Queen Elizabeth Was a Wardrobe Recycler Decades Before Kate Middleton

Kate Middleton, Britain's new Princess of Wales, made the headlines on Sunday evening with her thrifty fashion choice for the 76th annual British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs), re-styling an old gown that was worn to the same event four years earlier.

The princess' upcycling and reuse of a fashion piece already in her wardrobe was praised for its economic appeal and environmental considerations, with the royal and her husband Prince William being supporters of eco-initiatives and solutions.

Kate has become well known for re-wearing pieces from her expansive royal wardrobes for her engagements, sometimes more than a decade later. She is, however, by no means the first royal recycler, with perhaps the most prominent member of the royal family to do such things in recent decades being the late Queen Elizabeth II.

Queen Elizabeth II and Kate Middleton
Queen Elizabeth II photographed at Windsor Castle on March 23, 2022, and (inset) Kate Middleton photographed at the BAFTAs on February 19, 2023. Fans of the late queen have highlighted her thrifty wardrobe habits on social media. Steve Parsons - WPA Pool/Getty Images/Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Never one to favor excessive waste, the queen was well-known to wear and re-wear her off duty clothes until they could no longer be repaired, after which they were either transformed into useful rags for cleaning, or disposed of.

During her record-breaking 70-year-long reign, Elizabeth was also known to reuse a number of her high-profile working wardrobe staples. This even extended to what was perhaps the most important item of clothing she ever commissioned—her coronation dress.

Elizabeth's coronation dress was designed by Sir Norman Hartnell (the first person to be awarded a knighthood for services to the fashion industry).

The queen had been a client of Hartnell's since she was a child, the designer having created for her a bridesmaid's dress in 1935 for the wedding of her uncle, the Duke of Gloucester.

Hartnell went on to make the then-princess' wedding dress in 1947, and when in 1952 she became queen, it was natural that he won the commission for her coronation dress, worn in 1953.

The final dress created for the occasion was made of British silk, heavily embroidered with the floral emblems of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as those of the nations making up the commonwealth.

Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Dress
Queen Elizabeth II photographed on the day of her coronation (L) wearing her specially designed coronation dress by Norman Hartnell, June 2, 1953, and the queen photographed re-wearing her coronation dress to open parliament in New Zealand (R) on January 18, 1954. She was never one to favor excessive waste. Bettmann/Central Press/Getty Images

After the service at Westminster Abbey, the queen decided that the dress deserved to be worn more than once—particularly given its workmanship, cost and symbolism—so to the surprise of many, who considered it would be stored as a relic, the young queen took it with her on her first tour of the commonwealth and wore it repeatedly to open parliaments and attend ceremonials.

Lady Pamela Hicks, the queen's distant cousin who acted as a lady in waiting on the tour, later expressed her jealousy of the dress, which was handled with great care.

"The Queen decided to take on the commonwealth tour, her coronation dress and wear it in each dominion for the opening of parliament," she told the documentary My Years With The Queen. "The dress required a cabin unto itself. The dress' cabin was slightly bigger than mine. I was rather jealous."

Throughout her reign, the queen could be seen reusing and re-wearing important dresses, though perhaps not as extensively as her granddaughter-in-law. Royal fans have pointed out a number of these instances on social media in the days since Kate's recent BAFTA appearance.

One viral video, uploaded to the platform TikTok by user british.royalty, has been viewed over 100,000 times and received in excess of 12,000 likes.

Captioned "When the Queen wore the same outfit TWICE👒," the monarch, who died at the age of 96 in September, has received praise for her thriftiness and sense of style.

"Icons wear their clothes (outfits) more than once," wrote one commenter.

"She looks good in all of them 🥰," said another, with a further user posting: "The greatest of all the times 🥰."

One of the dresses featured in the viral video was a Norman Hartnell white satin evening gown made in 1961 and worn for a state visit to Rome that same year. The queen then re-wore the dress for the Lawrence of Arabia movie premiere in 1962 and again in 1966 for the State Opening of Parliament.

The dress, made a surprise reappearance in 2021 when it emerged that the monarch had loaned the gown to her granddaughter Princess Beatrice to have altered for use as her wedding dress.

Queen Elizabeth II Norman Hartnell Dress
Queen Elizabeth II photographed attending the State Opening of Parliament wearing her Norman Hartnell evening dress (L) on April 22, 1966, and the dress in its altered state (R) having been worn by the queen's granddaughter, Princess Beatrice, to her wedding on September 24, 2020. Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images/Karwai Tang/WireImage

The princess' wedding to Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi took place during the COVID pandemic and was held quietly in the private chapel on the Windsor Castle estate where her grandmother, the queen, and grandfather, Prince Philip, were able to be present.

James Crawford-Smith is Newsweek's royal reporter based in London. You can find him on Twitter at @jrcrawfordsmith and read his stories on Newsweek's The Royals Facebook page.

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