From luxurious silk gowns to scarves and wellies, Queen Elizabeth II’s style changed a lot during her 70-year reign. The Queen specially crafted her unique style to help her win over a crowd, and even communicate a secret language! In more recent times we often saw the Queen in colorful garbs to match every occasion. That style evolved over the decades. Let’s take a look back at the Queen’s fashion during her 70+ year reign.
An unexpected princess
Originally, Elizabeth was never meant to be a Queen – nor was her father meant to be a King. Her uncle became King Edward VIII in 1936 but abdicated the throne just months later, at which time Elizabeth’s father was thrust into power as King – a role he never anticipated he would have. Elizabeth was 10 years old when her father was coronated.
Even as a child, Elizabeth was known to be dignified and stern while her younger sister Margaret was the fun one – which was reflected in how they dressed. In true royal style, the princesses were schooled by a governess at Buckingham Palace – studying the essentials like literature and math, but also many vital lessons for future monarchs.
From ballgowns to bunkers
The young Princess Elizabeth was 13 years old when war broke out in Europe in 1939. Overnight, she and countless other children in England grew into adults who yearned to protect their country. Throughout the war, Elizabeth and her sister Margaret tended to victory gardens and observed rationing.
When the princess turned 18 in 1944, she enlisted in the Auxiliary Transport Service, the women’s division of the British military. Her father King George insisted that she would be given no special rank or treatment. Elizabeth learned how to be a mechanic, tending to army vehicles and ambulances – a skill she supposedly maintained throughout her 70-year reign.
The Royal Wedding
Much of Queen Elizabeth’s style, especially as a young woman, was influenced by her experience coming of age during World War Two. As a teenager, her life as a Princess became less opulent and more practical – and her wedding gown perfectly encapsulates both these aspects. The dress, designed by British couturier Norman Hartnell, was made from Duchesse satin purchased with clothing ration coupons.
Hartnell claims that Botticelli’s painting “Primavera” – symbolizing the coming of spring-inspired his design. The spring theme was especially fitting for a nation that had just emerged from the war, making the Royal Wedding a symbol of peacetime and hope.
A lavish coronation
Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation marked the beginning of a new era for England and the rest of the Commonwealth, but it also signaled the start of a new life for the young queen. Hartnell once again was tasked with designing the coronation gown for the Queen. His design included a luxurious silk material embellished with intricate beadwork which included the four flowers representing the four nations of the United Kingdom.
The Imperial Robe was worn over the Queen’s shoulders during the coronation ceremony. The robe weighs 15lbs, is over six meters long, and is trimmed with beautiful Canadian ermine fur. The robe took 3,500 hours and 12 seamstresses to complete.
Norman Hartnell – The king of royal fashion
If we had to name the most prolific Royal fashion designer throughout the Queen’s 70-year reign, no one would come close to Norman Hartnell. Hartnell clothed Elizabeth for nearly all of her most important moments, even before she was Queen. Her 1947 wedding gown, coronation gown, and countless other stunning dresses in the Queen’s wardrobe were all designed by Hartnell.
Hartnell also designed clothing for the glamourous Hollywood stars of the ’50s and ’60s, including Elizabeth Taylor and Vivien Leigh.
The Queen, up close and personal
During a royal visit to Australia in 1970, the Queen wore a yellow frock with a stunning beaded headpiece while making history as the first-ever British monarch to break tradition and “walkabout” the crowds of admirers. Now a common practice for working Royal family members, walkabouts allow the Royals to meet with their subjects in close proximity.
The Queen almost always wore yellow while visiting Australia, a nod to one of the country’s official colors.
Royalty off duty
The Queen had her off-duty uniform down to a science. Whether she was attending an outdoor event, taking the corgis for a walk, or riding one of her eight horses – you could always find her in a silk headscarf, khaki-colored raincoat, and – depending on the rainy English weather – a pair of black wellies.
What was she thinking?
The Queen turned heads in a brightly colored sequin ensemble in 1999. The array of neon colors, gold handbag, and bright pink lipstick seemed outside the Queen’s comfort zone.
Even if the gown didn’t land Queen Elizabeth in the night’s best-dressed category, it was amazing to see even the primmest of ladies take a fashion risk! This event was the first and last time the eye-catching gown saw the light of day – the Queen later favored classic monocolored dresses.
“You have to be seen to be believed”
As the Queen matured, her sense of style became increasingly simple. At nearly every public event since the early 2000s, you could bet the Queen would be sporting a monochromatic ensemble complete with a coat-dress, gloves, and matching hat. According to the Queen herself, she chose to wear bright colors and solid fabrics to be more visible to her fans and royal subjects.
One royal expert even shared one of the Queen’s favorite fashion mottos: “You have to be seen to be believed.”
Will and Kate’s Royal Wedding
The Queen sported a cheerful yellow ensemble for the wedding of her grandson Prince William and Kate Middleton. Angela Kelly, the Queen’s clothing designer, created the hat and matching coat dress. She adorned the outfit with the Queen Mary Lover’s Knot brooch.
Made in the 19th-century, the Lovers Knot was acquired by Queen Mary in 1932 alongside a matching diamond sautoir, earrings, and a choker that Kate Middleton now wears as a bracelet.
Faux fur, faux pas
In 2019, a spokesperson for the Queen announced that for the first time in history, a British monarch will give up fur for a more ethical alternative. Angela Kelly, one of the Queen’s favorite clothing designers, shared that any new clothing made for the Queen would use faux fur – a win for animal activists everywhere!
Let’s not forget that purse
The Queen’s most iconic accessory wasn’t a tiara or eccentric hat, it was actually her iconic collection of over 200 Launer handbags! Not only did these bags help keep essentials like lipstick and reading glasses nearby, but the Queen also used her bags to secretly communicate with staff at social events.
If Queen Elizabeth moved the bag from her left arm to her right while chatting with someone, it meant she wanted to end the conversation and move on to the next thing. Placing the bag on the floor meant she needed to be saved from an uncomfortable interaction immediately while placing it on the table during a meal meant she wanted to wrap up the event within five minutes – we guess the secret was let out of the bag!
She was still fabulous at 96
To mark her 70 years as monarch, Queen Elizabeth II commissioned a special brooch that made an appearance at the Commonwealth Nations Globe lighting ceremony as part of her Platinum Jubilee celebrations. The brooch consists of a stunning 18-carat white gold and platinum setting, embedded with 97 brilliant-cut diamonds and seven larger, fancy-cut diamonds.
The design is a circular shape that featured four important flowers to the Queen. The rose represents England, the thistle represents Scotland, the shamrock represents Ireland, the daffodils represent Wales, and finally lilies of the valley – a touching nod to her favorite flowers which were featured in her coronation bouquet 7o years ago.