26 Facts About The Queen's Hats
Whether you’re a fan of it or not, there’s no denying Queen Elizabeth II’s style is iconic. Even bets are held on what colour she'll wear for her next public outing. At least there's one thing you can definitely put your money on: she’ll be wearing a hat.
So, in the spirit of celebrating the Queen’s 90th Birthday, and the new “Fashioning a Reign” exhibition at Buckingham Palace, last week I went to a talk on her hats at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London (where, if you follow us on instagram you’ll know they are currently hosting a small, but fabulous exhibition on Missoni). Speaking was Beatrice Behlen, a curator and fashion historian, and she offered some great insight into the Queen’s millinery wardrobe and choices.
Image credit: Nasa, May 2007
And obviously I wasn’t going to let you miss out. So, thanks to the talk (and a few bits of additional knowledge!) I’ve put together a list of 26 facts you may not have known about the Queen’s hats:
Her Royal Style Evolution
- As babies, the Queen and her sister, Princess Margaret, often wore little caps with lace. The fashion at the time was to dress babies in wool, but the Queen’s Mother – the Duchess of York – reportedly preferred ‘frilly babies’ instead.
- As children, the Queen and her sister dressed relatively informally, as demonstrated by the fact they didn't often wear hats – which was tradition at the time.
- At George VI’s coronation in 1937, the Queen and Princess Margaret wore little ‘Coronettes’ made by Garrard & Co. Inside the rims, there were little ‘sausages’ made of silk and wadding to make them more comfortable for the little girls - but they still weren’t easy to wear for many hours!
- The Queen and Princess Margaret initially dressed very much alike, mirroring their mother’s style. As they matured they began to wear berets on a jaunty angle, both for official occasions and when they became part of the Girls Guides of the Palace.
- The Queen was notoriously uninterested in clothes, but recognised how much of an important propaganda tool they could be, so ensured that she took careful notice of what she wore.
- The Queen’s style role models were:
- The very stylish Queen Alexandra (who died a year before the Queen was born so would have only been seen in photographs)
- Queen Mary (who stuck to an Edwardian style, even after WWI),
- The Queen’s mother (who continued to dress in a feminine, soft way despite the trend for ‘mannish’ androgynous clothes in the 20s).
- The Queen doesn't favour a particular colour – she wears all. Usually with a hat to perfectly match.
- Visibility is essential to the royal wardrobe. Light colours are preferred so as to be more discernable against a larger crowd, given most of the public conventionally wear darker colours.
- Traditionally, all the hats worn by the Royal ladies must turn up and away from the brow, or at the very least reveal the face.
- As such, the Queen does not wear veils (except for one occasion - see below).
- Unlike her hats, the Queen rarely changes handbag styles – choosing to use the same simple squared one for a period of time, and then replacing it with a similar design. Her preferred designer is Launer London, who has designed more than 200 of his bags for the Queen, and her favourite of his designs is the Traviata (costing £1550).
- Most consideration is given to the Queen’s hats when she is going abroad, with designers often adding emblems as a nod to the country she is visiting.
- The Queen rarely wares black – only for meeting the Pope, as it is traditional to wear a black veil, and when in mourning.
- The Queen has to wear certain traditional hats for ceremonial occasions, including the Garter Ceremony every year (for which she is Sovereign of the Order), where she wears a beret hat with a plume and a garter robe whilst leading the procession of the knights at Windsor Castle.
- For the Trooping of the Colour she wears a tricorne. This was first introduced when she stood in for her father in 1951 when he was unwell. The tricorne was chosen as a suitable and contemporary alternative to wearing a traditional bearskin hat (as worn by the soldiers) given she would be riding horse back.
The Queen Trooping the Colour on horseback for the last time in 1986. Wearing a tricorne by Aarge Thaarup, who designed her very first.
- The Queen’s hat styles have clearly been influenced by the fashions of the time, with her hat choices echoing those commonly worn:
- In the 50s she wore helmet hats with little flowers and bands were popular
- In the 60s she wore smaller hair nets or hats that mimicked hair - introduced by Fashion as a response to more informal dressing (as fewer began to wear hats) and hair styles such as bee-hives
- In the 70s she wore turban like hats that were sewn together
- In the 80s she wore pill boxes
- In the 90s she wore wide brim hats
- The Queen has often worn feathers, with hat maker Freddie Fox considered a ‘master’ of hat/feather creations. His top tip is to use heat to spruce up feathers – so if you have any that need livening up, gently use a hair dryer on them!
- Whilst uncommon for official occasions, the Queen often wears scarves wrapped around her head, especially when pursuing her hobbies as a photographer and horse rider.
- The Queen began by wearing the same hat makers as other family members, notably Claude Saint-Cry.
- But, as the Head of State, she recognised that she had to move to always wearing British (unlike Princess Margaret who often frequented the likes of Dior). Despite this, most of her hat makers were foreign, but moved to London for their careers.
- The Queen’s hat makers worked very closely with the dress makers, so much so that initially the dress maker would put his/her own label in the hat rather than the milliners!
- Some of the Queen’s most notable past hat designers were:
- Aage Thaarup – Danish - often worked with dressmaker Norman Hartnell. Made hats for the Queen from 1950s – 1970s (as well as for many films). Royal Warrant holder.
- Simone Mirman – Parisian - made hats for the Queen from 1960s – 1990s. Royal Warrant holder.
- Freddie Fox – Australian– often worked with Hardy Amies (Made hats for the Queen from 1968 – 2002. Obtained his Royal Warrant in 1971). Known for his feathers and underbrim styles. Royal Warrant Holder.
- Valerie Lee – English – an in-house milliner – little is known about her, but she worked with dress maker Ian Thomas in the 80s.
- Marie O’Reagan – of the London College of Fashion - replaced Valerie Lee to work with Ian Thomas. Made hats for the Queen until 1993.
- Philip Somerville – New Zealander – also worked with Ian Thomas and known for his underbrim styles. Royal Warrant Holder.
- Graham Smith – English - designed many hats for Diana and some for the Queen.
- There was a real sense of 'genealogy' of hat makers, with many of them training with similar people – often the German born, but London based, Otto Lucas.
- More recently, Angela Kelly has made most of the Queen’s hats – and outfits. She began as the Queen’s dresser in 1993, became her personal assistant and senior dresser in 2002, and in 2007 became the “Personal assistant, Advisor and Curator to HM Queen for Jewellery, Insignias and Wardrobe”.
- The Queen still employs one milliner: Rachel Trevor-Morgan.
- The Queen hand writes thank you notes to her milliners, including one to Philip Somerville where she joked she is ‘the only person who wears hats constantly’!