We have become so accustomed in recent months to the dazzling images of the late Queen in her delightfully bright coats and dresses and the seductive hourglass dresses of her youth, that it is easy to forget there was a period in the middle when she seemed to have misplaced her sartorial playfulness and her love of clothes.
You might assume The Crown’s wardrobe department is lying on the Royal Dowdiness with a trowel, especially since they so clearly seem to be part of Team Diana. But even if the late Queen had wanted to compete with her increasingly charismatic daughter-in-law – and there’s no indication she did in real life – there simply weren’t the tools to guard her. dress with which to do it in the 1990s. without looking like sheepskin. Back then, in the UK at least, by the time they were in their seventh decade, most women, even those in jobs where age should denote gravity, had become invisible to the media.
At age 50, the average woman was out of fashion and her style had frozen. Today’s mature women, with their myriad constantly changing style choices, were still 30 years behind. Even in the United States, the options were narrow. In the 80s, of course, there had been Nancy Reagan in her pointy Galanos dresses, but she was considered too fragile, too thin and almost ridiculously tall to be a British model.
Also, the late queen did not make models. She was unique. Stylistically, she constantly had to forge her own path. Ingénue for the first years was charming and appropriate. But as she grew in influence and status, she sometimes had to wonder where the clothes were that would do justice to her position. Power dressing, as so successfully commandeered by Margaret Thatcher, was clearly not the answer. But what was it?
The conundrum is evident in these often overlooked images of Her Majesty in pussy-bow dresses and puffy sleeves, which hovered uncomfortably between fashion and frugality, unflattering thick tights and low waists and slightly elongated jackets that were popular at the time, but so difficult to wear at any age, let alone at a time when your body is reorganizing. Even those who don’t gain weight in their later years find that their shoulders and bust may sit lower than before and their torso may get shorter. Pilates, yoga, and posture exercises can go a long way to improving all of that work, but the fact is, what works at 40 doesn’t necessarily cut it at 70.
Diana was pointing out the glamor deficit. In a rebellious break from the royal convention of wearing British design, the former Princess of Wales first wore Versace in 1991 – a pale gray skirt suit that was surprisingly neat, demure and so unlike Versace that the The image wasn’t much commented on until years later. It was to prove far more important than a neat dove-grey suit has a right to be, ushering in a more confident, elegant and grown-up princess.
Gone were the gadgets of the Dynasty Di years and in their place came a series of elegant and sophisticated outfits – half Jackie Kennedy and half young Elizabeth, which gave her a determined new glamour, more and more like a stateswoman. The Queen, on the other hand, had yet to meet Angela Kelly, the woman who would dust off her image and sprinkle some of the old magic. Kelly joined the Royal Household as one of Her Majesty’s Dressers in 1994, gradually rising through the ranks until in 2008 she took responsibility for all of the late Queen’s clothing, jewelery and regalia. Prior to this, for some time, the Queen was in the hands of traditional British male designers who, though respectful, capable and diligent, lacked the je ne sais quoi to express the flair and “glitter” of the late queen. Often the results were the opposite.
As specific as the challenges of Queen Elizabeth II’s attire are, they’re also universal. Despite many other journeys today, women in their 60s and beyond often face a variety of identity challenges as their work and role within the family evolves – from perhaps mother, to grandmother , from senior partner to a more semi-detached position.
What seemed good or indispensable only five years ago may seem somewhat out of place or become irrelevant. Maybe fashion changed while you were distracted elsewhere. In that case, find someone whose style you admire – whether it’s actress Diane Keaton, TV presenter Prue Leith or Maye Musk, model and mother of a certain billionaire – and see how she incorporates small but regular doses of fashion in her wardrobe.
Or maybe focusing too much on perceived flaws undermined your confidence. Self-memo: get rid of the magnifying mirror. If you need to pluck your eyebrows, you better get them professionally shaped (if you haven’t tried it already, you’ll be amazed at how much a well-defined arch can lift your face). But, repeat after me: never look at your lines, jowls, or any other close-up detail – because no one else will. You’re wasting your angst on something that doesn’t matter. (On the other hand, focus on your teeth – or ask a trusted dentist – because chipped, nicotine-stained molars bring no pleasure to anyone).
Find your own version of Angela Kelly – a woman who knows the power of a tailored coat. Whether it’s a local boutique, whose taste and staff you trust to get you out of a style rut, or a personal stylist like Anna Berkeley. Remember, as Kelly clearly did for the late queen, to embrace color and get rid of anything that doesn’t make your eyes look brighter and your skin look more luminous.
Eliminate clothes that make you feel gloomy or uninspired – better to have a small, well-organized wardrobe of things you love, than a jumble of things you don’t wear, especially since, with a few accessories well-chosen and some choice jewelry, you can wear most things anywhere these days. Make a checklist of the pieces you’ve always dreamed of owning, whether it’s a cropped tweed jacket, jeweled shoes or a leopard print jumpsuit and start acquiring them. And never assume you’re too old for Zara and other high street gems like Massimo Dutti and Jigsaw, where fine fabrics and tailoring meet a contemporary, spirited energy.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that something that looked demure and feminine when you were under 45 will do the same now. Pussy bows, pleats (even floaty ones), flowers, hair clips, and anything that could be classified as feminine can all look awkward later in life. As Elizabeth ll proved in her older years, simple lines, a soft fit, a good shoulder line and investment underwear, classic accessories and fabulous jewelry (real or fake) will prove much better friends.
Left to right: tweed jacket, £359, LK Bennett; pleated front trousers, £35, Marks & Spencer
Left to right: Jumper, £79, Aligned; leather loafers, £295, Russell & Bromley
Left to right: Wool blend coat, £199, Massimo Dutti; leather bag, £475, Strawberry
Earrings, £255, Vintage Givenchy, Susan Caplan at John Lewis – Take a sheet of Princess Margaret and add some sparkle around your face. Leslie Manville who plays the princess in the new season of The Crown wore this pair.