of The Coin: The Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe, she detailed her experiences of doing Her Majesty's hair during the pandemic. Extracts shared via Hello! reveal: "From March 2020 onwards I washed the Queen's hair every week, set and styled it, and even trimmed it when needed.” To alleviate the pressure, Her Majesty generously guided her. "The Queen was so kind, as she advised me on the very specific way to put the rollers in."
Having become a public figurehead at such an early age, inheriting the throne at just 25 years old in 1952, I wonder if the monarch was acutely aware of her image carrying symbolic weight from then on. Perhaps she sacrificed the desire to adapt her beauty look, knowing that being a public servant ultimately came primary to personal expression. Or perhaps the former princess, who became our beloved Queen, cherished her signature style as much as the nation came to. “Often, the hairstyle you have in your twenties and thirties can stay with you, Cooke notes, “and slowly evolves, depending on the individual”. He’s right – though it’s rare to find consistency quite like Her Majesty's.
Some elements of its evolution came via volume changes: “If you go back to the 1960s and 1980s it was a little bigger in shape, and recently it was maybe shorter, which perhaps meant less time under a dryer,” Cooke notes. And, of course, there was her hair’s transformation in colour, from chocolate brown to slate grey and eventually pure white. This transition first happened around 1990, a time when covering natural greys with dye was in vogue. “Colouring became much more of a thing, but now we've got to the stage where it's flipped back as people are owning their greys,” says Cooke. Perhaps the Queen’s choice to show her natural hair colour was simply a practical one, as much as a way she remained true to herself. But to some, this nonconformity – opting out of trends, as she always has done – was symbolic.
Her hair says more than ‘quintessentially Queen’. “I think if you were to go back and compare her hairstyle to someone like Margaret Thatcher's, which was more solid, the Queen’s had a softness to it, with texture. You could see more of a curl rather than that very sort of helmet-y hair that was much harder.” Thatcher’s signature style read ‘business’, but the Queen didn’t need to demonstrate her power through her hair. “It had a nice blend of uniformity but with a bit of softness. And that softness just made it more chic.” This is beautifully reflective of how as a female head of state – often in a male-dominated landscape, especially in the early days of her reign – the Queen owned her femininity unapologetically. It’s a statement that many women who watched the monarch, me included, recognise the value in.
This was also seen in her make-up choices, and as she became known as ‘the Queen of colour’ for her joy-sparking outfits (worn when appropriate), her love of lipstick was also famous. Glimpses of the Queen reapplying her lippie in public led to it being known she favoured the Elizabeth Arden Beautiful Colour Moisturising Lipstick in a happy pink hue. Indeed, Elizabeth Arden held a Royal Warrant to supply products to the Queen, including her favourite skincare and cosmetics as well as the brand’s newest launches.
Clarins, too, was a Royal Warrant holder, suppling the Queen with products, “together with providing a high level of personal service,” they tell me. It’s said that the Queen even commissioned the brand to create a shade of lipstick to match her coronation robes for her ceremony back in 1953 (though this is not something the brand could confirm).
As seen with her confident reapplication while on duty, the Queen nearly always did her own make-up. According to Kelly, aside from her annual Christmas address when professional make-up artist Marilyn Widdess worked with the Queen, Her Majesty would frequently make herself up. Speaking to People in 2021 about the much loved ‘Queen’s Speech’, Kelly said: “You might be surprised to know that this is the only occasion when Her Majesty does not do her own make-up.” For these moments she could often be seen sporting a more festive shade of red lipstick. Not only did this speak to her love of bright colour, but it signalled cheer and optimism.
Over recent decades her beauty look has become so cherished that this year, as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, a make-up collection was curated in her honour by famed British make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury, who received an MBE for services to the beauty and cosmetics industry from the Queen in 2018.
Her brand’s Platinum Jubilee Collection featured three of Tilbury’s popular lipsticks (including “the forever flawless matte rosy-pink, The Queen”) in a limited-edition crimson red velvet make-up bag, “so everyone, everywhere, can look, feel and glow like a queen”. As the official beauty partner of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Pageant, the brand paid tribute to Her Majesty at the event.
“Earlier this year we celebrated the timeless beauty, grace and dedication of Her Majesty The Queen at her Platinum Jubilee,” Tilbury wrote on Instagram in light of the monarch’s passing, “and we hold the memory of that moment close to our hearts, as we navigate the immense sadness and loss we all feel today”.
It’s this “beauty, grace and dedication” Tilbury speaks of that’s so representative for me of Queen Elizabeth’s monumental reign. Her Majesty’s commitment to her iconic look was like her commitment to service. Faithful and relentless, to the end.
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