Elizabeth II’s wardrobe is a real repository of secrets and unexplored secrets. Throughout her long career, she has tried on more than one hundred outfits for which it would be worth building a separate palace. We tell you where the clothes of the first person of Great Britain are stored, how often the Queen wears the same dresses and what happens to those things that the monarch no longer wears.
Queen Elizabeth II looks at horses in the parade ring before the Coronation Cup race in honor of the Diamond Jubilee, England 2012
Many people would like to look into the Queen’s closet at least once. During the 65 years of her reign, she has attended thousands of events — and, of course, has hundreds of evening dresses, casual skirts, jackets and coats of all possible shades in her wardrobe.
The thrifty queen is known for repeating her images over and over again — she often asked her personal assistant Angela Kelly and her team of seamstresses to update the jewelry on dresses, rather than make new versions). Her Majesty could easily become an ambassador of careful attitude to things – a trend that has recently become more and more popular. Despite the fact that there really are countless dresses and coats in her wardrobe, Elizabeth is extremely frugal by nature, as she grew up in wartime, when all costs are felt especially strongly. Therefore, her appearance in the same outfits is a very familiar phenomenon (and the Duchess of Cambridge is not the first among the Windsors who responsibly approaches the replenishment of the wardrobe).
For example, when the queen went on a tour of Saudi Arabia, designers prepared a wardrobe for her in compliance with all local traditions — appropriate and modest outfits that would definitely be approved by the residents of the country. At the end of the tour, she asked to change some of the dresses so that they could be worn again later.
Queen Elizabeth arrived on an official visit to Saudi Arabia, 1979
However, the queen also repeats the images according to a special system. Royal seamstresses and assistants assign names to each of Elizabeth’s clothes and enter them in a special directory. It is extremely important to have a detailed list — information about Elizabeth’s exits at official events is also entered there. For example, if Her Majesty was wearing red during a trip to the south of England, this color is usually avoided for several months, even if the design of the outfit is completely different.
In order to keep track of Elizabeth’s exits and not repeat themselves, all assistants have their own individual handwritten wardrobe diaries, in which the details of each outfit and the details of the event for which it was worn are marked. Royal costumers have never publicly revealed the size of the queen’s dress, and this secret has been kept since her coronation. Personal notes also help in case of loss or damage to clothing.
The chief designer keeps more official records. The outfits are catalogued by release date, event name and other characteristics along with all the accessories that were worn with them.
Queen Elizabeth at the state banquet at the Philharmonic Hall, Slovakia 2008
How to create outfits for the Queen
There are a number of important rules by which new images are created for the queen. All these characteristics correspond not only to the preferences of the monarch, but also to practical tasks – clothes should not interfere during the event. Firstly, as the Queen’s chief designer, Angela Kelly draws at least four different designs and shows several fabric options from which the queen can choose the best one. With the help of a fan, you can check how light the materials are, and how chiffon, organza or silk will behave in the wind.
Up to 12 people work in the queen’s wardrobe for special occasions, including Angela’s personal assistant, as well as three dressmakers, a milliner and four dressing rooms, which, as their name implies, help the queen to dress, as well as keep the clothes in pristine condition.
After initial discussions, Angela writes down the Queen’s wishes and ideas for changes before creating the final technical drawing, according to which the patterns will be made. After the fabric and design sketch have been approved, a prototype is made from coarse cotton, where adjustments can be made to smaller design details before proceeding to the selected fabric.
The Queen in Malaysia, 1989
The Queen in Scotland, 1974
All the cut and shape correspond to the mannequin, made in size and taking into account the features of the queen’s figure. After the last piece of fabric is cut and pinned to the mannequin, the dressmaker chooses small details — buttons, trim, collars and cuffs.
It is important that the chosen color suits not only the Queen, but also the occasion. The queen’s seamstresses choose bright colors so that Elizabeth’s subjects can notice her from afar. For example, if the queen plants a tree in an environment with a predominantly green background, then this color should be avoided so that the monarch does not merge with the background and turns out well in the photographs of photographers. To visit schools, designers choose bright and cheerful colors and use details that children will like — for example, feathers, curls, flowers and ribbons. Colors can also have symbolic meaning — for example, black means condolence, and yellow means happiness.
