Style Queen: 70 years of Elizabeth II's fashion

A smiling Queen during her visit to Bury St Edmunds in 2002.

The Queen has a wonderful sense of style and colour, as this outfit shows from her visit to Bury St Edmunds in 2002. - Credit: Denise Bradley

The Queen is said to be the most photographed woman in the world, so her choice of clothes is quite fascinating. Let's Talk's fashion and beauty editor Corinne Tuddenham-Finn gives an insight.

Her governess, Marion Crawford, once said of the young queen that
“Lilibet never cared a fig” for clothes.

Whereas her sister, Princess Margaret, then Princess Diana and more recently, the Duchess of Cambridge have made their own physical beauty, personal glamour and fashionable status a key part of their public image, The Queen, by contrast, uses clothes, hats and colour to make rather formal public statements.  Head-to-toe colour ensures she stands out in a crowd, providing a ceremonial focus point.

Queen Elizabeth II’s timeless style continues to exceed our fashion expectations and as Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, she has worn every colour in the rainbow!

Princess Elizabeth was born in 1926 and we’d often see her with her younger sister, Margaret, wearing matching outfits in many of their childhood photos, and as they grew older they continued the coordinated theme.  

Princess Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth and King George VI at Sandringham in 1946

Princess Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth and King George VI at Sandringham in 1946 - such a stylish Royal Family. - Credit: EDP Library

In 1944, she turned 18, and by 1947, she was looking more grown up – and there were big changes in store for her in personal life.  It was the year she got engaged to Prince Mountbatten,  with them getting married in the November.  She wore a dress by the famous British designer, Norman Hartnell, embroidered with pearls, silver thread and crystals.  She famously used ration coupons to pay for the dress materials, since the country was still struggling in the financial aftermath of the Second World War.

When Hartnell was commissioned to make the Queen’s coronation dress in October 1952 (for the Coronation in June 1953), he had in mind his own ideas of beautiful embellishments – flowers, the stars and moon, the sky, earth and sun, but at The Queen’s insistence, the Commonwealth had to be incorporated – English roses, Welsh leeks, Irish shamrocks, Scottish thistles and Canadian maple leaves sat alongside emblems from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Pakistan, India and Ceylon.  At the age of 27, The Queen already had a talent for dressing diplomatically!  

Princess Elizabeth chatting to one of the clickers (leather cutters) at Edwards & Holmes Ltd’s fac

Post-war fashions included long gloves and a pretty hat for Princess Elizabeth, who is pictured chatting to one of the clickers (leather cutters) at Edwards & Holmes Ltd shoe factory in Norwich in June 1951. - Credit: Archant Library

By the 1950s, the trend in women’s fashion favoured much more femininity with long full skirts and cinched waists. The Queen embraced this look during her 1954 tour of Australia and throughout her world travels and royal engagements in that decade.  Very rarely had we seen the Queen in sunglasses, but we had a glimpse of her wearing them while watching her husband play cricket in 1958.

Most Read

Sleeves have always formed a strong part of the Queen’s dressing, but during the 1960s, she opted for sleeveless dresses at quite a few formal events.  But it was the 1970s that The Queen came to the fore with her attention-grabbing hats.  Do you remember when The Queen welcomed Japanese Emperor Hirohito of Japan in 1971?

In the 1970s, the fashion was less cinched and, indeed, kaftans were popular.  The Queen took this theme of the decade when she welcomed US President Jimmy Carter to Buckingham Palace in 1977 and wore a mustard yellow variation on the theme.

THE QUEEN LOCAL VISITS 11TH JULY 1977SILVER JUBILEE VISIT TO IPSWICH.THE MAYOR OF IPSWIC

The Queen wears a turban style hat on her visit to Ipswich during her Silver Jubilee tour of the country in July 1977. She is shown here with Prince Philip and the mayor of Ipswich David Myer, as they leave the Corn Exchange. - Credit: Archant

The wedding of the year in 1981 saw The Queen’s oldest son, Prince Charles, marry Diana Spencer, and the mother of the groom was dressed by Ian Thomas – one of her many dressmakers.  She wore a turquoise chiffon and silk crepe dress with short sleeves and a belted waist under a pleated overcoat.

In the 1980s, loud prints and shoulder pads were incorporated into most of everyday fashion, and The Queen had a dabble, even being seen in puffy sleeves with a particular dress she wore when she hosted a dinner aboard her beloved Royal Yacht Britannia in 1989.

But moving into the 1990s, The Queen’s style was edging towards a new era.  She essentially stuck to the one simple uniform: a bright, solid-coloured skirt suit or long coat paired with a precisely matched hat.  And now it’s become her signature look.

A beaming Queen leaving Sandringham church in 2001.

A beaming Queen in mint green with accents of blue, as she leaves Sandringham Church in 2001. - Credit: Archant

In 2002, The Queen hired Angela Kelly to be her ‘senior dresser’, who commented, “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 around.”

