Imagine never getting it wrong. Ever. Stylistically, every day of your life, nailing it. Never feeling overdressed, underdressed or otherwise just wrongly dressed. Queen Elizabeth II’s style choices are, and have always been, faultless. Always correct, composed and confident, and though it may look relatively straightforward in terms of shape and silhouette, her attire never fails to convey a message of optimism, diplomacy, hope and stability.
That’s a lot to semaphore in a look. Sure, we’ve witnessed the occasional frill and flounce over the course of Her Majesty’s 70-year reign, but over the last decade or so the monarch, like all women with innate style, has honed hers to a winning formula. More often than not, it doesn’t deviate from an immaculately tailored dress and coat that falls below the knee, accessorized with a matching hat (striking, but not so high that it becomes difficult to maneuver out of a car, and the brim not too wide to impair visibility), a three-strand pearl necklace and heirloom brooch, smart Anello & Davide loafers, white cotton-jersey gloves and a glossy framed handbag by Launer, carried in the crook of her arm.
If the Queen’s inimitable style is consistent and somewhat simple in form, it’s anything but when it comes to her unwavering commitment to color. Hues are plucked from chalky, pretty pastels to bold paintbox brights to shimmering metallics and even a punchy palette of retina-searing verging-on-neons. And astonishingly, with her pale-peach complexion, light blue eyes and silver set curls, she suits each and every one of them.
One assumes the Queen must enjoy dressing in block color, but all are a considered choice to ensure Her Majesty, a petite 5ft 3”, stands out in a crowd of well-wishers: candyfloss pink for a royal garden party at Buckingham Palace in 2019; lemon yellow for Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding at Westminster Abbey in 2011; letterbox red at Windsor Castle in 2020 to give thanks to volunteers and key workers for their help during the pandemic; cyan blue for church on Christmas Day in 2012; and fluorescent green for Trooping The Color in 2016, a look that popped among the majority of the Royal Family, resplendent in red and gold finery but entirely blending in with Buckingham Palace’s balcony, decorated for the occasion in, well, red and gold finery. There isn’t a hue Her Majesty hasn’t worn, but then, with hundreds of engagements to attend a year and often having to change up to five times a day, variety of color is everythingThe woman responsible for the Queen’s style is trusted advisor Angela Kelly, who joined the royal household in 1994 as one of Her Majesty’s dressers (she sold her washing machine to buy a smart outfit for her interview at Buckingham Palace) before working her way up to Her Majesty’s personal assistant, advisor and curator (of the Queen’s jewelry, insignias and wardrobe). Kelly, the straight-talking Liverpudlian daughter of a seamstress, is probably second only to the late Duke of Edinburgh when it comes to offering an honest opinion on Her Majesty’s style choices. Once the Queen asked Prince Philip what he thought of a printed jacquard fabric intended for a dress and he quipped, “Is that the new material for the sofa?” Kelly writes in her memoir, The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe. By 2001, Kelly—who is also tasked with wearing-in Her Majesty’s shoes, since they share the same size—was designing the Queen’s outfits as her first in-house designer.Beyond made-to-measure, there’s some clever trickery built into all of this. Weights are discreetly sewn into hemlines if more than a gentle breeze is forecasted, any heavily beaded dresses will often have extra lining at the back for cushioning (dense embroideries are uncomfortable to sit in) and while the choice of fabric must always be regal, suitable for the occasion, climate and the time of the year, perhaps most importantly it must be immune to creasing. Every fabric is rigorously twisted before purchase to check it can withstand wrinkles.
Fabrics that make the grade are collected and cherished over the years and stored in a stockroom on the Dressers’ Floor at Buckingham Palace, which Kelly regularly revisits for inspiration. The golden dress worn at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert 10 years ago—and inspired by the golden figure on top of the Queen Victoria Memorial in front of the Palace—was made from a fabric purchased in 1961. Other fabrics have been stored here since Her Majesty was a princess. It’s ironic that some of the world’s best designers have only in recent seasons discovered “deadstock” in their drive to claim greater sustainability credentials, but this kind of thriftiness and approach to style has long defined the Queen. Remember, her Norman Hartnell wedding gown was purchased using clothing ration coupons. Granted, she received extra coupons from the government, but the point is it was a show of stealth and camaraderie, not excess and status. It’s a fine line Her Majesty has masterfully balanced her entire life.
Before clothes are made, the Queen approves every sketch and fabric sample. She has a keen interest in fabrics, in particular a fondness for Singaporean silk. It’s understood that during visits to Singapore, local tradespeople will bring their wares to the airport for her arrival. The Queen will browse and make her selection and purchases will be collected on the return home. Said to be incredibly decisive, Her Majesty rarely changes her mind about an outfit that she has previously agreed to. The monarch even does her own make-up every day and for every event (the filming of the Queen’s Christmas message is the only exception).
“Her Majesty is always thrifty and likes her clothes to be adapted and recycled as much as possible,” writes Kelly. “Typically, the lifespan of an outfit can be up to around 25 years.” After two or three public appearances, designs are altered or they become relegated to off-duty wear. Much like most of us, in fact, in the way that something will often start off as “for best” before it gradually loses desirability as it clocks up years and wear; unlike most of us, though, I imagine it’s harder to lay claim to never getting it wrong.