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Elizabeth II: The fashionable queen

When it comes to fashion, Britain's Queen has a style all her own, says the Life With The Queen author.

india Updated: Apr 21, 2006 18:43 IST

Vibrant pastel hues, sensible shoes and a seemingly endless supply of hats -- when it comes to fashion, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II has a style all her own.

The queen, who turns 80 on Friday, starts each morning with a swift, cool bath, then dons the first outfit of the day.

"The housemaid will lay out the first of the clothes she's wearing," said Brian Hoey, an expert on the royals and the author of Life With The Queen.

"She can change her outfit up to five times a day depending on her programme, who she's going to meet, where she's going to be," he told AFP.

Camilla Long, senior feature editor of Tatler, a society magazine, said the queen's style was "very distinctive".                                                         

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, then Princess Elizabeth, wears a silver gown with a diamond tiara and pearl necklace, in this August 30, 1949 file photo

"Her clothes have to fulfil a task: being comfortable and appropriate for a sovereign," she said.

"She's absolutely immaculate. It's always a hat, a handbag, gloves, a knee-length coat or dress and sensible shoes," based on purposefully bright, solid colours.

"It's important that she can be clearly seen," said Caroline de Guitaut, curator of Buckingham Palace's exhibition of 80 evening dresses, which marks the queen's birthday for two months from July 26.

"Often she attends events where there are hundreds, maybe thousands of people. She needs to be visible; she needs to be in a strong colour so that everybody can immediately spot her.

"It's also important for the press coverage, television and photographers," she explained.

If her hats are bold, they are generally small, neither hiding her face nor casting a shadow over it.

Her outfits come in a rainbow of colours, but her shoes and handbag are usually black.

The Queen is seen during the State Opening of Parliament, London in this April 1966 file photo

The contents of her handbags, an ever-present of her public appearances, are often a source of public speculation.

They contain just a handkerchief, a gold mirrored compact, a comb and a tube of lipstick, and a bank note only on Sundays, which is put into the church collection.

Her shoes need to be particularly comfortable. In taking part in endless ceremonies and events, she is on her feet for longer than a nightclub bouncer or a soldier on parade.

For a short official visit abroad, the queen takes 50 different outfits. They are transported in dozens of cases, some around six feet (1.85 metres) high, with boxes of hats and shoes.

Umbrellas, some of which are encrusted with jewels, are protected in chamois leather and transported in a special long, straight case.

For state banquets, the queen wears specially-made "embroidered, sparkly and beautiful" items, created months in advance and tailored particularly to the other country involved in the gala.

"Often they incorporate an emblem that is relevant to the country being visited or they are made in a fabric of the national colour of that country," Guitaut said.

The designers whom the queen has favoured -- such as Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies and Ian Thomas -- became popular in high society due to her patronage.

"She certainly doesn't follow fashion, but she is a huge inspiration to women from an older generation, like my grandmother who dresses like her, but also on a lot of British designers," Long explained.

"She's iconic", shoe designer Patrick Cox, who has conjured up more exotic creations for the likes of pop legends Madonna and Elton John, told Tatler.

"I told the queen I was completely obsessed by her. She was cool, she giggled, waggled her handbag.

"There is always a 'Queen shoe' in each of my collections -- a slightly lower shoe, with a square toe and a thicker heel," said the Canadian-born designer, recalling the day he met a truly regal style icon.