Style v fashion: Queen steals the show

Runway royalty: The Queen was wearing a duck egg blue tweed suit by Angela Kelly. © Getty

Is fashion overrated? When the Queen sat next to Vogue editor Anna Wintour at London Fashion Week some saw it as proof of Yves Saint Laurent's famous words: “Fashions fade, style is eternal.”

“The Queen and Queen Mother do not want to be fashion setters,” the royal designer Norman Hartnell told The New York Times, way back in 1953. “That is left to other people with less important work to do.”

This week, however, the Queen shocked the world by appearing on the front row of London Fashion Week. It was her first ever fashion show, and she sat in prime position beside Vogue editor-in-chief and “queen of fashion” Anna Wintour.

Together, the pair watched a show by British designer Richard Quinn, featuring a colourful parade of clashing patterned dresses. Several of his models wore floral motorcycle helmets. Others obscured their faces with 1950s headscarves, which Quinn described as “a tongue in cheek take on Balmoral” and the Queen herself.

“It was surreal,” he said later, of the moment he first saw his guest of honour. “The Queen is just iconic... She is cutting-edge in her own right.”

After the show, she presented him with the first ever Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design and praised the “outstanding craftsmanship” of Britain’s fashion industry.

Indeed, yesterday Vogue described this fashion week as one of London’s most “dynamic” in years. In one show, models wore blow-up paddling pools and shoes made from rubber Donald Trump masks. Other trends included models wrapping themselves in blankets, dresses made from intricate tapestries — and a surprising comeback for socks.

This is all a long way from the Queen’s style, which has been fairly consistent throughout her reign. She may not have wanted to be a “fashion setter”, but she helped to create a look that has been adopted by female leaders around the world.

“She is power dressing in extremis,” explained royal historian Hugo Vickers in 2016. Her clothes are designed to be regal, but not too over-the-top; to make her stand out, while sending a subtle diplomatic message. They are a way for her to “communicate with the world”.

Queen of style

That is the way to go, say some. Dressing is not about following the latest absurd fashion trends in magazines or on runways. It is about style: finding a way of presenting yourself to the world that communicates something important about you. Style is not just your clothes, but the way you talk, and think, and carry yourself. When someone has it, fashion becomes irrelevant.

Don’t knock fashion, argue others. Just because it seems “absurd” to some people does not make it any less important — or any less creative. Some trends say a lot about how society sees itself. Think of the difference between the full skirts of the conservative 1950s, and the miniskirts worn a decade later. Following these ideas is not shallow; it can be exciting and rewarding.

You Decide

  1. If clothes reflect society, what does fashion say about the world in 2018?
  2. Which is more important: fashion or style?


  1. Without looking in a dictionary, write two definitions: one for the word “fashion” and the other for “style”. Think carefully about the differences between them. Then look up an official definition for each and see how yours compare.
  2. It is your turn to be a fashion designer. Sketch an outfit that is inspired by the word “royalty”.

Some People Say...

“Being perfectly well-dressed gives a feeling of inward tranquility which religion is powerless to bestow.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The Queen made a surprise visit to London Fashion Week, appearing on the front row for Richard Quinn’s show. The designer said he was given “a couple of days’ notice”, during which he added some tributes to her style, including the 1950s-style headscarves on some of his models. It is his second year at London Fashion Week.
What do we not know?
What the Queen thought of his clothes — although she was often pictured smiling during the show, she is famously private about her opinions. She said she wanted the award to celebrate “new, young talent”. However, Quinn himself was selected by the British Fashion Council, and we do not know how involved she was in that process.

Word Watch

London Fashion Week
One of four major fashion weeks that takes place twice a year around the world. (The others are in New York, Paris and Milan.) The show in February previews trends for the upcoming Autumn, while the show in September is all about the next Spring. London Fashion Week is known for being particularly experimental.
Anna Wintour
Editor-in-Chief of the American edition of Vogue since 1988, and the artistic director of Condé Nast, the company which publishes Vogue. She is known for her sharp bob, sharp tongue, and ever-present sunglasses.
Richard Quinn
The young designer was born in South London, and specialises in bold, retro prints. His textile studio also makes prints for other fashion and interior design companies, a “collaborative” approach that helped win him the award.
The royal family’s Scottish holiday home.
Diplomatic message
When visiting a country she often tries to incorporate its symbols or colours into her outfit. She wore green while visiting Ireland, for example, and her coronation dress featured motifs from countries across the Commonwealth.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.