07.06.10

The Queen's Fashion Secrets

Thirty years since Her Majesty’s last visit to New York, the only thing different about Queen Elizabeth’s look is her whiter mane. Kate Betts pays tribute to her unwavering devotion to pastels and hats—and those crisp white gloves.

With a new white smartphone in hand, courtesy of Monday’s visit to the Research in Motion factory in Waterloo, Canada, Queen Elizabeth II was right up to speed for her quick zip through New York City Tuesday. Can you imagine a text from the queen to Prince Philip while stomping around the vast ground zero site on her first visit to the city since 1976?

“Where r u?”

“Right behind you, as usual.”

Click the Image to View Our Gallery of the Queen's Best Looks

According to one report, the queen doesn’t really care about accessories like BlackBerries—she handed hers off pretty quickly to an aide. Such things, after all, are about change, speed, and spontaneity. The queen is about staying the same. Her image as a royal is her most important method of communication. By not changing her look, she sends a powerful message of stability and power. The public responds accordingly, embracing her unwavering devotion to pastels and hats. Like any woman with real style she is consistent, impervious to fashion’s vicious cycles. Rain or shine, in a lab coat or 3-D glasses, she always looks the same: pastel dress or suit with matching hat, sensible pumps, pocket book, gloves. When it rains, she switches it up just a bit with a trench coat or, better yet, a trench poncho, and a silk scarf tied under her chin.

• Harold Evans: Queen Elizabeth II Visits the States
And we would be gravely disappointed if it were any other way. Imagine if, upon arrival for her historic speech Tuesday to the United Nations General Assembly, she had suddenly traded in her signature pastel suit or dress for one of those greige Giorgio Armani pantsuits favored by female power brokers in D.C.? Or what if, instead of a perky straw hat topped off with a flourish of fauna, she was sporting one of those mini-pork pies that suddenly seem to be everywhere? Bloody hell, imagine if she showed up at ground zero in clogs?

Don’t even go there.

Even 103-degree heat could not melt the delicious sorbet palette favored by this mother of all style icons.

Even 103-degree heat could not melt the delicious sorbet palette favored by this mother of all style icons. She showed up, addressed the U.N., laid a wreath in memory of U.N. peacekeepers and staff members, laid a wreath at ground zero, and walked through the grassy British Garden in Hanover Square to pay her respects to the families of the 9/11 victims, all without breaking a sweat. And she was wearing a pair of pumps—no orthopedics for this 84-year-old. Surely Her Majesty has a few beauty secrets that sustain her through these grueling conditions. (Now there’s a good idea for a book: Styling Secrets of Elizabeth II. Rachel Zoe, eat your heart out). Anyone who spends so much time making public appearances has a few tricks of the trade up her sleeve, just like those Hollywood actresses who wear wigs to make their hair look thick and shiny. Perhaps there’s a trick to swiftly opening the clasp of a pocketbook while wearing crisp white gloves, as Her Majesty did before her U.N. speech.

A lot has changed in this town since the queen last visited in 1976, to celebrate America’s Bicentennial. Thankfully, Her Majesty has not changed one iota. Of course she’s a bit older, her hair now completely white, her headgear a stitch more conservative, to match the more solemn mood of her visit. On her first visit to New York City almost 34 years ago, the queen showed up wearing a white turban reminiscent of something Bianca Jagger might have worn to Studio 54; visited Bloomingdales; and stayed at the Waldorf-Astoria. In 1991 she addressed Congress, the first British monarch to do so, in a peach dress and matching hat that resembled the frosting on a Magnolia Bakery cupcake.

Tuesday, as the heat index hit 106, QEII addressed the United Nations General Assembly—offering what her handlers called “a message from the British government”—in her signature look. The pale blue lining of the brim of her satin hat perfectly matched the flowers on her jacket. She didn’t change outfits, as some public officials might have, for another appearance downtown at ground zero. And, at Hanover Square, there were no speeches, no barefoot sprint à la Michelle Obama. There was just Her Royal Self, moving slowly through the afternoon heat, as unspontaneous as ever. So yesterday, as Carly Fiorina would say. So gr8.

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Kate Betts is a contributing editor at Time magazine and until this year was also the editor of Time Style & Design, a special supplement to the magazine. Previously, Betts was the editor in chief of Harper's Bazaar and the fashion news director of Vogue. She is the author of the book Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style , due out February 2011.