The Queen at 90: Style Secrets of the Most Beloved Fashion Icon of the Last 100 Years

Elizabeth II's signature looks have always been just so throughout her historic reign

By Melanie Bromley Apr 21, 2016 11:00 AMTags
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Queen Elizabeth II has spent a lifetime in the public eye, been photographed countless times and over the years has probably shaken hands with upwards of 3 million people.

Today the longest reigning British monarch celebrates her 90th birthday and while on the surface she might look like any other grandmother with her signature curls, pearls and boxy jackets, she's far from it.  

Fashion trends have come and gone throughout her historic reign, now in its seventh decade, but she has remained true to her signature style. And after 64 years on the throne, she's arguably become one of the most culturally significant fashion muses of the past 100 years.

E! News can now unveil her style secrets and reveal how the queen has put together a silhouette that's almost as recognizable as Big Ben—but quite a bit more tailored.

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1. She was the original fan girl: Before she was queen, little princess Lilibet, as her father called her, was a girl who loved fashion so much she would sneak in and out of Buckingham Palace to go on secret shopping trips with her sister. She loved to watch Hollywood movies, Gone with the Wind being her favorite, and as a result would try to copy Scarlett O'Hara's look with cinched waists and flowing hemlines.

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2. Clothes help her convey her power: The girl who would be queen wasn't always meant to be. Once her uncle, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne to marry American divorcée Wallace Simpson, Elizabeth's father ascended instead. When King George VI died of thrombosis, she found herself on the throne when she was only 25.

Fashion helped cement her place as a world figurehead. The strappy dresses and off-the-shoulder tops she used to love parading around in were relegated to the back of the closet, replaced by higher necklines and lower hemlines. And it's a look that stuck and helped ensure that she radiates regal power and authority ever since.

One fashion commentator even claims that the queen hasn't shown her upper arms in public in over 40 years—although she makes sure her top half is not restricted so she can do her obligatory wave without ripping any fabric. Because of her petite frame she prefers skirts and dresses rather than pants (she's only been photographed wearing pants a handful of times). And comfort is also a consideration as she spends many hours traveling for her appearances. She also makes sure her zippers and buttons are accessible, so she can easily change outfits multiple times a day (she's been known to wear five different looks in 24 hours).

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3. She isn't afraid to wear all the colors of the Reignbow

Being only 5-foot-4, catching a glimpse of her diminutive frame can be difficult, especially if thousands of other people have also come out to see her during a high-profile public appearance. As a result, Elizabeth has chosen throughout her reign to wear the most vibrant shades possible while out and about. That way, even if she's just a teeny dot in the distance, her adoring public doesn't need superhuman vision to see her. In her palace wardrobe there are barely any muted tones; instead her hangers are filled with all the colors of the rainbow, from regal reds to bright blues.  Elizabeth also uses color as a way to convey diplomacy. On a recent visit to Ireland, she donned green as a fashion tribute to the Emerald Isle. And her love of color isn't wasted, even if the gray skies of London open up.

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Because best of all, when it's raining, the queen likes to match her umbrella to her outfit by using a clear plastic brolly decorated with a bright stripe around the rim.

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4. She's weatherproof: Come rain or shine, aside from carrying the perfect umbrella, the Queen ensures she is never left left red-faced by an unexpected gust of wind. Her longtime dressmaker, Angela Kelly, sews discrete curtain weights in her hemline so it can't accidentally blow up in the wind (it's rumored that palace staff test new outfits by using electric fans to mimic breezy weather). The curtain weights also give HRH the confidence to climb in and out of cars without pulling a Paris Hilton on us.

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5. She's knows all the secret stylist tricks: Proportion matters when you are constantly being photographed and so the Queen is rumored to sometimes wear just one shoulder pad at a time. Apparently her left shoulder is slightly higher than the right one and so extra padding helps to balance her out and give her more symmetry. (Talk about being red carpet ready!)

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6. Good hair is a must: Her Majesty's iconic hairstyle is plastered on banknotes and coins throughout the land. She never seems to have a lock out of place. Palace insiders say she uses a mystery gel, which they jokingly call "liquid concrete" to sculpt her waves. Whatever her secret weapon consists of, we may never know, but her hairdresser of almost 20 years is obviously doing a good job—he was awarded a Royal Warrant recently as a thank you.

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7. Wrinkles are a big no-no: The Queen and her glam squad make sure to pick fabrics that don't crumple or lose their shape even if she has to sit down halfway through an appearance. That way she is never faced with unsightly creases (and an unflattering photo) as she moves from one appearance to another.

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8. She's in love with polka dots: Amid the bold block colors that she is famous for are the frocks with different patterns on them. From paisley to florals, her talent for mixing clashing colors is clear. And among them are her favorite design of all, spots.  It's estimated 20 percent of her wardrobe is made up of dotty clothes in various shades.

9. She isn't afraid to recycle: Kate Middleton's penchant for recycling and repeating outfits isn't a new trend among the inner royal circle: frugal Liz has been doing it for decades, even collecting clothing coupons to acquire her wedding dress in 1947. Of course having her own dressmaker on staff comes in very handy and, every so often, Angela Kelly goes through the treasure trove that is the Queen's closet (every item she has every worn in public is carefully documented and preserved in an airtight space), and will reuse a vintage fabric to make a whole new item.

The Queen's Essentials

Handbag: She prefers patent leather Launer bags in neutral black or beige so they can easily be matched with her colorful coats and dresses. As for what's always inside the bags: mints, lipstick, a mirror, her reading glasses and a pen.
Shoes: Anello & Davide have been providing the queen's go-to footwear for 50 years. As with her bags she prefers neutral colors, with a brass clasp or bow for a flourish. A 2.25 -inch block heel gives her extra height and, on occasion, an extra platform is added. The petite royal wears a U.K. size 4 and never gets blisters because a palace staffer will wear her shoes in for a week before the Queen slips them on.
Gloves: To avoid the germ transfer that would come with shaking 50,000 hands a year, the Queen never leaves home without her trusty pair of black or white cotton mitts, each pair handmade by her official glove-maker, Cornelia James, and costing around $200. And if she gets a hole in a glove, the famously thrifty monarch will send them to be repaired rather than replace them.
Hats: Royal milliner Rachel Trevor-Morgan makes the Queen's favorites. A basic felt design will set her back around $450, but for special occasions she has been known to spend more than $1,500 on a more elaborate design.
Tiaras: QE2 loves tiaras and, lucky for her, she owns 11 of them, including the Imperial State Crown, which contains 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and five rubies(!). Her favorite one, however, is the same one she's seen wearing on banknotes: Called the "Girls of Great Britain and Ireland," it has 1,028 dazzling diamonds.
Pearls: While she will wear diamonds on occasion, pearls are her go-to accessory. She is most often seen wearing two- and three-strand necklaces that range in length. Her father gave her one of her most treasured strand of pearls when she was a little girl.
Pantyhose: She always opts to wear nude stockings rather than go bare-legged. In the winter she is often seen in 60 denier pantyhose to keep her legs warm and she will always have an extra pair on her in case she accidentally ladders them.