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‘Power-dressing’ monarch became queen of fashion

The Queen on a visit to the Lexicon shopping centre in Bracknell in 2018 (Andrew Matthews/PA)
The Queen on a visit to the Lexicon shopping centre in Bracknell in 2018 (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The Queen’s fashion became a legendary part of her role as monarch.

Her block-coloured outfits and matching brimmed hats created a consistent style identity, recognisable from afar and famous around the globe.

The Queen on duty
The Queen in her colourful outfits (PA)

With her black patent Anello & Davide loafers, distinctive black Launer handbag and black or white gloves, Elizabeth II knew what worked and used that knowledge.

The Queen was once described as “power dressing in extremis” for using vibrant shades to make herself stand out from the crowd.

Her hats allowed her to be easily spotted but were small enough so her face was visible.

During official state visits, she would use her outfits as a diplomatic tool, often wearing gowns featuring significant symbols, colours or motifs in honour of the country she was visiting.

In Canada
The Queen in the red and white colours of the Canadian flag in Ottawa, Canada, in 2010 (John Stillwell/PA)
In a gown decorated with maple leaves
The Queen wearing a gown embellished with crystal maple leaves in Canada (John Stillwell/PA)

When she visited Ireland for the first time in 2011, it was no surprise she chose green – the Republic’s national colour – to honour her host nation.

Her look was traditional, but did evolve over time.

She adopted the style of the day, but avoided the trap of being a slave to prevailing trends.

The Queen in Ireland
The Queen and then Irish president Mary McAleese at Aras An Uachtarain in Phoenix Park, Dublin, in 2011 (PA)

Throughout her life, the Queen mainly wore couture clothing, created specifically for her by some of Britain’s greatest designers.

Sir Norman Hartnell designed for the monarch for more than 40 years.

He was known for his “sense of theatre” and use of extravagant fabrics and jewelled embroidery.

On a state visit to France
The Queen wearing a Norman Hartnell gown at the Elysee Palace in Paris in 1957 (PA)

He designed Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress in 1947, which was made of ivory duchesse satin and embroidered with 10,000 seed pearls, and her detailed Coronation gown in 1953.

He would send sketches to the Queen and a sample to approve, and she would instruct him to send her compliments to the seamstresses, saying: “Tell your girls, their work is fabulous.”

The 1950s saw her style status blossom, with cinch-waisted dresses emulating Christian Dior’s New Look.

The Queen in the 1950s
The Queen at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 1952 (PA)

Her dream team was Sir Norman for glamorous gowns in silk and tulle for evening events, and fellow couturier Sir Hardy Amies usually for his beautifully tailored full-skirted day-wear suits to emphasise her tiny waist.

Sir Hardy designed for the Queen from 1951 until his death in 2003 and paid great attention to detail, even creating gowns to complement the buildings where events were being held.

The Commonwealth Economic Conference
The Queen in a tulle evening gown with Commonwealth prime ministers and senior ministers at Buckingham Palace in 1952 (PA)

For a 1965 state banquet in West Germany, the designer made a bodice for the Queen with silver embroidery inspired by the rococo grandeur of Schloss Bruehl, a former archbishop’s palace where the dinner was held.

When the Queen chose to wear an off-the-peg dress, usually from respected British ready-to-wear label Horrockses in the 1950s, it would instantly sell out.

By the 1960s, the Queen had eschewed the New Look in favour of shift dresses and coats, and petal-covered hats.

The Queen was known for her hats
The Queen at a garden party at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, in 1967 (PA)

She also wore fur on many occasions over the years, choosing a leopard-skin coat for a day at the races in 1962.

At Sandown Park
The Queen in a leopard-skin coat at the Sandown Park race meeting in 1962 (PA)

In the 1970s, she turned to trendy geometric or bold prints for day wear, and softer lines and flowing chiffon outfits designed by Ian Thomas, a former assistant to Sir Norman, for the evening.

During the Silver Jubilee
The Queen on a walkabout in New Zealand in 1977 (Ron Bell/PA)
The Queen in 1979
The Queen in an orange gown with billowing sleeves by Ian Thomas on board the Royal Yacht Britannia in 1979 (Ron Bell/PA)

The turban became one of her signature looks of the 1970s.

