> Zed Book Club / The Queen: 70 Years of Majestic Style

One of author Bethan Holt's favourite Royal looks is this lime-green suit, worn by Queen Elizabeth II on her 90th birthday in 2016, proving "women her age no longer needed to fade into the background." Photo: John Stillwell/AFP/Getty Images

> Buzz

The Queen: 70 Years of Majestic Style

After researching seven decades of the monarch's style choices, British fashion journalist Bethan Holt says her favourite royal designers are Norman Hartnell and Angela Kelly / BY Leanne Delap / June 30th, 2022


The Queen’s fashion staples – hat and handbag, brooch and monochromatic coat-and-dress combo –offer an unchanging image, save for the bold colour palette of the day. But, in fact, Elizabeth II’s image has been a slow and steady transformation from princess to icon, with clear-eyed decisions about how to adapt to dramatically shifting fashion trends. In The Queen: 70 Years of Majestic Style, British fashion journalist Bethan Holt traces her journey, calling it stoic and cautious, yet dazzling and majestic.

Holt, the fashion news and features director at The Telegraph and author of 2021’s The Duchess of Cambridge: A Decade of Modern Style, estimates the Queen has worn some 10,000 official outfits. To do this, she has had to depend on a series of designers to help interpret the trends of the day.

Bethan Holt

 

In an interview from London, where Holt was on maternity leave, she says the Queen “has always made very savvy wardrobe decisions.” When asked whether the 96-year-old monarch has always chosen the right guides, she singles out one British designer from each end of the Queen’s 70 years on the throne. “Having Norman Hartnell so involved at the beginning of her reign was a masterstroke, as he was incredibly clever at taking historical references and making them contemporary.”

She also praises Angela Kelly, who has been the Queen’s dresser for the last two decades (and published a behind-the-scenes look the Queen’s style, The Other Side of the Coin: the Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe, in 2019.) “[Kelly] has also been brilliant at subtly reinventing the monarch’s look for the 21st century, and has helped her to become a fashion icon in her 90s.”

Holt thinks there was room for improvement before Kelly came on the scene. “I think in the mid years of her reign – around the ’80s and ’90s – the Queen’s style lost its way a little, and there are some examples of her being labelled ‘dowdy’ around this time.”

Holt says the Queen cares about fashion, and understands the inherent power of presentation. “I think the Queen has long been acutely aware that the way she presents herself has a huge impact on how she comes across,” and this lesson was driven home from an early age. “Her mother and grandmother instilled high standards of style in her – like never leaving the house without a hat and gloves – which she upholds to this day. The Queen knows how important it is to look the part as well as act it.”

The transition from princess to Queen involved some serious wardrobe considerations. For instance, in the ’50s, her sister Margaret became a devotee of French designer Christian Dior and his New Look, but as Queen, Elizabeth couldn’t wear anything but British designers. (The rules have loosened now, and Diana, Kate and Meghan mix some French, Italian and American designers into their predominantly British-aligned wardrobes.) But the influence of the New Look – with its nipped waist and exaggerated skirts, which were luxuriantly long of hemline after the deprivations of wartime fabric shortages – carried on for more than a decade, so her designers had to come up with a way to nod to it without copying it.

“Elizabeth became Queen at a time when much of the world was optimistically looking to the future whilst still suffering the after-effects of the Second World War, and she really symbolized the hope and excitement of a new era as a youthful and glamorous young Queen,” says Holt. “This was really the only time when her look has closely reflected the fashions of the time, without being over the top – she really revelled in the nipped waists and full skirts of the time, which were fashionable, but also ladylike. Hartnell and Hardy Amies created some beautiful looks for her which really helped to underline the excitement so many felt for her reign.”

 

Left to right: Princess Margaret (1930 – 2002), Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mother (1900 – 2002) at the Derby, Epsom Downs Racecourse, Surrey, in June 1958. Photo: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

Her mother – and the long shadow of the Wallace Simpson debacle – also influenced the Queen’s fashion choices. Wallace was a couture regular who favoured Paris-based designers like Elsa Schiaparelli and Dior, but the Queen Mother rejected anything associated with the American divorcee, who prompted Edward VIII to abdicate the throne in 1936 so he could marry her. The scandal threw the House of Windsor into upheaval and changed the line of succession; Elizabeth’s father George VI was crowned King of the United Kingdom in Edward’s stead. “Elizabeth certainly adopted her mother’s approach to clothes,” says Holt, “which was to respect them and value how they helped them to do their jobs without becoming obsessed – even vain – in the way Wallace was. It’s a fine line!”

There were important things at stake, such as regaining the public’s faith in the monarchy after the abdication, and fashion was an important tool. Seen so much and heard so little, Royal women let their clothes do the talking. “Elizabeth and her mother recognized that it was important to be the antithesis of Wallace in order to restore stability to the monarchy,” says Holt. That is why loyally supporting British designers became so important, to help restore an industry so damaged by war.

