How Queen Elizabeth’s hats became an enduring symbol of the British monarchy

IIt wasn’t often that you saw Queen Elizabeth without her hair covered. On occasions of state, a crown or tiara was placed over a perfect coif. In the stables at Balmoral, where he tended ponies in Wellington boots and Barbour jackets, a patterned scarf was always tied under his chin.

But mostly, it was a hat.

“You can hardly see it in isolation. There’s always a brooch, there’s usually pearls, there’s usually white gloves,” Beatrice Behlen, senior curator of fashion and decorative arts at the Museum of London, said in a 2019 phone interview. — And then the matching hat.

Hats have been a part of the Queen’s life since she was a child, when she was photographed wearing hats and caps. She would continue to wear it throughout her teenage years and into adulthood, often coordinating with her younger sister Princess Margaret and her Mother.

A baby Elizabeth, seated in a carriage, wearing an elaborate lace bonnet, tied with a bow under the chin, and a little lace-trimmed coat.

Baby in a bonnet

The Queen was well acquainted with impressive headwear even as a child. Here, circa 1928, she wears a lace bonnet with ruffled diaphanous edges.

Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis/Getty Images/CNN Illustration

From the beginning, his tastes were bold and provocative. Commissioned by boundary-pushing milliners such as Simone Mirman, Freddie Fox and, more recently, Rachel Trevor-Morgan, she embraced unusual shapes, floral appliqués, feathers and the full spectrum of colours.

As a princess and in the early days of her reign, Elizabeth was a trendsetter. In February 1944, when she wore “a creation based on an officer’s service cap” to the wedding of Lieutenant (later Captain) Christopher Wake-Walker and Lady Anne Spencer (Princess Diana’s aunt), the Associated Press reported that copies were selling quickly. across London; and in 1946, South African ostrich prices are said to have soared after he and his mother wore ostrich feathers for the VE Day Parade in London.

Black and white photo of Princess Elizabeth exiting the stone church door with military personnel holding swords above the princesses in an archway.  Elizabeth wears a coat with a hat and brooch.

A pair of summit princesses

Leaving the wedding of Lady Anne Spencer and Lieutenant Christopher Wake-Walker in 1944, Elizabeth steps out alongside Princess Margaret in a hat and elegant double-breasted coat.

ANL/Daily Mail/Shutterstock/CNN Illustration

When the Queen wasn’t setting trends, she was embracing them, following the trend for small hats in the ’50s and joining Barbra Streisand and Bianca Jagger in the turban in the ’70s.

Queen Elizabeth stands out among the school children in a bright yellow turban-style hat, a polka dot dress cinched at the waist with a white belt.

The sun in Mexico

During her visit to Mexico in 1975, the Queen dazzled in a yellow polka dot turban and matching belted dress.

Serge Lemoine/Hulton Archive/Getty Images/CNN Illustration

“The Queen doesn’t have to be ‘fashionable’ – she IS fashion, and she has inspired her generation to return to elegance, appreciate quality and dress appropriately,” Dorothy Shaver, then president of department store Lord & Taylor. chain, he told the Los Angeles Times in 1957, ahead of the Queen’s first state visit to America.

In the 60s, hats were out because of changing attitudes and trends. But the Queen was not released. “Growing up, it was completely normal to wear hats, everybody, every woman, would wear a hat,” Behlen explains. “It becomes a trademark when everyone else stops wearing it.”

As is always the case with women in politics, Elizabeth’s dress was dissected and scrutinized. He often seemed to use this to his advantage, deploying his accessories as vehicles for subtle messages.

In 1946, she donned an oversized hat to meet a group of Girl Guides and in 2008 to Slovakia a “cross between a pillbox and a glamorous ushanka,” artist and professor Oliver Watts wrote in The Conversation. “Even if it is ‘appropriate’ for the occasion, this should also be a kind of joke, a bit of humor to put people at ease with enthusiasm and generosity,” he added.

