There are many ways of being a queen. You can dress down or up. Dowdy or magnificent. But what you can never risk is being fashionable. Unlike film stars and politicians’ wives, queens have a long shelf life – sometimes spanning centuries – so they must find a timeless, understated style that, while never quite being in fashion, will never go out. A queen’s mode of dress must never make the next generation laugh when they see her image. That’s why no queen who takes her role seriously would ever do the same with fashion.
The Queen was lucky from before the start of her reign. Hardy Amies, whose fashion house celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2006, was brought in to supplement the clothes made for her by her mother’s dressmaker, Norman Hartnell. Whereas Hartnell favoured heavy draping and statuesque evening gowns so stiff, they could virtually stand by themselves, Amies wanted something lighter and more modern.
He knew he had to tread carefully. The Queen wasn’t especially interested in fashion, and saw her public-occasion clothes merely as working dress. She shared her mother’s abhorrence of Wallis Simpson, who was condemned for being nothing more than a fashion plate. She also knew it would be a mistake to allow the dignity of her position to be undermined by attempts to follow the latest trend.
Her only slip was when she allowed Amies to put her in a short skirt at the height of the mini’s fashionability.
The error was never repeated, which is why the Queen has the priceless asset that, whenever she is mentioned, the largely unchanging image worked out for her by Amies is instantly conjured up. All over the world, even in countries with their own much-loved royal families, “the Queen” is taken to refer exclusively to the woman who lives in Buckingham Palace.
(First published April 2006)
Picture. Queen In Amies design in 2002