Not your usual fashion icon: Queen Elizabeth II

by Maje Pérez-Ramos

“The first canon of good taste is to dress in a way that is fitting for the occasion.”

“A Queen does not dress to impress, she does not need to”

Colin McDowell

The stir caused by Netflix’s The Crown fourth season and Princess Beatrice’s much applauded choice of wedding dress last year (an evening gown belonging to her royal grandmother from 1961) have lately drawn the public’s attention to the fabulous professional wardrobe that Queen Elizabeth II has gathered after almost 70 years of reign.

According to Jane Eastoe, author of Elizabeth, reigning in style (Pavilion books, 2012), “to describe her wardrobe as extensive, and the tasks of her dressers as considerable, is something of an understatement; consider that, on her first Commonwealth tour alone the Queen took 100 specially designed, new outfits.There have been in excess of 170 further Commonwealth tours since then, as well as many other State visits. Let’s clarify that in this piece we will be referring only to the clothes the queen wears in official acts as head of state, which are determined by numerous protocol and diplomacy rules. For instance, during an official visit to a foreign country it would be considered antidiplomatic for the Queen not to wear brand new outfits.

Whether or not one agrees with the concept of monarchy it is worth asking how the most photographed woman in History has navigated the XX century and part of the XXI without one single wardrobe malfunction. Certainly, if there is someone in the world authorized to advice on how to show up to work looking impeccable every time, across all stages of life, that is Queen Elizabeth.

As Colin McDowell says in A hundred years or royal style (Muller, Blond & White, 1985) “the golden rule in royal (and professional, we might add) dressing is that clothes must be comfortable, becoming and acceptable”. The queen is not particularly interested in fashion, not even when she was young. “Her clothes are her armour and she only looks in the mirror to check that everything looks the way it should”, says Eastoe. However, she and her team show such an attention to detail and organizational skills as those of a professional stylist. Here go some notions about her modus operandi and a couple well trusted brands that have helped her to succeed (fashion wise, at least) after a lifetime in the public eye. Prepare to be enlightened:

  • Several designers declared that the Queen tests the clothes during the fitting sessions to ensure they’ll perform properly: she waves, sits, goes up and down the stairs, etc.
  • Along the same lines, she takes her milliners to the vehicle chosen for each occasion to show them the actual space available to step in and out and the spot she will be leaning her head on, to make sure the proportions will be adequate and the headpiece will remain in perfect condition the entire time. Hats are such an important element of her outfits that bets are placed over the color she will wear for each day in Ascot, as well as in royal weddings. That’s why nobody knows which hat she will be wearing until the awaited day comes.
  • Weather forecasts are always taken into consideration when it comes to choose outfits. Specially when she did overseas tours, her wardrobe used to include numerous options to fit the local weather and allow for last minute changes. Also is well known that for warmer climates small detachable pads were sewn to the dresses to absorb sweat and avoid stains.
  • Regarding shoes, the queen is loyal to British legendary firm Rayne. Known for their elegant and comfortable court shoes, over the years they have work with some of the greatest shoe designers such as Roger Vivier, who designed the pair the Queen wore at her coronation ceremony in 1952. Nowadays the brand targets a much more young and cool clients but they still take pride in creating the Queen’s shoes (and fixing the ones that are chewed by her Majesty’s corgies). Check
  • And finally, bags. The Queen’s collection rounds up to 200 models, which she uses again and again. London brand Launer holds the royal warrant since 1968. Used to be a very niche leather goods company not popular amongst wider audiences, the “the twisted rope” brand (after the classic shape of their bag’s locks) is enjoying its moment in the sun thanks to The Crown. More about it at

To conclude, no reference to Queen Elizabeth’s wardrobe would be complete without mentioning Margaret McDonald, the power in the shadow of the royal wardrobe for most of the XX century. McDonald began as nursemaid for then Princess Elizabeth and when she turned 16 she was promoted to dresser. For 67 impressive years this formidable scottish lady, described in her obituary in The Guardian as “scourge of designers and milliners”, oversaw the Queen’s wardrobe always in her best interest ensuring that no designer could exercise a monopoly in it. Because behind a great woman, there’s always another one that has her back.

Find out more: Elizabeth, reigning in style, Jane Eastoe (Pavilion books, 2012)

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