Queen Elizabeth II the fashion icon – from glamorous princess to block brights
Princess Elizabeth ascended to the throne and became the Queen of England and ruler of much of the free world in June 1953. She remains the UK’s longest serving monarch, celebrating her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
Throughout her reign the Queen has cleverly used her wardrobe to convey an image of stately world leader, famously aided by couturiers Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies .
Interestingly in those early years, such was her popularity, what she wore each day was anticipated as much as the Duchess of Cambridge’s outfits are today.
Norman Hartnell was the designer commissioned to create her coronation and wedding gowns and subsequently many of the elaborate dresses that she wore to glamorous state occasions.
Hardy Amies primarily took care of Her Majesty’s formal daytime wardrobe.
Over the years the Queen has become famous for wearing head to toe block brights with matching hats. Thanks to her love of pearls, pristine white gloves, Launer handbags and headscarves, her style has become iconic.
The ultimate tribute to the Queen’s style came, when Italian design duo Dolce & Gabbana based an entire collection around her signature look for their Fall 2013 catwalk presentation.
Her wedding gown
Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip on 20 November 1947 at Westminster Abbey in London. She wore an ivory silk dress designed by Norman Hartnell, assisted by one head seamstress and her three young assistants.
The gown was inspired by Botticelli’s painting of Primavera and was embroidered with 10,000 white seed pearls, silver thread, sparkling crystals and transparent appliqué tulle embroidery. A 13-foot train was attached at the shoulders and a silk tulle veil covered the Princess’ face. The satin bridal shoes were created by Edward Rayne.
The fairy tale gown was made all the more impressive by the fact that it was made while the country was still suffering from the financial aftermath of World War II and even the princess had to adhere to ration regulations.
In a moving display of patriotism, dozens of engaged girls from around the country sent in their wedding dress coupons from their own ration books. While it was later revealed that the government did contribute financially to the cost of the gown, it was a heart-warming story that reflected the mood of the nation.
Norman Hartnell was unable to find enough seed pearls in England to cover the gown so he flew to the .S in search of more. Upon arriving back in the Heathrow’s customs line, he had to declare “10,000 seed pearls for the Princess Elizabeth’s wedding dress” and promptly had to pay tax on them.
Not without drama, on the morning of the wedding the Princess’ tiara snapped but thankfully the court jeweller, who was standing by, was rushed to his workshop and managed to fix it in time. Princess Elizabeth did her own make-up for the wedding, a tradition followed by Kate Middleton , when she married her grandson Prince William 54 years later.
The Coronation gown
The Queen’s coronation took place on 2 June 1953 and the gown took eight months to make. Intricately embroidered, it featured emblems of the countries of the United Kingdom and the other states within the Commonwealth including the English Tudor rose, which was embroidered in very pale pink silk, with pearls, gold and silver bullion, and rose diamante.
The gown also incorporated the Scots thistle, Welsh leek, Irish Shamrock, Canadian maple leaf and Australian wattle, New Zealand sliver fern, South African protea, lotus flowers for India and Ceylon and Pakistan’s wheat, cotton and jute.
The silk used to make the gown was obtained from Lady Hart Dyke’s silk farm at Lullingstone Castle. The dress required the efforts of at least three dressmakers, six embroideresses and the Royal School of Needlework, responsible for the embroidery worked in gold bullion thread. The hand woven Robe of State of Crimson Velvet was attached to the shoulders of the gown. Made using Lullingstone Castle silk it was made by Ede and Ravenscroft of London.
After the coronation, the gown was worn again when The Queen opened their parliaments in New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
Her early years as Queen
When the world first cast eyes on their new queen, she was wearing a full skirted 1950s dress that was a couple of inches below the knee. Elizabeth had returned to London upon hearing the news of her father’s death and was unprepared for the world’s gaze.
While the length of her skirt had been deemed appropriate when she was a princess, it suddenly came under scrutiny. Elizabeth was scolded by her mother, who did not approve of her hemlines.
However, when the Queen next appeared in public her dress length remained the same. Far from relenting to her mother, she simply weighted down her hemlines to avoid being caught off guard by a sudden gust of wind. Her hemlines remained unwavered for the following few decades.
Interestingly it is rumoured that the Queen similarly objected to the Duchess of Cambridge’s hemlines in her early years of marriage to Prince William, but thus far, her objections seem to have been ignored.
The Commonwealth tour 1953
It was when the Queen was cast onto the world stage during the royal commonwealth tour in 1953 that her image was honed to perfection. The royal tour not only marked the debut of the new Queen but it came at a time when the British Empire was perceived to be fragmenting, with the eruption of independence movements in South Africa and the Middle East, and the growing territorial dispute with Spain over the future legal status of Gibraltar.
The tour was seen to offer the possibility of rousing continued loyalty to the British Imperial Royal family, and indirectly to Britain. A lot was riding on the new Queen’s shoulders.
Each outfit was meticulosly planned and great efforts were made to please her hosts by incorporating local emblems for which ever country she was visiting where ever possible.
A bluish grey silk organza gown, designed by Hardy Amies, planned for the Queen’s banquet in Halifax was embroidered with Mayflowers, the official symbol of Nova Scotia. Amies also designed a matching stole. Fast forward to modern day, and we all know that the Duchess of Cambridge has delayed this tactic on her royal tours, always to great effect.
The tour required in excess of a 100 outfits. The Queen wore a gown embroidered with wattle, the national flower of Australia, for a state banquet in Sydney.
The tour established the Queen’s regal look that comprised of an array of ornate beaded and embroidered gowns in an array of different colours and fabrics. They all had fitted bodices and enormous pouffed skirts, and were made of sumptuous silk fabrics. The fact that she has already given birth to two children but maintained her 1950’s silhouette drew admiration and praise.
When we envisage the Queen today, we are instantly reminded of her love of bright block colours. For the past decade her looks have been designed by designer, dress maker and milliner Angela Kelly, who has served as Personal Assistant and Senior Dress to Her Majesty since 2002.
Angela works hard researching the venues for The Queens official engagements to ensure that she’s always dressed appropriately. She’s also responsible for deciding on the appropriate use of colour, that we now know and love The Queen for.
Talking about her close relationship with the Queen, Angela told The Telegraph : “We are two typical women. We discuss clothes, make-up, jewellery. We say, ‘Would this piece of jewellery look nice with that outfit?’, and things like that…We [the royal dressers] are not treated like flunkies. It’s not like that. The Queen treats us with real respect…”
For the wedding of Prince William, the Queen wore a hand sewn double crepe coat coat and matching dress, in a pale yellow hue that was hand sewn with beads at the neck in the shape of the suns rays.
Angela also designed all the outfits that the Queen wore for her Diamond Jubilee celebrations .
“I love the Queen and everything about her… I adore her – but then, so does everyone else. She is not ‘my’ Queen, she is everyone’s and so I have to share her. Once she has chosen something to wear, I just want her to look good in it. I love seeing the faces of the public when they meet the Queen, and when she gives them that special smile. It makes me feel so proud of her.”
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