The Queen is surrounded by some of the best milliners in the world. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton
The Queen is fortunate to have some of the most creative milliners around, from Australia’s Frederick Fox, who created more than 350 hats, to the amazing Simone Mirman or the genius Philip Treacy. This shows a keen interest in the ability of hats and clothing to tell stories in a way beyond fashion or costume.
What is a costume?
Anyone who has watched the reality show Project Runway will know that a judge saying, “This is just a costume!” is one of the worst things a contestant could hear. The Queen has been walking that dangerous line for decades with great success.
She wore a pillbox hat with a beaded ushanka in Slovakia to see the terracotta soldiers in China. This is a joke that will make people laugh and feel at ease.
The hat worn by the Queen for Prince Charles’ investiture in 1969 is my favorite. The cap was designed by Simone Mirman and based on a bonnet worn by Tudor princesses. It suited the medieval backdrop of the event. It was designed to not distract from Charles’ first crown.
The Queen’s clothing is more than a symbol of a location or an occasion. Helen Mirren confessed in a Vanity Fair article that she was almost in tears when she saw the costumes she wore for her 2006 film The Queen. The clothes were so plain and dowdy. She concluded that,
The Queen has no interest in clothing… She is not vain at all… It looks like a policeman with a uniform. She is wearing her uniform. She doesn’t really care how she looks in it, as long as it is the right outfit for the moment.
Helen Mirren in The Queen Pathe Productions/Granada
The Queen seems to agree. Philip Treacy asked the Queen, in an etiquette lapse (one should not address the Queen directly), if she liked hats. The Queen responded drolly: “It’s part of your uniform.”
The Queen at last year’s races. Reuters staff
Of course, I don’t. This is not a normal uniform. It’s never just about the practical. The Queen knows that she has to not only embody and represent the authority of her office but also seduce, impress, or awe the crowd. Artfulness is key.
Mirren had a revelation when she finally donned her costume. Mirren’s clothes were made by the Queen’s costumiers and makers, who the film producers had hired. They were unlike anything she had ever worn. The Queen’s apparent blandness is actually an example of excess. She wears clothes with lead weighted in the hem and made from the softest mohair. Her shoes are perfectly fitted out in kid leather.
The hat Princess Beatrice wore, designed by Philip Treacy, caused quite a stir during Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding. But that was not the intention. REUTERS/Toby Melville
It is a British form of aristocratic exaggeration, where you strive to be invisible to others but still stand out to the ones who know. Jude Law’s costumes for The Young Pope were also designed similarly. The costumes are made of lighter silk and a bit closer-fitting to let him exude a restrained sense of sexiness.
Hats are the epitome of aristocratic exaggeration and British courtly games. The style of the class is to wear something very ordinary but then “top it off” with a lavish hat. Princess Beatrice did exactly this at the 2011 Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. I estimate that her Valentino dress and daycoat, which would have cost about $350,000, fooled the crowd with its apparent lack of luxury. I was always surprised that the internet was so excited about Philip Treacy’s hat. Of course, the hat is outrageous. It’s the game.