In 2003, we had a rare glimpse of her in trousers after she had undergone knee surgery, opting for a grey trouser suit with matching scarf and pearls.  Quite a rarity, but you might just fine some pictures online.

But The Queen has a casual side too, and every year at the Windsor Horse Show, she drops the formality and opts quite often for tweed, wax jackets and wellies that perhaps we’re used to seeing her in when she visits Sandringham.

Her ‘uniform’ isn’t complete without accessories, like her simple Launer handbags and umbrellas that match every outfit.  She reportedly owns over 200 Launder handbags, which command a price tag of around £1,500 each, but as for the umbrellas, they come in a little bit cheaper at about £15!  

The Queen in a bright orange coat and matching headscarf at King's Lynn station in 2018.

Headscarves are a favourite accessory, such as this bright design which The Queen wore on her way to catch the train from King's Lynn in 2018. - Credit: Archant

Her silk headscarves are delightful.  She’s been wearing them since the 1940s and are one of her favourite accessories.  It’s an underrated accessory we can all keep in mind that inject a pop of colour.  One of her favourite brands is Hermès, which features quite a lot of equestrian themes.

So how does The Queen choose her fashion?
To start off with, The Queen refers to her clothes as ‘costumes’. She has an entire floor dedicated to her wardrobe and clothes are brought down to her each day by her dresser.  According to Paul Burrell, the former Royal butler, “Her dresser will bring down two outfits in the morning, which are sketched with pieces of material clipped to them so that the Queen can remember whether it’s silk, cotton or wool.”


Take a guess – what’s The Queen’s favourite colour for her couture?
You’d be right if you guessed blue!  She has donned some shade of blue 29% of the time.

The Queen arriving at Bircham's St Mary's Church for a ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the

Beautiful in blue, often the choice of colour for The Queen, who is pictured here at Bircham's St Mary's Church for a ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the Cross of Sacrifice in 2006. - Credit: Matthew Usher

Did you know?

Her clothes are constructed like stage outfits. The armholes are cut extra deep so that the royal wave doesn’t cause the coat or jacket to ride up and spoil the line.

Weights are sewn into the hems of dresses if a wayward breeze is even a remote possibility.

If an occasion takes place on a lawn, The Queen will wear a colour that contrasts with green.  If she is visiting a school or a children’s centre, she wears hats which will feature flowers or stiffened silk twirls to keep the children’s attention.

The Queen has always prefers cream or black shoes so she can wear them with multiple outfits.  Brands such as Stuart Weitzman, Manolo Blahnik, Roger Vivier and Anello & Davide, provide pairs that are actually ‘worn in’ first by one of the Queen’s long time dressers with the same shoe size to ensure they’re comfortable.  The Queen circulates about 10 pairs at a time in plain black leather, black patent, white and beige leather, and three designs of evening shoe in satin, silver and gold – all hand-dyed and water-repellent.  The heel is always a reassuringly 2¼-inch chunky heel with a raised insole to give the royal size fours an added lift in the arch, so that if she’s walking over uneven surfaces, the heel will be lower.

The Queen arrives for her visit to the Fiji Exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre. Picture: DENISE BRAD

A fuchsia pink outfit for The Queen as she arrives for her visit to the Fiji Exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich in 2017. - Credit: Archant


And what happens to the Queen’s clothes when she’s finished with them?

Unlike her granddaughter-in-law, who often re-wears her wardrobe, Her Majesty is rarely seen in the same piece of clothing more than once.  And thanks to royal biographer, Brian Hoey’s book Not In Front of the Corgis, we do know exactly what does happen to her discarded outfits.  According to the author, once she has tired of them, The Queen’s clothes are donated to her dressers, who are then allowed to do one of two things with them – wear it themselves or sell it.  However, there are some rules if they opt for selling The Queen’s clothes on.  ‘If her dresser wishes to sell an item, she is not allowed to disclose any information about its former owner.  All labels and any other evidence that might point to The Queen have to be removed so that no one can trace its origin.'

The Royal Collection Trust is celebrating The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with an event running from July 7 to September 26 at Windsor Castle, where you can see the Coronation Dress and Robe of Estate designed by Sir Norman Hartnell, along with some exquisite brooches.
Visit https://www.rct.uk/ for more information. 

Front cover of June 2022 Let's Talk magazine

Corinne Tuddenham-Finn's fashion feature is in the June 2022 issue of Let's Talk magazine. - Credit: Archant

Corinne's fashion feature is in the June 2022 issue of Let's Talk magazine. To subscribe, call 020 89591173 or visit https://letstalkmagazine.co.uk/

Style chat
Listen out for Corinne Tuddenham-Finn, editor-in-chief of VOUZ! Magazine, on BBC Radio Norfolk’s mid-morning show for lively chat about  the fashion topic of the day.