The Queen of Colorful Clothes

What Kate and Meghan wear is all anyone can talk about these days, but let’s take a minute to step back and appreciate the OG fashion, ahem, queen. In her six decades on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II has worn just about every color imaginable. Lavender? Yes. Lemon yellow? Naturally. Hot pink? Of course. Her wardrobe’s striking range is beautifully compiled in the new book, Our Rainbow Queen: A Tribute to Queen Elizabeth II and Her Colorful Wardrobe. It was released in the U.K. earlier this spring; Americans can snap it up beginning today.

This pocket-sized parcel packs a major punch, with captions chock full of fascinating tidbits. It is right in line with the So Many Thoughts mentality, pointing out all the ways in which the Queen dresses with such intention. I jumped at the chance to talk with author and journalist Sali Hughes about what went into writing the book, including why every look of the Queen’s is chronicled in a spreadsheet (!), where HM keeps all her clothes and what a 90-year-old wearing neon really says. 

(The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

The Queen in a bow brooch (!) in January 1979.

The Queen in a bow brooch (!) in January 1979.

Very excited to chat with you! What is it that made you want to write a book about the Queen’s fashion? 

Sali Hughes: I'm not particularly monarchist or a royalist. There's something about the Queen specifically that has always held huge appeal to me since I was very, very little. I have a real soft spot for those very capable, unflappable, stoic, strong, matriarchal figures — unfussy, dutiful women. And she is obviously that in spades.

Tell me about the Queen’s approach to fashion.

SH: Nothing that the Queen wears is a mistake. Everything is forensically and meticulously planned. More than anybody in the world, she dresses according to occasion, duty, hosts, guests, custom, formality. It's an extremely polite and considerate way of dressing

It is, of course, attractive and smart, but it can't be too fashion. It can't be too faddy. And so there's a restraint about her dressing that doesn't exist for other people in the public eye. She has to think about the fact that we, as British citizens, pay for her clothes, of course; but, also she exists out of a sense of duty — what she wears can't just please herself. 

What messages does the Queen send with her clothing? 

SH: We will never know because a really important part of being Queen Elizabeth II is that you never complain, you never explain. What I do know is, for certain, having spoken to lots of people during the research of this book: nothing is a mistake. She does not make mistakes, not with clothes, not with anything. And so there are no coincidences, nothing is forgotten. She remembers exactly who gave her what for what reason, when, where they came from. She remembers the customs of different countries. There is no coincidence. There are no screw ups.

The Queen at the opening of parliament in June 2017.

The Queen at the opening of parliament in June 2017.

Indeed, I feel like we can parse her messages sometimes.

SH: Absolutely. Her clothes give us nonverbal cues about how she feels about things. The reopening of Parliament after the European referendum was just a wonderful example. The whole country was just, as we would say, gobsmacked. The fact that she turned up to reopen Parliament after the referendum wearing European blue and a large brimmed European blue hat with yellow flowers that look like stars all around the brim. Now, I mean, will the queen ever confirm or deny that? Absolutely not. Can we say with any certainty? Absolutely not. But come on, it's really hard not to go there.

We’re all so familiar with the Queen’s current fashion, and her tendency towards bright color blocking. What was she like in her earlier days?

SH: It's quite surprising when you look at the archives. For example, would you ever have imagined the queen wearing lot of prints? Polka dots? There was one moment in her relative youth where she wore trousers. She did that once and never again.

I was fascinated by the logistical details of the Queen’s wardrobe in your book, tell me a little bit more about that.

SH: All of the clothes are held up to strong light to make sure there are no see-through moments. Everything is lined in proper lining to stop things from blowing up in adverse weather conditions. Every time she wears anything, it's put on the spreadsheet by Angela Kelly, who's an extremely important figure in the Queen's life and very, very close confidante. She is in charge of everything to do with the queen's wardrobe, jewels, accessories, shoes, literally everything.  Angela Kelly's team will log every outfit onto a spreadsheet so they can refer back to it to ensure that the same audience doesn't get the same outfit. 

The Duchess of Sussex accompanies the Queen on their first joint engagement in June 2018.

The Duchess of Sussex accompanies the Queen on their first joint engagement in June 2018.

A great deal of it is stored in the Royal Archives. It's very important that things are archived properly because, of course, one day they'll be extremely important historical artifacts. The Queen really is the first monarch where we have all the photography, all the clothes, beautifully preserved, beautifully kept. And so the wealth of historical material is vast, and so that's taken very seriously.

Do you have a favorite look from the Queen?

SH: I love her in coral. I just think she looks really brilliant in coral and she doesn't wear it enough, I don't think.

When she had her 90th birthday and she turned up in neon green (sparking the hashtag #NeonAt90). I just loved that because we live in a culture where women pass a certain age and they're meant to just disappear. They're meant to blend into the background. They're meant to maintain a dignified silence, and just grow old gracefully and not be noticed. And the power of a 90-year-old woman walking out onto a world stage in neon green is amazing. I love that. I love that from a feminist perspective, I love it from a cultural perspective. I thought that was really, really powerful.

What is your favorite fashion moment from Queen Elizabeth II? Or what color has she worn that surprised and/or delighted you? Please share in the comments!

Photos: Getty Images via Penguin Group