Royal tours were more glamorous affairs then, and Holt says the Queen made the most of her wardrobe, knowing the media coverage would be intense and how her clothes would present her image across the Commonwealth. “I also love the romance of any of her tour looks from the 1950s, as they beautifully represent a bygone era of elegance, and any look involving a silk headscarf, as they are such a chic signature accessory.”

 

The ubiquitous hat and gloves are a sartorial must-have for formal occasions, especially on Royal tours like this one to Australia in 1954. Photo: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

Style-wise, middle age was difficult for the Queen, the way it challenges the rest of us. She had to negotiate what Holt calls in the book “a fashion youth quake” in the ’60s, where she tried to appear modern while befitting her station – without looking too groovy, as it were.

“I think the ’60s were a time of huge style transition for the Queen – not only was she entering middle age, but fashion was so youth-centric that she couldn’t possibly keep up,” says Holt. “So she really had to find her own way of dressing, and this is when she established the ‘uniform’ she’s known for today – the bright, block colours and straight silhouettes.” She points to a great look from 1969, the light yellow, quite Mod dress the Queen, then 43, wore to Charles’s investiture as Prince of Wales. It was obviously a terribly important occasion, and she knocked it out of the park with a bold colour and a thoroughly modern look that was still refined. “[It] was definitely a stand out for me, too, as it was the perfect balance of fashionable and regal,” says Holt.

 

Queen Elizabeth II, in a light-yellow Mod dress, crowns  Charles during his investiture as the Prince of Wales at Caernarvon Castle in 1969. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

 

Looking back at the Queen’s middle-aged style now, “it definitely looks like there was room for improvement – often the styles and cuts she wore simply weren’t very flattering,” says Holt. “But we also have to remember that the way we view being 50 or 60 has completely changed. Then, you became an ‘old’ lady, but now women of that age dress more youthfully.”

The 70s, 80s and 90s were what Holt called the dowdy years, when the Queen was always perfectly turned out, if a bit staid, and pulled out the big jewels for state banquets and tours. But it was her private wardrobe, developed over these three decades, that was unexpectedly stylish. Her now-familiar country look –  Wellies, a kilt and Hermès headscarf – presented the public image of an outdoorsy Queen, surrounded by corgis, horses and grandchildren, long before 90s supermodels coined the term casual chic.

 

The Queen in her Wellies, kilt and headscarf at Balmoral in 1967. Photo : © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis /Getty Images

 

Holt calls out one later-in-life look for its boldness and directionality. “I also love the lime green outfit she wore for her 90th birthday celebrations. It was such a bold statement, which told the world that she was going nowhere, despite reaching such a huge milestone, and showed that women her age no longer needed to fade into the background.”

 

HRH in a bold lime green suit, at her 90th birthday in Windsor, west of London, on April 21, 2016. Photo: John Stillwell/AFP/Getty Images

 

Today, she adds, “fashion has become enamoured with older women and the Queen has definitely been central to that movement. We love women who have stayed true to themselves and created a unique look. The Queen completely epitomizes that, which is why she makes best-dressed lists and people want to buy the bag she carries or be as daring as she is with colour.”

That’s why Holt picks the present as her favourite fashion period of the Queen’s long life. “There’s a lot to love from all eras, but I think the last decade has been particularly wonderful. Angela Kelly has created some fantastically colourful and inventive outfits, which prove that being in your 90s need not be a barrier to enjoying fashion and taking pride in looking good.”

 

 

THE SCROLL

Salman Rushdie, Novelist Who Drew Death Threats, Is Stabbed at New York LectureThe Indian-born novelist who was ordered killed by Iran in 1989 because of his writing, was attacked before giving a talk on artistic freedom.


Raymond Briggs, Creator of Beloved Children’s Tale ‘The Snowman’, Dies at 88First published in 1978, the pencil crayon-illustrated wordless picture book sold more than 5.5 million copies around the world while a television adaption became a Christmas favourite in Britain and was nominated for an Oscar.


Canadian Author Emily St. John Mandel Makes Barack Obama’s 2022 Summer Reading ListObama's list includes everything from fiction to books on politics, cultural exploration and basketball.


Canadian Author Rebecca Eckler to Launch RE:books Publishing House Focused on Female Authors and Fun ReadsThe former National Post columnist says her tagline is ‘What’s read is good, and what’s good is read.’”


Brian Thomas Isaac’s “All the Quiet Places” wins $5,000 Indigenous Voices AwardThe B.C. author, a retired bricklayer, drew on his childhood growing up on the Okanagan Indian reserve for his coming-of-age story set in 1956


Canadian-American Author Ruth Ozeki Wins Women’s Book Prize for “The Book of Form and Emptiness”The UK judges said her fourth novel, inspired in part by the Vancouver Public Library, contained "sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy."


The Bill Gates Summer Reading List Includes a Sci-Fi Novel On Gender Inequality Suggested by His DaughterBill Gates' summer reading list includes fiction and non-fiction titles that cover gender equality, political polarization and climate change.


