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Our Rainbow Queen: Sali Hughes On Queen Elizabeth’s Style


Kate Middleton may sell out Goat, Issa or LK Bennett in a single public walkabout, Meghan Markle may rule fashion events and Google searches the world over. Their late mother-in-law, Princess Diana, may have been the most photographed clothes horse in history. But which royal family member is the greatest and most important style icon of all? Easy. 

The one who has inspired collections by Dolce & Gabbana and Richard Quinn; the badass who rocked barmaid leopard, Damien Hirst polka dots and Pucci swirls when you may still have been crawling in Pampers, who sat next to Anna Wintour in the front row at Fashion Week, and who is admired, lauded and adored by fashion idol Alessandro Michele of Gucci. Never mind the rank and file, go straight to the top: the rightful wearer of the fashion crown is none other than Queen Elizabeth II.

Yep, Britain’s longest-serving monarch – her in the antique robes and medals – is also our greatest fashion hero. Trust me. You may think of her as a country lady in sensible headscarves, but darling, they are Hermès.

Consolidated News Pictures

Perhaps you struggle to recall a single outfit, only top to toe, unfussy colour blocking, but you’d be forgetting the time she wore EU blue and yellow to the opening of parliament post-Brexit referendum, about the Barack and Michelle Obama-gifted brooch worn to her first meeting with President Trump, and about her unapologetic decision to wear neon at ninety because in beige, “no one would know who I am.”

Dressing the Queen is a military operation, and her fashion rituals make Donatella Versace and Kim Kardashian look positively low-maintenance. QEII’s signature colour-blocked outfits are planned weeks – sometimes months – in advance. Hemlines are custom-lined with tiny metal weights to stop any vulgar upskirting, royal dressers are sent far and wide to check interior decor, local dressing customs and climate for packing inspo ahead of a royal tour. 

Anwar Hussein

The Queen’s jewels (like the sublime diamond tiara loaned by Meghan for her wedding day) are priceless, sales of her beloved £1400 Launer handbags soar with every royal engagement. Fashion and designers and beauty brands drop everything at the opportunity to secure a royal warrant, knowing that a style endorsement from our Queen is the highest of hours, and well, a licence to print money.

But the most fascinating aspect of The Queen’s dressing isn’t how it looks, but what it means. In an age when reality TV stars share their every bum-lift, burp and brand deal, and blabber-mouthed politicians win both clicks and votes, how does a woman who is duty-bound to express neither emotion nor opinion let us know who she is? Her clothes, of course.

Image may contain: Elizabeth II, Human, Person, Clothing, Apparel, Hat, Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, and Sleeve

Take a look back at the Queen’s boldest fashion moments as we celebrate the royal style icon’s 96th birthday

Pink – rare in flags – shows respectful neutrality and multinational events. Trousers represent family and leisure time (The Queen has worn them for only one official engagement in her life), military tailoring, a reverence for our armed forces. Hats at the table mean she’s not stopping, and woe betide you if your lingering company elicits a Launer handbag placed firmly on the table moment (translation to staff: Abort, Abort! I’m a Monarch – Get Me Out of Here!). 

Truly, there are no coincidences, no accidents and certainly no explanations. What does she carry in that handbag? What is her shoe size? Why did she wear a Burmese ruby tiara designed to stave off illness and evil for a banquet with President Trump? We can but (hopefully) speculate. As with fellow style icon Kate Moss’ similar “Never complain, never explain” approach, The Queen’s mystery and myth keeps us watching and guessing.

Our Rainbow Queen by Sali Hughes, £9.99 (Square Peg) is available to purchase on Waterstones and Amazon.

Scroll down for some of the Queen’s greatest fashion hits…



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