See the Queen's 15 Greatest Looks—From Red Carpet Gowns to Relaxed Suiting

The most famous woman in the world isn’t Taylor Swift, a TikTok star or even a Kardashian. She’s a 5’3” nonagenarian unlikely to have heard of any of the above, and this week, she’s celebrating a very important milestone: 70 years on the throne. In that time, Queen Elizabeth II has used the power of personal style to speak clearly and powerfully to her subjects, often without saying a word.

“The queen is one of the most photographed people in the world. Even if we rarely hear what she has to say, we all know her image,” says Matthew Storey, collections curator at Historic Royal Palaces. “And so what she communicates with her clothes is incredibly important and powerful.”

She’s followed the same style formula since the ’60s: a boxy dress and coat in a punchy hue, a coordinating hat, gloves, a ladylike handbag, a sturdy heel. It’s simple but unforgettable thanks to her fearless way with colour. Who could forget the lime-green suit she wore for Trooping the Colour in 2016 or her countless Crayola-bright Royal Ascot looks? 

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She chooses her palette with visibility in mind, famously saying, “I have to be seen to be believed.” This attitude makes her “a beacon of colour and positivity in an otherwise confusing world,” says Bethan Holt, The Telegraph’s fashion director and author of The Queen: 70 Years of Majestic Style. “By carefully choosing a brooch or a certain colour, she can show us in such an understated yet powerful way what she wants everyone to think and know about her opinions in a way that’s so very clever.”

From the prim dresses she wore as a young princess to her dazzling white-tie-and-tiara formal looks as a young queen to her current era of paintbox-bright coats and hats, here are some of the queen’s best style moments from the past 70 years.

1. At Windsor Castle, 1944

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By 18 years old, Princess Elizabeth was familiar (if not entirely comfortable) with being the subject of public interest. Her appearance as a poised teenager bears a startling similarity to some of her style signatures as queen: Her curled hair, ladylike floral dress and sensible shoes wouldn’t be out of place in photos taken 20 or even 50 years later. The pony, too…

2. The War Years, 1945

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When Britain went to war, the princess joined up. As junior commander of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), she wore a uniform not unlike that of the other 250,000 volunteers who served in the women's branch of the British Army during the Second World War.

3. Princess Bride, 1947

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The future queen and Prince Philip announced their engagement together at Buckingham Palace, with the princess wearing a three-diamond and platinum engagement designed by Prince Philip. Their wedding in 1947 became a national celebration. Due to postwar shortages, the Princess had to save her clothing-ration coupons to pay for her wedding gown. (The government did allow her 200 extra coupons.) The ivory satin dress designed by Sir Norman Hartnell continues to inspire brides today.

4. At Balmoral, 1952

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When the queen puts on her OOO, the place she’s most likely to go is Balmoral, her retreat in the Scottish Highlands. It’s here she most visibly relaxes, riding horses, shooting and walking—or just posing with the dogs in the garden in this off-duty skirt suit.

5. The Royal Film Performance, 1952 

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Floral dresses and uniforms are fine, but sometimes, nothing but flat-out glamour will do. The annual Royal Film Performance in Leicester Square was a white-tie-and-tiara occasion. For her first as monarch, the queen wore a modern gown with the Girls of Great Britain and Ireland Tiara. A legacy from Queen Mary, it’s understood to be the queen’s favourite diadem. (What, you don’t have one?)

6. The Coronation, 1953

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The queen commissioned Hartnell, the British couturier who created her wedding gown five years earlier, to design her coronation gown and robe. The white satin gown was embroidered with floral emblems of the countries of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth: the English rose, Scottish thistles, Welsh leeks, and so on. The design took six embroiderers 3000 hours to complete. 

“It’s her most important dress,” says Storey. “The dress had to be suitable for this ancient, mediaeval religious ceremony of the coronation, and it is—and yet, at the same time, it’s a dress that was utterly right for a young queen in 1953. It embodies that ancient dignity of her role but also that huge feeling of optimism that greeted her ascension to the throne.”

7. Hosting the Kennedys, 1961

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The queen wore Hartnell on many other occasions, including for a 1961 banquet honouring U.S. President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The blue tulle ball gown was consistent with the queen’s typical style but unavoidable (and unflattering) comparisons were made to Jackie’s sleek, chic Chez Ninon gown.

8. The Equestrian Queen 

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If the queen has a Balmoral uniform and a working uniform, she also has a Windsor Horse Show uniform. Almost every May, she can be seen admiring the horses at the show, typically wearing a skirt suit, jacket and skirt, or, more rarely, trousers. The constants are her silk headscarves and her Leica—the better to catch the action with.

9. A Presidential Visit, 1969

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“A look that really stands out is a bright fuchsia cocktail dress that the queen wore to show President Nixon around Buckingham Palace,” says Holt. “She looks timelessly elegant, it fits her absolutely beautifully, and it’s wonderful that she’s a head of state, she is a woman, and she’s owning her femininity by wearing this big, bright dose of pink. She’s not shying away from it or trying to dress like a man—she’s dressing like a woman, she’s revelling in it, and she looks beautiful at the same time.”

10. The Royal Tourdrobe

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The queen and her team prepare for royal tours with military precision, considering the symbols and meaningful colours of the host country, climatic considerations and the need to razzle-dazzle all the supporters. From her tours as a glamorous young queen in the '50s to more recent trips (note the maple leaf brooch she wore in Canada in 2010), she’s a master of diplomatic dressing. 

11. Faithful Friends, 1974

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By the mid-’70s, the queen had embraced the look that would become her signature: dresses or skirt suits in a bold colour, always with a coordinating hat, sensible heels and a smart handbag—even when she’s on holiday.

12. Business Colourful

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Angela Kelly, the queen’s personal dresser since the ’90s, further refined her style formula to create the inimitable look we recognise today. The queen always wears coats and dresses in bright colours (the better to ensure her visibility in a crowd), topped with magnificent hats. For finishing touches, she reaches for her Cornelia James gloves, Anello & Davide heels, Launer handbags and transparent Fulton umbrellas, trimmed to coordinate with her outfit.

13. Grandmother of the Groom, 2011

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At the wedding of Prince William and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, the queen’s sunshine-yellow outfit emphasised the happiness of the day. (Biographer Andrew Morton wrote that the monarch was “practically skipping” with joy.) She also nodded at the romance of the occasion with her choice of jewellery: a diamond brooch featuring a lover’s knot that belonged to Queen Mary.

14. #HighVisHighness, 2016

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“I have to be seen to be believed,” the queen has said. There was no missing her at 2016’s Trooping the Colour, when she wore a neon-green Stewart Parvin ensemble that popped against the reds and whites worn by the rest of the balcony crew. The look gave rise to social media hashtags including #neonat90 and #highvishighness. Recently, London Fashion Week designer Richard Quinn praised this look as evidence of the queen’s “daring and subversive” style.

15. Queen of the Front Row, 2018

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When she made an unannounced appearance at Quinn’s London Fashion Week show in February 2018, it was difficult for the audience to look anywhere but at the monarch in the front row. Not even Quinn’s acid-bright floral ensembles (inspired by the queen, no less) could draw focus. Presenting Quinn with the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design, she described the award as “a tribute to the industry and my legacy and all those who have contributed to British fashion.”

 Up next, Kate Middleton's striking red carpet moment.

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