Queen Elizabeth: A Visual Dictionary
Over her seven decades on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II understood the power of visuals. The first British monarch to have a televised coronation, she watched the world turn its attention from the radio to the TV set, and by the time she died this month at 96, having celebrated her Platinum Jubilee just a few months earlier, she — well, the royal family — had an Instagram account and a YouTube channel.
As she presided over a shrinking empire, projecting stability and continuity was arguably her most essential job as sovereign. From her hairstyle to her handbags, her kerchiefs to her corgis, her pearls to her profile, every visual signifier was a means of communication for a monarch who famously had little to say — at least in public. Here’s a look at the symbols Elizabeth leveraged during her historic reign, and what she used them to say.
The Crown Beneath the Crown
Elizabeth was nothing if not steadfast in her devotion to her country and the style in which she chose to express it, but of all the consistent imagery she created throughout her long life, her carefully sculpted hairstyle might have been the most reliable of all.
From the time she was a girl pictured in black and white on the lawn through her stint in the Auxiliary Territorial Service and then her marriage, coronation and 70 years of rule, through decades of bobs, bouffants, hippie hair and helmet heads, it never really changed: an inch or two shorter or longer here, maybe; slightly more bouffant there; allowed to go white in the 1990s, sure. But otherwise her ’do — chin-length, brushed back at the crown, set in soft curls at either temple and framing her jawline — was the visual equivalent of death and taxes: a rock of reliability in an uncertain world. And like so much about the queen, it was a highly considered choice.
Perfectly and deliberately symmetrical, so that she looked the same from either side and in every portrait; molded to fit snugly under a crown or one of her many hats and scarves, her coif was tended to for over two decades by hairdresser Ian Carmichael, who visited Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle twice a week until the coronavirus pandemic (when Angela Kelly, the queen’s personal assistant and senior dresser, took over) to make sure there was not a strand out of place. That was just how she rolled.
— Vanessa Friedman
‘She Never Felt Dressed Without Her Bag’
“She told me she never felt dressed without her bag,” Gerald Bodmer said of Elizabeth.
Bodmer, 90, is the CEO of Launer, a British manufacturer of luxury leather goods favored by the queen for her most ever-present accessories: her handbags. (According to Town & Country, her first Launer bag was a gift from her mother decades ago.)
The bags were sturdy, unflashy and constant to an almost metaphorical degree. One of her favorites, Bodmer said, was the Traviata, a trapezoidal bag made of suede-lined calfskin with a single top strap; the queen sported it in both black leather and the slightly more fanciful black patent leather. It retails for about $2,800. She crashed the Launer website after carrying a cream-colored Lisa — a boxier handbag with two straps — at the 2011 wedding of William and Catherine, now the Prince and Princess of Wales.
— Madison Malone Kircher
A Physical Barrier Between Sovereign and Subject
Elizabeth was known for her restraint. She rarely showed excitement or worry (“Keep calm and carry on,” etc.). She also rarely showed her hands.
The queen almost always wore gloves in public, whether white dress gloves or black leather ones. She waved from balconies and carriages in them, and shook hands in private receiving lines and at public walkabouts with fully sheathed fingers.
“Gloves were a physical barrier between the queen and her subjects,” said Elizabeth Holmes, a journalist who has written widely about the royals. “They projected a certain separation between a monarch and the people.”
Amid a pandemic, it doesn’t seem like the worst idea, particularly when part of your job is to extend your hand to strangers so they can curtsy to you. But her gloves weren’t just a modern practicality — they were a commitment to the past, according to Tina Brown, author of “The Palace Papers.”
大流行期间，这似乎并不算是最糟糕的主意，尤其当你的职责之一就是将手伸向陌生人，让他们向你行屈膝礼。但《王室文件》(The Palace Papers)一书的作者蒂娜·布朗说，她戴手套并不仅是出于现代的实用性，它们还是对过去的坚持。
“The queen came from an era where gloves were the norm, and they added a formal finish to everything she wore,” Brown said.
