Yesterday, Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96. She was known for many things: her love of the Commonwealth, corgis, and martinis, and her rotation of really, really bright, colorful monochrome outfits. In fact, she was called the “rainbow queen.”
Compared to other members of the royal family, like Princess Margaret, Princess Diana, and now Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton, the queen’s style was not a hot topic of conversation in her 70-year reign. This was by design. As the first celebrity ruler in the age of modern media, she was keenly aware of her image and the public’s hunger to have an opinion about every inch of it. Sticking to a modest, coordinated uniform forced her — and by extension, her subjects — to remain largely focused on her royal duties. Her wardrobe, which she often repeated, projected a sense of stability and composure in an ever-changing world. You could always count on her hats to match her skirt suits. And her love of color gave off an upbeat tone as well, even inspiring the hashtag #neonat90. It’s a no-fuss style strategy that countless celebrities and politicians have adopted in her tenure.
The queen clearly took pleasure in dressing, though. She attended fashion week not long ago, sitting front row with Anna Wintour to see the work of Richard Quinn — a British designer and fellow fan of head-to-toe colors and prints. She also seemed most like herself at Balmoral, where she could often be found in a casual outfit of a Barbour jacket with a scarf tied around her head and Wellies — a look that is just as iconic, if not more, than her color-coordinated hats, matching sets, and purses.
Much like Anna Wintour’s sunglasses or Karl Lagerfeld’s starched white collars and black ties, the queen’s signature look allowed her to transcend the crown to become a pop-culture icon. (When your style can be easily replicated for a Halloween costume, you know you’re onto something.) As a Brit pointed out to me yesterday, wearing such bright colors in a crowd was also, in a way, another small act of service: It maximized the number of people who could say, “I saw the queen!”
Below, a look back at the monochromatic monarch’s long reign.