Safe, solid and dependable, the style of the House of Windsor seems far removed from the fast-moving world of fashion, but it has more influence that one might think
The Queen’s classic approach is her hallmark, Prince Charles has admitted that he changes his style only once every 25 years and Princess Anne is well-known as a fashion recycler, not worried about pulling out old favourites from the back of her dressing room. And the Duchess of Cambridge has been known to follow their example.
Despite this play-safe approach, the royals – and the Queen in particular – have a major impact on what we wear.
Consider the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in April. While the fashion press heaped praise on the wedding dress designed by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, the Queen was making more gentle waves of her own.
Bizarrely, it was not her stylish lemon outfit that got Her Majesty noticed she donned to take a closer look at the proceedings. The story behind the pale pink plastic frames puts the influence of the House of Windsor into sharper focus.
High-street opticians say that for months, egged on by female customers, they had been asking Silhouette – the Austrian makers of the plastic frames worn by the Queen – to reverse its decision to phase them out as it moved towards metal and frameless styles.
“After the wedding we had customers asking for the same frames as the Queen; apparently women in America went mad for them too,” say opticians at Tolley & Partners in south-west London.
“Although the exact ones are not offered to the public there are very similar ones available,” says a spokeswoman for Silhouette. In response to demand the plastic range is being expanded and will be relaunched next year, she adds.
Royal bag-makers Launer also saw a huge spike in orders, which went up by 60 per cent, and demand from across the world caused their internet site to crash after the Queen carried a boxy, cream calf-leather handbag made especially for the occasion.
We have women much younger than the Queen who like the way she looks and want a little bit of it
“We don’t speak to the Queen directly but we know that she takes a great interest in the design of her handbags and the materials that we use. She prescribed the exact lining she wanted for the royal wedding bag,” says David Bayes, Launer’s spokesman. The Queen has a definite view of her style says royal couturier Maureen Rose, who worked for Her Majesty for 20 years with designer Ian Thomas and then took over on his death in 1993.
“I remember trying to make a coat three-quarters of an inch longer and the Queen noticed immediately. I explained that I thought it would make the outfit more balanced and she tried it on. At the end of the fitting she looked at me and said ‘I think we will go back to the original length, don’t you?’
“The Queen would never see herself as a fashion icon. She wears what I consider to be classic clothes in good quality materials that you can bring out year after year,” says Rose, who retired in 2003 and now makes wedding dresses at her home in Hampshire.
In recent years, however, the Queen’s style has changed slightly under the influence of Stewart Parvin, 45, who owns a couture boutique in Belgravia and started working with the Queen in 2000 in preparation for the golden jubilee in 2002.
“I was approached and asked to submit designs and fabrics for a brief – at that time I did not know that they were for the Queen. She liked my work and I was invited to be the person who would update her image.”
The designs she most liked – and the most successful – turned out to be variations on the ones that had won him plaudits with his private clients. “Although I design formal clothes, they are not as formal as some other people’s. For the Queen it remains classic elegance but with a sharp and modern twist, appropriate to her age and duties.”
He says that the Queen does have an influence on fashion. “We have women much younger than the Queen who like the way she looks and want a little bit of it. We have people coming to us wanting a similar type of fashion because, for a woman of her age, she dresses 20 years younger than she is but still appropriately,” he says.
But the fashion influence of the House of Windsor extends far beyond the wealthy. Queen Victoria, whose wedding dress is said to have saved the British lace-making industry, popularised tartan plaid and set the tone for children’s wear. A permanent exhibition opening next March at Kensington Palace – Victoria Revealed – will display a sailor suit, believed to have been worn by Prince Bertie, Queen Victoria’s second child who was crowned King Edward VII in 1901.
“Soon, little boys all over the world were wearing sailor suits and they became the foundation for school uniforms,” says Joanna Marschner, senior curator of Historic Royal Palaces.
The House of Windsor is also known for its outdoor style of waxed and padded jackets which have become hip in unlikely urban settings and on university campuses.
Classic styles by heritage brands, such as Burberry, Barbour, Aquascutum and Wolsey ignite interest from each new generation, says Tom Bottomley, the deputy editor of Menswear Buyer magazine.
“A cool kid from Shoreditch puts on a waxed Barbour jacket and wears it with skinny-fit chinos and beaten up brogues, and all of a sudden it looks very different to the country set with labradors on leads.”
Barbour holds three royal warrants and Gary Burnand, director of global marketing, praises the Royal Family’s “timeless, effortless style which is always appropriate to the occasion.” He adds that the importance of the royal seal of approval should not be underestimated, even when it’s only implied.
“When the film The Queen opened in New York, our store in Madison Avenue was inundated with customers asking if they could buy the Beaufort jacket that Helen Mirren wore in the film. Sales of the Beaufort doubled overnight.”