— Katherine Rosman
Her Signature Necklace (Give or Take a Strand)
Long before there was Instagram, there was Elizabeth, keeping a careful eye and a (usually) steady grip on the brand of her ancestors’ startup, the Firm. She was, essentially, its chief influencer, and she seemed to know that consistent visuals were vital to building a brand identity.
One item that could reliably be seen framing the lower portion of an Elizabeth close-up (no filter necessary) was a pearl necklace — sometimes a double strand, but usually a triple. In portraits, on official state visits, after services at Westminster Abbey, the pearls were there: formal but not fancy, lustrous in glow but not ostentatious in sparkle.
When members of the royal family traveled to Buckingham Palace last week to receive the queen’s coffin as it arrived from Scotland, pearls emerged as an item of poignant homage. Cameras captured Catherine riding in a car toward the palace with a sad, tired gaze cast out the window and a triple-strand pearl necklace draped below her neck.
According to Holmes, author of “HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style,” pearls are a way for anyone to honor the queen.
《女王陛下：王室风格的多种思考》(HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style)一书的作者霍尔姆斯说，珍珠是大家纪念女王的一种方式。
“The pearls don’t have to be real, they don’t have to be expensive — you can do it, too,” she said. “I think we will see more of it.”
— Katherine Rosman
HER LAND ROVERS
My Other Car Is a Gold State Coach
Peering over the wheel of a Land Rover, perhaps the make most closely associated with her reign, the queen offered a master class in loyalty to a quintessentially British brand as well as the occasional glimpse, through an untinted window, of her moments of independence.
While the queen’s official duties often kept her in prim pumps in the rear seat of a Daimler limousine, in her personal life she charted her own rugged excursions around the Sandringham and Balmoral estates from the driver’s seat of a Land Rover Defender. The boxy utility vehicles, which have four-wheel drive and the ground clearance to crawl over rocks and ford streams, matched the unfussy capability of a monarch who trained in driving and maintaining military vehicles with the Auxiliary Territorial Service at the end of World War II.
— Callie Holtermann
‘They Humanized Her’
When Clay Bennett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for The Chattanooga Times Free Press, was brainstorming ideas for how best to address and mark the death of Elizabeth, he initially considered drawing her gloves or a fancy hat. Then he settled on the one characteristic that he felt most connected him to the monarch: a shared love of dogs. In the queen’s case, a love of her corgis, specifically.
In a heart-rending image that was widely shared on social media and international television, Bennett drew an unattended corgi — the end of its leash fallen to the ground — with the dog’s neck turned, looking for its person. The caption reads simply, “Queen Elizabeth II 1926-2022.”
“I wanted to draw a corgi as a symbol of the U.K.,” Bennett said in an interview.
Elizabeth was an 18-year-old princess when she received her first beloved corgi, Susan, the progenitor of all her corgis (and dorgis, after a dachshund made its way into the lineage) to come. In the years and decades since, the queen was frequently photographed walking the grounds of one castle or another with her corgis, the most loyal of her loyal subjects.
“They humanized her,” said Holmes, who has also written for The New York Times. “But they also allowed her to be human.”
— Katherine Rosman
HER WALKING STICKS
An Emblem of ‘Strength, and Not Frailty’
Last year, while attending a service at Westminster Abbey, Elizabeth used a walking stick publicly for the first time in 17 years. (She was last seen using a walking stick after having knee surgery in 2003.)
From then on, a walking stick regularly made an appearance in the monarch’s hand.
Among the most recognizable were one that belonged to her husband, Prince Philip, and another that was a gift from the British army in honor of her Platinum Jubilee.
“It was quite a plain, simple type of stick, but sometimes the simple ones are the most elegant,” said Dennis Wall of Ulverston, England, a former hobbyist whose handmade stick was selected from among nine others commissioned by the army for the queen.