American novelist Joshua Cohen wins the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for “The Netanyahus”The 2022 Pulitzer prizes include this satirical look at identity politics, focused on the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a crucial time in the Jewish state’s history


Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro Among Canadian Authors Recognized in Commemorative Reading List Marking Queen’s Platinum JubileeThe authors are among six Canadian scribes included on the The Big Jubilee Read list.


Queen Elizabeth II’s Aide Reveals Details of Life in Royal Pandemic Lockdown in New Addition to BookAngela Kelly, who's worked for the Queen for 20 years, discusses everything from cutting the Queen's hair to "the light and laughter that was shared ... even in the darkest moments."


New Leonard Cohen Story Collection, ‘A Ballet of Lepers,’ Set for October ReleaseThe collection features a novel, short stories and a radio play written between 1956 and 1961.


Archived Letters Reveal How Toni Morrison Helped MacKenzie Scott Meet Future Husband Jeff BezosBezos hired Scott at the hedge fund where he worked after receiving a recommendation from Morrison. Shortly thereafter, the pair married and Scott helped Bezos launch Amazon.


Prince Harry’s Memoir is Set to Rock the MonarchyFriends say the California-based royal got a million-pound book deal to write "an intimate take on his feeling about the family."


European Jewish Congress Asks Publisher to Pull Anne Frank BookThe Congress says 'The Betrayal of Anne Frank' has "deeply hurt the memory of Anne Frank, as well as the dignity of the survivors and the victims of the Holocaust."


Canadian Author Details Anne Frank Cold-Case Investigation That Named Surprise Suspect in Her Family’s Betrayal in New BookAhead of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Frank's 'The Diary of a Young Girl' in June, a team that included a retired FBI agent and around 20 historians, criminologists and data specialists identified a relatively unknown figure as a leading suspect in revealing her family's hideout.


Man Who Tricked Authors Into Handing Over Unpublished Manuscripts Arrested by FBI in New YorkFilippo Bernardini, an employee of a well known publication house, has been arrested for stealing hundreds of unpublished manuscripts.


Hollywood Legend Betty White Has a Last Laugh in New Biographic Comic BookThe creators of the biographical comic book have released similar books about Hollywood legends like Carrie Fisher, Lucille Ball, David Bowie and Elizabeth Taylor.


Barack Obama Reveals His List of Books That Left “A Lasting Impression” in 2021Obama's favourite 2021 reads include two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead's 'Harlem Shuffle' and 'Klara and the Sun,' by Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro


“Interview With the Vampire” Author Anne Rice Dies at 80 — Tributes Pour in From Stuart Townsend and OthersThe author, who was best known for her work in gothic fiction, died on Saturday evening as a result of complications from a stroke.


Norma Dunning wins $25,000 Governor General’s English fiction prize for ‘Tainna’The Edmonton-based Inuk writer explores themes of displacement, loneliness and spirituality in six short stories


Omar El Akkad wins $100,000 Giller prize for “What Strange Paradise”The former Globe and Mail reporter, who published "American War" to acclaim in 2017, tackles the global migrant refugee crisis in his second novel


South African Author Damon Galgut Wins the Booker Prize For ‘The Promise’Galgut received nominations for his 2003 and 2010 works before finally taking home the prize this year. 


Hollywood Legend Paul Newman Discusses Life, Acting and Aging Gracefully in Newly Discovered MemoirPublishers of the newly discovered memoir say the Hollywood legend wrote the book in the 1980s in response to the relentless media attention he received during that time.


Here’s What You Need to Know About the Toronto International Festival of AuthorsDirector Roland Gulliver lands in Toronto to open his second, much-expanded virtual festival with more than 200 events


Tanzanian Novelist Gurnah Wins 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for Depicting the Impact of Colonialism and Refugee StoriesGurnah, 72, is only the second writer from sub-Saharan Africa to win one of the world's most prestigious literary awards


Miriam Toews Garners Third Giller Prize Nomination for “Fight Night” after Shortlist AnnouncedSophomore efforts from novelists Omar El Akkad and Jordan Tannahill join debut books from Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia and Angélique Lalonde


Tina Brown’s New Book, ‘The Palace Papers’, Covers the Royal Family’s Reinvention After Diana’s Tragic DeathTina Brown's sequel to her 2007 release 'The Diana Chronicles' is set to hit shelves April 12, 2022. 


Audible.ca Releases Andrew Pyper’s Exclusive Audiobook “Oracle” For New Plus Catalogue LaunchThe thriller about a psychic FBI detective is one of 12,000 titles now available for free to members


Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen to Release Book Based On Their “Renegades” PodcastThe new book will feature a collection of candid, intimate and entertaining conversations


Prince Harry Will Publish a Memoir in Late 2022Harry says he's writing the book "not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become."


> STAY UP TO DATE

Sign Up for the Weekly Book Club Newsletter