To Top

How Her Majesty’s wardrobe plays a role in diplomacy

The Queen is well known for her fashion sense, almost always dressed in bright colours with her handbag in tow. Have you ever thought about the choices that go into picking just what outfit and when? Her wardrobe plays a larger part in her diplomacy then some may have ever noticed.

For example in May 2011, Queen Elizabeth made a historic trip to Dublin, Ireland to mend a shaky relationship. When she stepped off the plane she was dressed head to toe in emerald green- a nod to the emerald isle. While on the same trip she wore a white dress adorned with 2,091 hand-sewn silk shamrocks finished off with crystal Irish harp brooch that was created just for the state dinner.

Daniel Conway, a politics and international relations lecturer at the University of Westminster has studied the Queen’s role and her diplomatic wardrobe. In an interview with CBC, he said: “It was a context where British power was rapidly declining … and Britain wasn’t sure it was going to have the same influence in the world,

“They had a young glamorous monarch, [and] I think they realised this was something that could project Britishness and British power in a way that Britain couldn’t really do so itself,

“In the modern era, dress in particular, has been used by the British monarchy as part of British foreign policy.”

Royal dressmakers, Sir Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies were employed early on Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Sir Norman Hartnell designed a dress for The Queen to attend a state dinner in Bangkok in 1972, the dress was made to match a yellow sash and insignia she was gifted by the Thai King in 1960 when he presented her with the country’s highest order of chivalry.

When Queen Elizabeth became the first British monarch to go to China in 1986 she wore a dress covered in China’s national flower for her dinner with leader Deng Xiaoping.

Another time was while meeting Pope John Paul II in 1980, she donned an Ian Thomas creation of a black silk-velvet and taffeta dress with a traditional black silk tulle veil keeping with the tradition of wearing black when in audience with the Pope at the Vatican.

In 1983, she met with the U.S President Reagan in California, she wore an ode in the form of California poppies as a thank-you to the United States for their help in the Falkland Island war the year before.

Her dress choices have even been the top news story for the day. When The Queen wore another one of Hartnell’s creations, a green and white Maple Leaf dress to a state banquet in Ottawa, her outfit was headlining everywhere even though Opposition Leader Lester B. Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work during the Suez Crisis and Spain suffered a major flood on the same day.

The Queen mother was also very in tune with dressing for the occasion and the Duchess of Cambridge has taken note from Her Majesty with outfits to nod to her host country.

Many of The Queen’s dresses are currently on display at her Scottish home, Holyrood as part of  Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe, a display of many of Queen Elizabeth’s fashion choices as part of her 90th birthday celebrations.

So next time you see The Queen out and about it one of her signature outfits, why not see if you can find its role in diplomacy.




More in Insight