A peek into Her Majesty’s wardrobe

The Queen is renowned for paying attention to every detail of her clothing, and now we too can get to share in the wonders of her wardrobe.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II wore a pale blue silk faille evening gown by Sir Norman Hartnell at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, 1962. Royal Collection Trust / (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2016

We’re all so busy eyeing what Kate, the beautiful Duchess of Cambridge, is wearing, it’s easy to forget that Queen Elizabeth is also a force of fashion. And that she has been at it much longer than her new relative: all 60+ years she’s been on the throne.

Though it’s easy to conjure up what we think a classic queenly ensemble looks like in our minds—solid colors, gloves, pearls, a dress-matching coat, a coat-matching hat, and a shoe-matching handbag—when we do so, we may be overlooking the importance of this cultivated look. Her stately outfits—for which she often turned to British designers Sir Norman Hartnell, Sir Hardy Amies, and Ian Thomas—created a presence of style so memorable and tasteful that it defined not just a generation (or two), but a country.

Which is why it’s thrilling that the Royal Collection Trust announced it will host three separate exhibitions featuring over 150 pieces of the Queen’s wardrobe, more than have ever been shown before.

Sir Norman Hartnell Pale blue silk faille evening gown worn at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, during the State Visit of King Olav of Norway in 1962. Royal Collection Trust / (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2016
Sir Norman Hartnell Pale green crinoline evening gown made of silk chiffon and lace embroidered with sequins, pearls, beads and diamante. Worn by Her Majesty the Queen in 1957 during her visit to the United States of America as a guest of President Eisenhower. Royal Collection Trust / (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2016
John Anderson Silk evening dress entirely embroidered with beads and sequins in white, pink, gold and cream with gold thread. Worn by Her Majesty the Queen for the Commonwealth Heads of Government reception held at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in 1997. Royal Collection Trust / (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2016
Ian Thomas Black silk velvet and taffeta dress worn by Her Majesty the Queen in 1980 to meet Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. Royal Collection Trust / (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2016
Stewart Parvin Pink silk dress with coordinating white jacquard coat and pink hat designed by milliner Philip Somerville worn by Her Majesty the Queen for a garden party in 2009. Royal Collection Trust / (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2016

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Last year British Vogue said this of the Queen: “She used her wardrobe to convey an image of a stately world leader.”

Indeed. Throughout her reign, Queen Elizabeth has brought elegance to power. But even before she was queen, her clothes stepped with her through some of the most significant moments in history. All together, her wardrobe speaks volumes not only of her life, but also of the past 90 years of the English monarchy: shrinking empires, abdications, wars, untimely deaths, historic reigns, Beatlemania, economic growth and recession, troubled marriages, heartache, and the hope and restoration found in glorious weddings and beautiful babies.

As such, the Queen’s wardrobe deserves an honored place in world history, not just fashion history.

July 1947 A young Queen Elizabeth newly engaged to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. She stands in the state apartments at Buckingham Palace in a modest three-quarter length dress. The small bows on either sleeve add a youthful, feminine touch. Photo by Hulton Archive / Getty Images
June 1953 Queen Elizabeth wears a full-skirted white dress with open-toed white pumps for her climb aboard the Royal Yacht ‘Surprise.’ The outfit is completed by the Queen’s signature look: a matching hat. The Duke of Edinburgh stands behind her in his dress attire. Photo by Keystone-France \ Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
October 1960 An green outfitted Queen Elizabeth II is surrounded by her corgis at Sandrigham. She poses with her usual good posture, and with her hand folded in a royal fashion. The oversize sleeves are slightly trendy for the time period, but still done tastefully. Photo by Anwar Hussein / WireImage
October 1979 Queen Elizabeth ll wears a pink cape and red hat with a feather as she attends the Royal Windsor Horse Show on May 1, 1979 in Windsor, England. Photo by Anwar Hussein / Getty Images
May 1988 The Queen makes jodpurs look chic by adding a head scarf and gloves to match her pale yellow blouse as she walks around the Windsor Horse show. Photo by Anwar Hussein / Getty Images
November 1999 An unusual outfit for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II selects a multi-color gown with gold skirt and white gloves to make a bright entrance to the Royal Variety Performance. Photo by Indigo / Getty Images
July 2001 Designer Sir Hardy Amies designed this dress specifically for the Queen, who wore the lace gown (and matching bag dangled on the wrist) to a States of Guernsey banquet. Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images
November 2011 The Queen is a vision in white as she awaits the arrival of Turkey’s President at an official welcoming ceremony in London. A wide-brim hat adorned with jewels and delicate feathers, as well as a pearl necklace complete this elegant look. Though her smile is what truly makes this stylish ensemble shine. Photo by Paul Hackett – WPA Pool / Getty Images

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Exhibition dates: The Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh will host the collection from April 21, 2016, through October 16, 2016. The second, and largest, exhibition will be at the Summer Opening of the State Rooms, Buckingham Palace from 23 July to 2 October 2016. Windsor Castle will host the collection last, from September 17, 2016, through January 8, 2017.

Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira

Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of five books and is a columnist for Her.meneutics and ThinkChristian. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, three kids, and one red-nose pit bull. Visit her at carynrivadeneira.com.

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