Is it poor form to talk about royal fashion at a time like this? Many Kate and Meghan fan accounts certainly thought so, declaring a moratorium on identifying any of the outfits they wear during the official period of mourning following the queen’s passing on Sept. 8. However, Queen Elizabeth herself was a lifelong fashion enthusiast who lived by the neon-fuelled sartorial motto “I need to be seen to be believed,” and may have enjoyed taking in the dramatic if sedate styles worn in her honour at her funeral this week.
Queen Elizabeth used her ensembles as a primary way of communicating with us. (And her staff: She would move her signature Mark Cross handbag from one hand to another to signal when she was ready to move on from one small talk partner to another.) Her brooches alone were numerous and meaning-filled enough to fill their own semiotic dictionary entirely by themselves. A torch, it seems, that has been handed to Princess Charlotte, who debuted her first ever royal brooch at her great-grandmother’s funeral, a small diamond horseshoe given to her by “Gan-Gan.”
And the palaver this week over Harry (and Andrew) wearing or not wearing ceremonial uniforms at mourning events — a monarch-bestowed honour taken from both men for very, very different reasons — only underscored how important clothes are to the monarchy. The queen’s funeral, the final act in 10 days of pageantry that has seen the Royal Family pay tribute in many ways, not least through the black clothing and meaningful jewels and medals they’ve worn. Fittingly, among the guests was the queen’s own long-time “dresser” and confidante, Angela Kelly, in a black floral hat and triple strand of pearls, who was responsible for designing and making many of her colourful looks, and was so trusted by her employer that she was given permission to write three books about her time serving the queen.
As with many royal occasions, hats were a defining sartorial feature of the day — although the omnipresence of black, netted veils underscored the “we’re definitely not at Ascot” mood. Traditional milliner Karyn Ruiz of Toronto’s Lilliput Hats points out that “mourning veils” are a long-held tradition as well as a useful accessory if you’ve been up all night crying. “Typically a mourning veil is worn as a gesture of modesty. The wearer may be visibly grieving and the veil allows for a bit more privacy to do so,” she says. It acts as a shield when you’re feeling vulnerable, as no doubt many royals did while saying goodbye in front of millions of people watching the funeral‚ which was actually the first state funeral ever to be televised. “Alternatively, the wearer may simply not want any outward sign of grieving or non-grieving to be viewed by the general public. In the case of the veils we saw at the funeral, I believe it was keeping with a tradition of modesty and respect,” Ruiz says. “Also, I suspect it was an emotionally charged day for members of the family and others close to [the queen].”
Read on for a rundown of some of the recognizable faces you may have glimpsed in the pews at Westminster Abbey and what they may have been trying to communicate through what they wore.
Catherine, Princess of Wales
It’s been a marathon week for the royal formerly known as the Duchess of Cambridge (which she still is, though her new more senior title just trumps the lesser one she used to use). Every step of the way, Kate has followed in the footsteps of the monarch who mentored her, and used her outfits to pay subtle tribute: carrying a black top-handle bag like the ones the queen favoured; wearing a three-strand pearl necklace in a nod to the style of necklace the queen was almost never seen without.
The funeral was no exception: Kate wore a crisp black Alexander McQueen coat-dress, which she also has in white, and wore to this year’s Trooping the Colour, which is a celebration of the monarch’s birthday. She paired it with a pearl choker and earrings that belonged to the queen — and were loaned out to Diana on occasion — and which she first wore to Prince Philip’s funeral last year. Her wide-brimmed hat was by royal go-to milliner Philip Treacy, and while the netted veil was a mark of respect, the effect of it all was just unbelievably glamorous.
Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex
The Duchess of Sussex had one of the most challenging sartorial briefs of the day: Look appropriate to the occasion but not like you’re trying to “steal all the attention,” and pay tribute to the queen while knowing that whatever sentimental gesture you make, the tabloids are going to accuse you of trying to “make it all about you,” anyway, with a side-serving of five protocol “rules” you broke by, say, daring to hold your husband’s hand at a particularly emotionally draining time for him.
In the end, Meghan went with a black Stella McCartney cape dress; a sweet throwback to what she wore when she and the queen went on their first solo engagement together, paired with the same earrings she’s worn all week, diamond and pearl studs the queen gave her in 2018.
Meghan is pictured above with Sophie of Wessex, wife of the queen’s youngest son, Edward, who was particularly close to her mother-in-law, and was seen pulling tissues out of her clutch during the funeral service to wipe both her own and her husband’s tears. (Her daughter, Princess Louise, also got visibly emotional later in the day, which tracks given that the family lived at Windsor and spent a lot of time with the queen there.) Sophie wore a jacket embroidered with lily of the valley — the Queen’s favourite flower.
Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie
In what was possibly odd timing for a hat-based redemption moment — Google “Toilet Seat Hat Royal Wedding 2012” if you don’t know — the queen’s granddaughter and Prince Andrew’s eldest daughter, Princess Beatrice, looked utterly impeccable, from her bow-adorned pillbox-hatted head to tuxedo-esque jacket to towering-stiletto-clad toes.
Her younger sister, Eugenie, looked equally stylish in a wide-brimmed black hat with veil, a coat with sculptural gold buttons and in a particularly lovely touch, heels studded with pearls, a fashionable nod to the queen’s beloved accessory. In an interesting detail, Eugenie carried the prim top-handle “Diana” bag from Gabriele Hearst, which she also carried at Prince Philip’s funeral — and which could also be taken as an acknowledgment of her late aunt, who rocked a wide-brimmed black hat or two of her own in her time.
Princess Charlene of Monaco
The somewhat elusive royal Princess Charlene of Monaco attended the funeral service with her husband, Prince Albert, marking one of her first major international events since the strange business of her extended absence from Monaco last year when she was “stuck” in her native South Africa due to a mystery illness, and was not seen with her husband for months. Her undercut, which she shaved during that time, is still visible here beneath her simple black hat.
Fergie’s presence at the funeral — and seated in the second row, alongside her daughters — was kind of a big deal, given how rocky the former Duchess of York’s royal road has been. (Scandal-prone is a gentle way to put it, especially when paired with her disgraced ex-husband whom she vocally supports, Prince Andrew.) Still, she lives on the grounds of Windsor Castle — and was the one who quickly taught Meghan to curtsy before her impromptu first meeting with the queen — and maintained a relationship with her ex-mother-in-law. Fergie wore a swallow brooch, believed to symbolize the queen’s spirit “returning home.”
Carole Middleton, mother of Princess Catherine, represented the Middletons at the funeral alongside her husband, Michael. Her necklace, another triple strand of pearls, was a similar design to the one worn by her daughter, a.k.a. Britain’s next queen.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, were there at the funeral service (in a strange detail, the PM was caught on camera on Saturday belting out the Queen tune “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the lobby of a London hotel, accompanied by Quebec musician and fellow guest Gregory Charles). In a more traditional tribute to the queen and diplomatic gesture, Sophie wore a lace inset dress accessorized with a maple-leaf brooch — the queen owned a very similar one.
In addition to so many royal attendees, the 2,000-person audience was packed with political leaders, including U.S. president Joe Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden. New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, wore a striking dress embellished with a fringed detail that emulates a traditional Maori feather cloak, custom-made by New Zealander designer Kiri Nathan. The day before the funeral, Ardern told BBC News that the queen gave her valuable advice on having a baby while leading a country when they met in 2018, when Ardern had just been elected and was pregnant with her daughter. “I said to her, ‘How did you manage?’ And I remember she just said, ‘Well, you just get on with it.’ And that was actually probably the best and most factual advice I could have.”
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