Queen Elizabeth II's Rainbow Wardrobe Explained

Over the past seven decades, Queen Elizabeth II has developed a style of dressing that is uniquely her own. Instantly recognizable—never ahead of fashion yet never behind it—the queen's wardrobes at Buckingham Palace are bursting with iconic clothing from over 70 years.

During the early years of her reign, the queen was famous for her elegant and extravagant ball gowns by her favorite and most relied upon designer, Sir Norman Hartnell. The image of the young, glamorous queen was perpetuated through iconic portrait sittings undertaken by photographers such as Cecil Beaton who took particular care over what clothes the monarch would wear.

It is the style adopted in the latter decades of her life though that will perhaps become most associated with the lasting image of Elizabeth II. A modern day monarch in a uniform of rainbow colors.

In her platinum jubilee year, Newsweek explores just what goes into the queen's rainbow wardrobe.

Queen Elizabeth II Rainbow Wardrobe
Queen Elizabeth II's rainbow wardrobe helps her to be easily spotted amongst a crowd. Photographed (L) at a Commonwealth Games event, October 7, 2021. (C) in Norfolk, December 21, 2017. And (R) at Royal Ascot, June 19, 2021. Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

The Silhouette

The queen's silhouette has changed over the past seven decades, adapting with fashionable ideals of the time. Though the miniskirt may have been a step too far for the monarch, who has never shortened her skirts above the knee, for her practical working wardrobe she has tended to use the same classic formula of a light day dress underneath a wool blend coat.

Writing in her book The Other Side of The Coin: The Queen, The Dresser and The Wardrobe, Angela Kelly, the queen's personal dresser, describes the many considerations that have to be taken into account when designing the silhouette and technical aspects of the queen's clothes:

"In general, necklines on coats and jackets must not be too high or too low, and must not restrict the queen's movement," Kelly explains. "This is particularly true of thick wool coats with wide, full collars"

As well as ease of movement, considerations such as the weather, the angle from which the queen will be seen and the jewelry she will wear all affect the shape and structure of the monarch's wardrobe.

Queen Elizabeth II Coats
Queen Elizabeth II's wardrobe follows a classic British tailored silhouette for her formal daywear. Photographed (R) at a Buckingham Palace garden party, May 23, 2017. And (R) at a polo match at Windsor Castle, July 11, 2021. Dominic Lipinski/WPA Pool /Getty Images/Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

The Colors

The queen's rainbow colored wardrobe has won the acclaim of the fashion press over recent years. In 2012, the diamond jubilee year, British Vogue charted all of the monarch's outfits and found that her most worn color was blue—making up 24 percent of the outfits she had worn on public outings.

The Vogue study also found that the least worn color in the queen's wardrobe was beige, accounting for just 1 percent of the wardrobe total for 2012.

Angela Kelly writes that "colour is key" to the queen's wardrobe, "though—the chosen colour must suit."

When it comes to what colors don't suit the 95-year-old monarch though, there don't seem to be many.

Aside from an apparent lack of fondness for beige, the queen does not wear black for day-to-day dress as she reserves this as a mourning color. The queen reportedly never travels without a black dress in case of any tragic emergencies that may occur while she is not within easy access of her wardrobe.

Prints are also popular within the queen's wardrobe. In recent years the monarch has taken to wearing printed day dresses featuring mainly floral motifs in bright colors. These dresses are paired with coats in block colors which highlight the pops of print visible in the dress beneath.

Neon colors are not a usual choice for the queen but there are occasions where she has appeared with a vibrant pop for special occasions. Marking her 90th birthday in 2016 the monarch appeared on Buckingham Palace's balcony wearing a neon green outfit which made her stand out from the rest of the royal family.

The queen has been quoted as saying "I need to be seen to be believed" and her bold and bright color choices help her to achieve this goal.

Queen Elizabeth II Colorful Wardrobe
Queen Elizabeth II's most worn colour in 2012 was blue, accounting for 24% of her public wardrobe. Photographed (L) at a garden party July 22, 2010. (C) at Ascot, October 21, 2016. And (R) welcoming President Biden to Windsor Castle, June 13, 2021. Gareth Fuller/Pool/Getty Images/Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images/Samir Hussein/Pool/WireImage

The People Who Make it All Happen

The queen has a dedicated team to help her with her wardrobe. Her most senior wardrobe adviser is Angela Kelly who holds the distinguished title of Personal Assistant, Adviser and Curator to Her Majesty The Queen (Jewellery, Insignias and Wardrobe).

Kelly is widely known as the queen's closest confidant and holds the distinction of being granted permission by the monarch to publish two books about her work, her boss and her wardrobe.

Below Kelly there are four other dressers, a dedicated milliner, a dressmaker and a housemaid. The queen also has a hairdresser who comes regularly and sets her famous regal hairstyle.

The queen's wardrobe is mainly created by two designers, one of them being Kelly herself who was responsible for many of the looks worn for the diamond jubilee and also the famous primrose yellow outfit worn to the wedding of Prince William.

Another expert hand that creates for the queen is Stewart Parvin, a designer in the classic British style who holds a royal warrant.

Parvin was entrusted by the queen and Kelly to alter a 1960s couture Norman Hartnell ball gown worn to open parliament so that it could be worn by the monarch's granddaughter, Princess Beatrice, for her scaled down wedding in 2020 during the pandemic.

Angela Kelly Queen Elizabeth II
Angela Kelly LVO is in charge of Queen Elizabeth II's wardrobe and also designs custom outfits for her. Photographed (L) at Buckingham Palace, November 16, 2012. And the queen (R) photographed wearing a Kelly creation to the wedding of Prince William, April 29, 2011. John Stillwell/WPA Pool /Getty Images/Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Mainstay Accessories

The queen's accessories have become iconic pieces in themselves. The most famous of these are her handbags.

The supplier of the queen's bags is the family-run British brand Launer London and the monarch owns many of their most famous styles in a variety of colors.

The queen's handbags are not just used for their aesthetic value; it has been reported that they can be used by the monarch to send secret messages to members of her staff on public engagements which includes her signaling a wish to move from one person to the next by moving her bag from one arm to the other.

Another of the monarch's rainbow wardrobe staples are her umbrellas. These are made for the queen by Fulton and are custom matched to the varying shades in her wardrobe. The style of these umbrellas is known as the "birdcage" and they were first made in the 1960s. The queen's mother was the first to adopt them as their PVC dome allowed people to see her even during a downpour. This is the same reason they are still popular with the royals today.

Queen Elizabeth II Accessories
Queen Elizabeth II has become known for her classic handbags and umbrellas which match her colorful clothing. Photographed (L) in London May 23, 2019. And (R) at an exhibition in Richmond, May 15, 2012. Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images/Suzanne Plunkett/WPA Pool/Getty Images

The queen's wardrobe is full of a rainbow of colors from black and beige to neon green and primrose yellow. This bright and beautiful array of shades helps the monarch to be seen wherever she may be whether it's in a formal photograph against the glittering background of Windsor Castle or among a crowd of thousands of people. Though the image of the glamorous young monarch from the 1950s may always be remembered, it is her distinctive uniform-like style that has helped her become one of the most instantly recognizable figures of the modern age.

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