Inside the queen's closet

An undated photo of Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in London.
An undated photo of Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in London. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

Display at Buckingham Palace gives an insight into the style of Queen Elizabeth II - from her coronation gown to hats

LONDON • The ballgown, cinched at the waist with capped sleeves and with a heart-shaped neckline, practically glows - thanks to the multitude of pearls, crystals and sequins embroidered using gold and silver silk threads onto the ivory duchesse satin over eight painstaking months.

A step closer and it becomes apparent that the embellishments trace a gleaming outline of English roses, Scottish thistles, Welsh leeks and Irish shamrocks on the fold on the stiff skirt - where they mingle with Canadian maple leaves, New Zealand silver ferns, Australian wattles and South African protea.

Forget a trouser suit. This gown is power dressing at its most literal.

It was wearing this dress, with her nation's history stitched atop her hemline, that Queen Elizabeth II took to the British throne in 1953, with millions all over the world watching the moment on television.

The coronation gown, designed by British couturier Sir Norman Hartnell at the height of post-World War II austerity, is the centrepiece of an exhibition that opened last month at Buckingham Palace - Fashioning A Reign: 90 Years Of Style From The Queen's Wardrobe.

The show is part of a series of events being held across Britain this year in celebration of the queen's 90th birthday.

The second instalment of a three-part exhibition of the queen's clothes and the roles they have played in enabling her to carry out her responsibilities as the head of state, head of the armed forces and head of the Commonwealth, it showcases more than 150 looks and is the largest display of the queen's dress in history.

It explores not only her personal style, but also the various strategies that have shaped the working uniform of one of the most photographed women in history.

Such as her preference for a bright block-colour number and matching bold headpiece. "The queen has always been aware that she needs to stand out from the crowd," said Ms Caroline de Guitaut, curator at the Royal Collection Trust who organised the exhibitions.

One gallery features 62 of the queen's favourite hats, ranging from the turban-like styles favoured in the 1970s to Bretons and pillbox numbers.

The hats "enable people who want to catch a glimpse of her to spot her immediately", Ms De Guitaut said. "Almost every hat she wears is strategic, ensuring her face is fully visible, but also framed in a range of styles over the years that were often considered very avant-garde for their day."

"I have to be seen to be believed," the queen famously said. How she did that is clear in this exhibition.


• Fashioning A Reign: 90 Years Of Style From The Queen’s Wardrobe is on till October. Go to for details.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2016, with the headline 'Inside the queen's closet'. Print Edition | Subscribe