Her bright suits and bold hats put the Duchess of Cambridge’s nude court shoes in the shade. The Queen may have turned 90, but there is little doubt she is still the ultimate style icon, as a new exhibition at Buckingham Palace from tomorrow reveals.
Her Majesty wears jewel-coloured outfits to ensure she can be seen by her subjects - and even uses them as a tool of diplomacy. Who knew that she dresses to echo the flag of the country she is visiting so as to flatter her hosts, and sometimes even has their national emblem sewn into them?
Fashioning A Reign: 90 Years Of Style From The Queen’s Wardrobe shows off almost 80 of her outfits and 62 of her iconic hats. Here, we take a look at a glorious selection...
THE ONE-SHOULDERED DRESS
Made from duchesse satin, lace, sequins, diamante and beads, this asymmetric crinoline-skirted gown of pale yellow and turquoise - made by Sir Norman Hartnell, her favourite couturier of the time - is a perfect example of the Queen’s Fifties fashions
Made from duchesse satin, lace, sequins, diamante and beads, this asymmetric crinoline-skirted gown of pale yellow and turquoise - made by Sir Norman Hartnell, her favourite couturier of the time - is a perfect example of the Queen’s Fifties fashions.
Worn on a state visit to the Netherlands in 1958, it features a one-shouldered bodice, the line of which is continued by a gathered panel of satin across the skirt.
The dress is appliqued with tape lace forming stylised floral motifs and is richly embroidered with heavy beading.
This, says the Royal Collection, is another perfect example of the Queen’s unique championing of British couture.
THE INVESTITURE OUTFIT
An ensemble that bears all the hallmarks of Sixties fashion: the princess-line coat hides a tunic as well as an underdress.
Made in a striking pale primrose yellow, the silk outfit also includes pearls, bugle beads and embroidery on the cuffs, collar and hem.
Coat, hat and tunic worn by The Queen for the Investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales in 1969, alongside the Prince of Wales's Coronet
The most interesting thing about it, however, is the matching hat made by a favourite milliner of the time, Simone Mirman.
Her Majesty took inspiration from the medieval age, which suited the surroundings of Caernarvon Castle, where the Queen was investing her son and heir, Prince Charles, as Prince of Wales in July 1969.
The section at the back of the hat represents a ‘caul’, a form of head-dress covering the hair and hung down over the neck.
‘The philosophy behind the design is that the Queen would largely be seen from behind as she placed the coronet on the prince’s head, so having good design from the back was just as important as the outfit looking successful from the front,’ says exhibition curator Caroline de Guitaut.
THE OFFICIAL PORTRAIT GOWN
Made by Sir Norman Hartnell, the Queen wore this gown in 1956 for a series of official portraits taken by Baron Studios
With its crinoline-style skirt, nipped-in waist and sweetheart neckline, this gown - a highlight of the exhibition - is a perfect example of the Queen’s style in the Fifties.
Made by Sir Norman Hartnell, the Queen wore it in 1956 for a series of official portraits taken by Baron Studios.
It was fashioned from oyster-coloured duchesse satin and gold lamé, embellished with diamante, pearls, sequins and beads in tones of gold and silver.
‘This is about beauty, about the best of British, about elegance,’ says Caroline de Guitaut. ‘It is another superb example of British couture, which the Queen champions.’
GOWN FIT FOR A HISTORIC VISIT
Designed by Savile Row’s Hardy Amies, the Queen first wore this turquoise dress in 1965 when she became the first British head of state to visit Germany after World War II. It is made from organza silk, sequins, silver thread, beads and pearls and was worn to an official state banquet.
The Queen first wore this turquoise dress in 1965 when she became the first British head of state to visit Germany after World War II
The ornate embroidery over the bodice was inspired by the Rococo interiors of the palaces at Schloss Bruhl, which Amies researched prior to the Queen’s visit.
Her Majesty loved the dress so much so that (with her usual eye for economy), she wore it again for an official portrait by Cecil Beaton in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace in 1968.
THE QUEEN’S WEDDING DRESS
When commissioned to design Princess Elizabeth’s 1947 wedding dress, Sir Norman Hartnell set out to produce ‘the most beautiful dress I had made so far’. His magnificent creation is in ivory silk, decorated with crystals and 10,000 seed pearls.
Sir Norman Hartnell's magnificent creation is in ivory silk, decorated with crystals and 10,000 seed pearls
the silkworms used to manufacture the fabric were brought from China, rather than Japan or Italy, which had so recently been enemy countries, and the gown incorporated a 15ft star-patterned train, woven in Braintree, Essex, and inspired by the famous Renaissance painting of Primavera by Botticelli, symbolising rebirth and growth after World War II.
The accompanying shoes are tiny. Her shoe size has never been officially revealed, but is believed to be a two-and-a-half to three.
THE CORONATION DRESS
The Queen’s 1953 Normal Hartnell-designed Coronation dress is regarded as a tour de force of British design.
The Coronation Dress of Queen Elizabeth II designed by Norman Hartnell in 1953, which took eight months to design and create
The duchesse satin gown, which took eight months to design and create, features national and Commonwealth floral emblems in gold and silver thread, encrusted with seed pearls, sequins and crystals. It had to be reinforced to support the weight of the embroidery. Unbeknown to the Queen, Hartnell added a four-leaf shamrock on the left of the skirt for luck, and was delighted to see her hand brush it as she walked into Westminster Abbey.
‘The Queen wanted a dress that would stand up to the occasion - it was the first coronation fully televised - and the dress she chose was the eighth of nine he sketched. It is timeless,’ said exhibition curator Caroline de Guitaut.
THE QUEEN’S JUBILEE STYLE
One section of the exhibition is devoted to an example of the Queen’s style from each decade of her life - and this green Hartnell silk dress is typical of the Seventies.
Sir Norman Hartnell designed this green and white floral silk day dress, which was worn by Her Majesty The Queen during the Silver Jubilee tour in 1977, marking 25 years of her reign
Along with a matching silk and straw Simone Mirman hat, it was worn by Queen on several occasions during her Silver Jubilee tour in 1977, when she travelled the length and breadth of the United Kingdom before heading overseas.
The soft silhouette, bow-tie neck and floral print silk are all hallmarks of Seventies design.
‘There is a strong print, and the dress is made of lightweight silk for the sake of practicality,’ observes the curator of the exhibition..
THAT OLYMPIC DRESS
Among the most globally recognisable outfits on show is the dress worn by the Queen at the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony.
Among the most globally recognisable outfits on show is the dress worn by the Queen at the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony
The gown was designed by the Queen’s senior dresser, Angela Kelly, and made from silk in a peachy-pink colour, embellished with lace, sequins and beads, with matching feather fascinator.
Caroline de Guitaut says: ‘The philosophy behind the design was to have a colour that wouldn’t in any way be representative of any of the countries participating in the Games and also to have striking, strong design lines, so the illusion of the Queen supposedly jumping [out of a plane at the ceremony] wouldn’t be lost.’
Fashioning A Reign can be seen at Buckingham Palace from tomorrow to October 2. For ticket details, visit royalcollection.org.uk