The monarch in a turban
The Queen in a polka-dot turban as she opened the Jubilee Garden in London in 1977 (Ron Bell/PA)

The Queen even had a go at the shoulder-padded fad of the 1980s, and sported several pussy-bow blouses.

Meeting Pope John Paul II
The Queen with Pope John Paul II at Buckingham Palace in 1982 (Ron Bell/PA)

Others who designed for the Queen include John Anderson, who worked for the monarch between 1988 and 1996, and German tailor Karl-Ludwig Rehse from 1988.

The 1990s
The Queen at Ascot in 1990 (Adam Butler/PA)

In later years, the Queen’s outfits simplified and settled into an easily recognisable style of a bold-coloured coat with a matching silk floral dress and hat.

But occasionally she ventured away from her staple choices.

In 1999, the Queen went for a harlequin look when she wore a flamboyant glittering multi-coloured sequinned gown to the Royal Variety Show.

At the Royal Variety Performance
The Queen in her multi-coloured evening gown at the 1999 Royal Variety Performance in Birmingham (David Jones/PA)

Couturier Stewart Parvin became a favourite and began crafting clothes for the Queen in 2000.

Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall's wedding
The Queen wearing Stewart Parvin to granddaughter Zara Phillips’s wedding in Edinburgh in 2011 (Owen Humphrys/PA)

Mr Parvin is known for his elegant but simple styles, and was approached by the Queen’s personal assistant and senior dresser Angela Kelly before the Golden Jubilee in a bid to find a more contemporary approach to the monarch’s wardrobe.

He said of the Queen in 2012: “I see beautiful, wealthy young women looking in the mirror and all they see is their faults.

“The Queen looks squarely in the mirror and she likes what she sees.

“She has a confidence that transcends beauty – that’s the most fascinating thing with her.”

President Obama's state visit to UK
The Queen, in a white evening gown, with then US president Barack Obama in 2011 (PA)

Ms Kelly also became the Queen’s go-to choice for day and evening wear – sometimes using material which was given to the her when she was still Princess Elizabeth.

Ms Kelly brought a sense of glamour to the head of state in her later years.

The Diamond Jubilee celebrations
The Queen wearing a gold lame dress by Angela Kelly with trimmings of antique gold and olive lace and Swarovski crystals at the Diamond Jubilee concert (Ian West/PA)

She was not afraid to make a feature of dazzling Swarovski crystals and re-used gowns, removing decorations and adding new ones.

Ms Kelly once said: “The Queen loves clothes and is a real expert on fabrics.

“It’s not been a question of me teaching the Queen – it’s been the other way round.”

The Queen wore an Angela Kelly tweed dress and jacket in duck egg blue, embellished with tiny aquamarine Swarovski crystals, when she sat in the front row of London Fashion Week and watched a catwalk show in 2018.

Royal visit to London Fashion Week
The Queen sits next to Anna Wintour as they view Richard Quinn’s runway show at London Fashion Week in 2018 (Yui Mok/PA)

The monarch was joined by style royalty Anna Wintour, who kept her sunglasses on throughout, and Ms Kelly.

Watching the catwalk show
The Queen reacts as she watches a London Fashion Week catwalk show with Anna Wintour, second right, and Angela Kelly, far right (Yui Mok/PA)

There were also practical considerations for all dressers and designers to follow, in particular attaching tiny weights to the hems of the Queen’s dresses so they did not blow up in the wind.

Off duty, the monarch dressed for country life.

The Queen off duty
The Queen wearing wellies to watch the Duke of Edinburgh compete at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in Berkshire in 2002 (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

She favoured A-line tweed or tartan skirts and a green waxed or quilted coat, with flat brown lace-ups replacing her usual court shoes, or dark green or black wellington boots.

At the Royal Windsor Horse Show
The Queen dressed down for the Royal Windsor Horse Show (Steve Parsons/PA)

Hats were swapped for the Queen’s trademark silk scarf, knotted under the chin.