Queen Elizabeth, fashion icon? yes.


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An earlier version of this report incorrectly said Queen Elizabeth II died on Friday. She died on Thursday.

For decades now, it’s been relatively easy to dress up – for Halloween, perhaps, or for a laugh at any royal wedding or jubilee watch party – as the Queen of England. All one needs, according to this conventional wisdom, is a solid and brightly colored boxy dress shirt with a sweater on the left shoulder, a matching hat (or, for extra credit, an umbrella) and white gloves, with a handbag gently swinging over one. Arm. And maybe a white wig.

Queen Elizabeth, who died on Thursday at the age of 96 after more than 70 years of reign, had a uniform. During her early years on the throne, in her 20s and 30s, the young queen was known to wear practical but elegant clothes. She wears clean lines and full skirts for formal events and smartly tailored dresses and skirts day in and day out, never daring to pry her neck and cinch in at the waist. And in later years, of course, her modest, traditional aesthetic taste transferred to what we now know as her usual public dress, which, as many suggest, conveyed the consistency and stability of the Crown, even as United. The kingdom changed dramatically in the 20th and 21st centuries.

But the Queen’s clothing has consistently been imbued with deeper meanings, seen as conveying support or love for other countries and communities, or asserting power when necessary. And since Elizabeth’s reign began in 1952, before women were regularly seen at the highest levels of government in the Western world, she helped set standards for women’s politically-related attire.

Her public image of Queen Elizabeth is “generally smart, clean, which I think is a 1950s thing.” Philip Mansell, a fellow at the Institute of Historical Studies in London and author of “To Be Softened,” a book about how rulers control their public image, said.

The Queen’s style at home has changed a bit, Mansell said: “In her last photograph, when she greeted Liz Truss, the last Prime Minister, she was dressed simply in a woolen dress and woolen shirt and woolen jacket, which is typical of a certain generation of Englishmen.” People are “just like every aunt or mother.”

But in public and later years, “I think she always wanted to be two things: reassuring and recognizable,” Mansell says. Being an instantly recognizable pillar of color was “a way of trying to calm people down despite all the changes coming.”

In an email to The Washington Post, Malcolm Barnard, author of “Fashion as Communication,” wrote: “A style of dress embodies values ​​that are homogenous or consistent with what one assumes to be the values ​​of the ruling class—resistance to change, a desire for continuity, dominance. Continuity, for example.

Of course, Queen Elizabeth strictly adheres to a formal dress code for royal events. Once, in 2002, a BBC cameraman was chastised for failing to wear a hat and tails at a Royal Asco event. According to Mansell, the elegant but modest daytime dress code followed by Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle, Camilla Parker Bowles and others during their time as royals is a tradition that dates back to Elizabeth’s mother and grandmother.

It was Princess Diana who tried to break the mold, Mansell added. Her style, especially when she was now married to King Charles III, subtly deviated from the royal formula, sometimes incorporating more masculine or feminine touches. Double-breasted military-style jackets and the occasional waistcoat.

Nevertheless, Queen Elizabeth, who has been described as “the link between the end of empire and the beginning of global liberal democracy”, helped to solidify the current uniform of powerful women during her time on the throne. Boxy, mid-length skirts are still seen in US government buildings and on women in politics in the West. And Mansell pointed out that the UK’s first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, wore “a bit of formal clothes, like the Queen’s clothes, and always a handbag”.

The Queen also helped uphold a powerful tradition of “fashion diplomacy.” Bethan Holt As he wrote in his 2022 book, “The Queen: 70 Years of Majesty,” the royal is known for incorporating small, thoughtful touches that nod to local culture when she travels. In the year She wore a gown embellished with over 2,000 tiny silk blouses.

at dinner in In the year In the year Scotland In 1999, when the Scottish Parliament was established.

And as Mansell points out, she also occasionally chooses colors that assert her power. The head of the Roman Catholic Church in the United Kingdom wore red when she met with the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, “to say that she was like a saint and a saint in her eyes.”

The Queen’s habit of talking about small details has ended in the political world. Princess Diana In Japan in 1986, she wore a red polka-dot dress, an obvious homage to the country’s sunrise flag. First Lady Jill Biden wore a royal blue dress with sunflowers in March of this year to show her support for Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. Madeleine Albright picked her stakes strategically when she served as US Secretary of State. And in the UK Supreme Court President Brenda Hale made headlines in 2019 when she wore a spider-shaped sweater to deliver her ruling on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s prorogation. Whose song, ‘Boris the Spider’,” writes Barnard, while others think of Walter Scott’s “tangled web of lies and deceit” in his 1808 poem ‘Marmion.’

Madeleine Albright’s ‘Pin Diplomacy’ is at the State Department Museum.

Of course, a distinct culture of fashion diplomacy also prevails: wearing clothes designed by a member of a particular community is a sign of respect or support. In the year During her 2009 visit to India, First Lady Michelle Obama wore a cream-colored halter gown and skirt designed by Indian-American designers Naeem Khan and Rachel Roy. In the year During her visit to the United Kingdom in 2019, Ivanka Trump wore a collection of British designers such as Safia, Burberry and Alessandra Rich. The tradition can be traced back to Mary Todd Lincoln, who wore dresses designed by former enslaved designer Elizabeth Keckley.

Queen Elizabeth, on the other hand, almost always wears the work of British designers; This tradition dates back hundreds of years to monarchs like King Louis XIV, who Mansell says was “obsessed with launching the French fashion industry.” Therefore, to make it better than Venetian lace, he wore French silk, French embroidery, French lace, and had the ladies of the court make it.

Credit: Queen Elizabeth II has done her job.

The Queen, after all, sits atop a monarchy known for colonialism and conquest, and her stance on British-made designs is consistent with the British Empire’s history of asserting its own dominance.

Still, according to Mansell, the Queen’s clothes have not typically been controversial. They were admired both in the UK and outside the UK. For example, “Many French people liked her clothes because they were not French. They were different,” says Mansell. “They represented Britain.”


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