In addition to representing the queen’s dedication to her responsibilities as head of the Church of England and the British Armed Forces, the sticks were also symbols of her staying power, said Erin Delaney, a professor at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law who researches the British Constitution.
“There is something about fidelity, and that kind of long service and relationship, that speaks to strength, and not frailty,” she said.
— Isabella Paoletto
‘Her Choice of Brooch Was Never Random’
In the early 1950s, when the queen acceded to the throne, brooches were a fashionable piece of jewelry that became a part of her formula for dressing.
“It was always in the same position above the heart,” said Marion Fasel, a jewelry historian.
And although they’ve “pretty much fallen out of favor,” Fasel said, the queen was certainly no trend follower, as brooches remained a fixture of her wardrobe for decades.
There is a story behind how each brooch in her extensive collection came into the queen’s possession, and she wore each one with intention.
“Her choice of brooch was never random,” said Bethan Holt, author of “The Queen: 70 Years of Majestic Style.” “They would be selected for the added meaning they would bring to the moment.”
“她对胸针的选择绝非随意，”《女王：70年的庄严风格》(The Queen: 70 Years of Majestic Style)一书的作者贝斯安·霍特说，“它们会被选中，是因其能给那一刻增添意义。”
— Sadiba Hasan
A Rainbow Reign
Nothing that the queen wore was a mistake. Everything was forensically and meticulously planned according to occasion, duty, hosts, guests, custom and formality — including her bold choice of color palette.
“She wore bright colors because she believed it was her duty to be seen by the people who waited, wet and cold, behind barriers for hours at a time,” wrote Sali Hughes, author of “Our Rainbow Queen,” a book divided into color-blocked chapters that chart the assorted hues Elizabeth would wear from head to toe, allowing her to stand out in a crowd.
“每次人们都会一直站在障碍物后面，在又冷又湿的天气里等待好几个小时，她之所以身穿明亮的颜色，是因为她认为让人们能看见她是她的责任，”《我们的彩虹女王》(Our Rainbow Queen)的作者萨里·休斯说，这本书以不同颜色为章节，记录了伊丽莎白女王从头到脚穿戴的各种色调，而这些色彩让她在人群中显得突出。
And so over the seven decades of her rule, there she was, come rain or shine. Visiting a school or a hospital or a world leader, sporting tailored coats, dresses and skirt suits (never trousers) in lemon yellows and letterbox reds, dusky pinks and royal purples and — famously, for her 90th birthday — a deliciously vivid neon green. Kelly, the queen’s senior dresser, explained in 2019 that given Britain’s regular showers, the queen even had a collection of clear umbrellas with a range of different color trims to match her outfits. After all, when it came to her wardrobe, nothing was left to chance — or dictated by passing trends.
“The queen and queen mother do not want to be fashion setters,” said Norman Hartnell, the British couturier who designed the queen’s coronation gown. “That’s left to other people with less important work to do.”
— Elizabeth Paton
For 70 Years, Seen, and Believed
For all the queen’s carefully chosen totems of power, it was perhaps one she couldn’t choose — her face — that bonded her most deeply with her public. And she knew it.
“I have to be seen to be believed,” the queen reportedly said, recognizing that her image itself was currency — and not just on currency, as she became the first monarch to appear on British bank notes, in 1960.
The stoic three-quarter portrait precipitated a series of updated likenesses throughout the years, featuring nearly identical angling but with a gradually pronounced smile. (The last portrait, still in use, was created for the 1990 5-pound note by Roger Withington, when the queen was 64.)
The first stamp bearing the queen’s image, based on her first official portraits, by photographer Dorothy Wilding, was issued in 1952, but it is her left-facing profile by Arnold Machin that has remained frozen in time since its release June 5, 1967.
“It is thought that this design is the most reproduced work of art in history,” according to Buckingham Palace, with over 200 billion copies made.
— Jeremy Allen