A most fashionable monarch – an extract from Queen Elizabeth II: A Lifetime Dressing for the World Stage

Exquisite and sumptuous, immaculately tailored, dignified and, above all, practical. The wardrobe of Queen Elizabeth II was as distinctive in style as her position in the world was unique. This remarkable book is a fond reflection of the days when her Majesty led the field in fashion, showcasing some of the world’s best designers. Read on for an extract from Queen Elizabeth II: A Lifetime Dressing for the World Stage by Jane Eastoe.

Throughout her reign, Queen Elizabeth II was the most photographed woman in the world. Her path from Princess, to Heir Presumptive and onto Queen was scrutinised in newspapers, magazines and on television across the decades. She remained the centre of attention wherever she went and was subject to critical assessment every time she set foot in public. The pressure of such continuous scrutiny must have been phenomenal, yet in seventy years on the throne she did not put a sartorial foot wrong; there was not a single wardrobe malfunction, at least none that the public was aware of, nor a fashion faux pas. Her impeccable personal style, and skill in resisting fashionable excess, ensured that her place as a style icon has finally been recognised by leading fashion commentators.

The often repeated assertion that the Queen wasn’t interested in clothes, was first fostered by Marion Crawford, governess to both Elizabeth and Margaret. In her book The Little Princesses, she observed that Princess Elizabeth was not picky about her clothes: ‘Lilibet never cared a fig. She wore what she was told without argument, apart from a long, drab mackintosh which she loathed.’ Others maintain that the Queen was at heart one of the old school, a countrywoman who did not care about her appearance.
But this is a myth that should be dispelled: ‘The Queen was not interested in high fashion’, observed one couturier, ‘but she was very interested in her clothes and was very particular. Her Majesty was acutely aware of how invasive the press were – her clothes were part of her armour. And, after a whole lifetime of wearing couture, she knew exactly what she was doing and made it perfectly clear when things weren’t quite right.’
The Queen’s clothes reinforced the message that she was a national figurehead with power and status; they helped maintain her authority and emphasise her position. To describe her wardrobe as expansive, and the task 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 were in excess of 170 further Commonwealth tours, as well as many other State visits.

Her Majesty’s clothes, viewed across the decades, are a moving tribute to the art of couture and have helped fashion her place in history. They emphasised her position and the status of the crown with a dignified and traditional conservatism. Seen up close, they are a symphony of artfully cut, heartbreakingly beautiful, shimmering sorbet silks. In gowns heavy with embroidery, fluttering with silk flowers and floating with a featherweight dusting of lace appliqué, every stitch bears witness to the demands of position and responsibility. We may never see their like again.

Extract from Queen Elizabeth II: A Lifetime Dressing for the World Stage by Jane Eastoe.

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