While traveling by car and sitting for a long time, the queen’s coat or jacket should not crumple, but at the same time remain comfortable, practical and smoothed when she gets out of the car. The same rules apply to her evening wear: too much fabric makes it difficult to move, and heavy beading can be uncomfortable.
The Queen at the Investec Derby Festival, England 2012
Daywear is usually just below the knee in length, whereas a cocktail dress is usually just below or covers shoes. Climbing stairs is also thought out: in long fitted dresses, this can cause inconvenience to the monarch, therefore, cuts and folds are often used in the design. Her Majesty prefers three-quarter-length sleeves, while not too wide, especially if there is a meal ahead.
If it rains outside, an umbrella is selected for the image, but always transparent so that the public can see her face. And to make the accessory fit her outfits, it has a handle of the right color and edging around the edges.
In shoes, regardless of the case, the queen prefers a heel of 2 inches and a quarter (this is about 5.5 cm), but if there is a trip to a place with an uneven surface (for example, cobblestones, gravel or grass), she will choose shoes on a flatter course.
The weight of her handbag is of particular importance considering how much time she can spend at the event. Therefore, longer handles are chosen for the accessory — so the bag can be worn on the forearm, while the accessory does not cling to the cuff. In the daytime and on walks, she wears a simple white handkerchief with a pattern, and for country walks prefers a medium-sized handkerchief in a cage.
The Queen at the Palace of Westminster, 2002
The Queen at the Windsor Horse Show, 1991
She prefers buttons from accessories, but zippers are also used quite often — they are especially convenient when the queen has to attend a large number of events in one day and change several outfits. Zippered clothing ensures that she can change quickly. Removing clothes over her head can ruin Her Majesty’s hairstyle, and will also lead to the appearance of makeup stains.
Hats are of particular importance. The size of the crown and fields are extremely important. The Queen knows that many people come from far away to see her, so the visibility of the queen is especially important. When visiting nursing homes, a bright and accent hat of a certain color helps visually impaired people to see the monarch and feel part of this event, so hats, as well as clothes, are chosen taking into account all the details of the event.
How are the fittings going
Fitting with the queen can last half a day. Angela makes sure that the team creates at least four or five costumes ready to fit for any of the meetings with the Queen in order to make the most rational use of time.
The Queen and Sophie of Wessex at a reception dedicated to the work of the Queen Elizabeth Trust Fund, Buckingham Palace 2019
All fittings are extremely confidential (except for unexpected visits of Her Majesty’s corgi) — only the design team is present in the room. The Queen rarely changes her mind about the outfit at this stage, sticking to her initial decisions made at the sketch creation stage.
How clothes are stored and where they are handed over
Most of the clothes are kept in strict order to protect them from dust, sunlight and insects. Since many of the outfits from her past are not suitable for her age and cannot be sewn, the queen’s dresses are often shown at exhibitions. Something is sent to auctions, and something is transferred to charity houses.
The queen’s assistants store her smart clothes in special boxes, which are labeled and indexed for extraction if necessary. Many outfits, especially those worn for special occasions, have historical value, and they need special care.
A Buckingham Palace employee stands next to a glass cabinet containing the wedding dress of Queen Elizabeth II
Some of the royal images are associated with a major event that can only be seen once, but it is not uncommon for her to appear several times in the same evening dress. Nevertheless, the monarch holds many private events at Buckingham Palace behind closed doors, where journalists and photographers do not get, and for such events she prefers to wear old images.
Brian Hoey, author of Not Infront of the Corgis, wrote that as soon as Her Majesty gets tired of wearing a certain piece of clothing, she usually hands it over to her dressers, who can either wear it or sell it.
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However, for this it is necessary to observe one important condition. No one should know that this outfit belonged to the queen, so all tags found on the clothes are removed, as well as all information that would help identify it as part of the royal family’s wardrobe.
Queen Elizabeth at Sydney Town Hall with Emmet McDermott, Lord Mayor of Sydney, 2002
If the Queen’s dresser decides to sell the item, she cannot reveal that it once belonged to Her Majesty. But once the label is removed, whoever bought the garment can wear it at any time. According to Howie, one of the queen’s dresses once went on sale near Sandringham, but despite its good quality, it could not be sold.
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