Queen Elizabeth stands among life-size terracotta soldiers, followed by Chinese dignitaries.  The Queen wears a sky blue pillbox hat with a hollow veil and a sky blue suit jacket and dress with white and blue gingham trim.

Visiting the Terracotta Army

Wearing a sky-blue hat and veil, the Queen inspects the 2,000-year-old terracotta army during a visit to Xi’an, China in 1986.

Bregg/AP/CNN Illustration

We have to assume that there was a similar motive behind the decision to wear a blue and yellow hat to open the British Parliament in 2017, when Brexit negotiations began. “Is the Queen wearing an EU hat?” asked the BBC, and many other speculators on social media. But of course he never said.

Queen Elizabeth sits on the golden throne of Parliament next to her son Prince Charles, wearing a morning suit.  The Queen wears a royal blue hat with yellow floral detailing and a buttoned coat and dress.

Addressing a nation divided by Brexit

In 2017, at the opening of the Houses of Parliament, the Queen’s blue lapis caused a stir. Designed by royal dressmaker Angela Kelly and couturier Stella McLauren, it was quickly interpreted as an anti-Brexit symbol due to its striking resemblance to the EU flag.

Carl Court/WPA Pool/Getty Images/CNN Illustration

Perhaps the most lasting effect of wearing a hat is the indelible mark it has left on Britain.

During his 70-year reign, he helped establish the hat as a symbol of high society sophistication, an attractive anachronism and a symbol of Britishness.

This is especially notable considering that, across Europe, queens such as Letizia of Spain and Máxima of the Netherlands now reserve hats for more formal occasions.

Queen Elizabeth, standing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, surrounded by senior members of the royal family, including Charles, Camilla, Meghan and Harry, who are all smiling.  The Queen wears a blue coat and matching hat with teal and black feathers.

The Royal Airforce is 100 years old

At the 2018 Royal Airforce Centenary, the Queen stepped out in a navy and blue peacock feather-embellished hat designed by Angela Kelly.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images/CNN Illustration

“The patron saint of the Royal Family keeps hats alive. Her Majesty the Queen has kept hats alive in the imagination of people around the world,” milliner Philip Treacy said in a 2018 episode of the BBC’s “Desert Island Discs” radio show.

“If the royal family had chosen not to wear hats — say in the 60s or 70s, when some gave up — I wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation with you because hats are part of the culture. Englishness and Britishness.”

Queen Elizabeth wears a gray coat embroidered with yellow flowers around the neck, with a matching medium-brimmed gray hat decorated with feathers and yellow flowers.  He is surrounded by men in black hats and tails.

Royal Ascot

The Queen brought her otherwise muted gray outfit to life with floral and feather detailing, both on her pleated hat and matching jacket.

Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images/CNN Illustration

However, there are occasions in the British calendar where the wearing of hats is strictly adhered to, not least Royal Ascot, where the queen was once guaranteed a horse-racing presence. British bookies accepted bets on which color would be chosen for the annual meeting, with pink and blue among the most used in recent years, according to betting firm William Hill.

Although she withdrew from public life, her mobility clearly diminished, the queen took every opportunity to be visible, often pairing brightly colored dresses with matching hats, a must for her subjects.

One of Elizabeth II’s last public appearances, during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in 2022, seemed to represent her vision. The bright green brought a moment of joy to the thousands gathered at Buckingham Palace, but it was tempered by a poignant act of tribute: a black hat pin in memory of the couple, Prince Philip, who died a year earlier.

Queen Elizabeth standing on a balcony next to a smiling young Prince George.  The Queen wears an emerald green suit jacket with a wide-brimmed hat, a three-strand pearl necklace and a diamond brooch.  He leans over a cane which he holds with one white-gloved hand.

Platinum Jubilee

During her Platinum Jubilee celebrations, the Queen wore a black pin on a bright green hat in honor of her late husband Prince Philip.

Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images/CNN Illustration