We take our hat off to the queen
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Plain Dealer Style Editor
God save the queen.
Or at least those fabulous hats.
Her Majesty, Elizabeth II of England, gave a lesson in fashion deportment during her six-day stateside jaunt, which included stops in Jamestown, Va.; the Kentucky Derby; and the White House itself.
She's perfected her personal style during a lifetime spent in the public eye. This is a look that hasn't varied much during the last 40 of her 81 years: demure, ladylike suits in a veritable 64-pack of Crayolas. Her overcoats always match her jacket-and-skirt combination; a brooch is often pinned above her left breast. Her shoes are prim, sensible pumps, generally in black or white. The queen also is a well-gloved woman, most likely single-handedly (double-handedly?) keeping British glove makers in business.
Her image has burned into our consciousness over generations. Trends may come and go, but the queen remains the same. Elizabeth has rarely been caught in an unscripted fashion moment -- the wind would never dare wreak havoc with her hemline, her knees are firmly locked together no matter if she's climbing out of a limousine or a horse-drawn carriage. It's as though she decided how a queen should dress just after she was crowned in 1952, and hasn't wavered a bit since -- her garb is always reassuringly appropriate, consistently proper and, well, more than a bit staid.
The queen's hair is often criticized for its dowdy side curls and swept-back bangs, and indeed, it's not far off from the 'do George Washington sports on our dollar bills. But for a woman who often wears a tiara, it's hard to deny that her style makes the perfect perch for a crown or a hat.
Ah, those hats. My goodness, I love those hats.
Members of the cyberworld's self-appointed fashion police have been rather merciless during the past week concerning the queen and her headgear. She not only wore a hat to the Kentucky Derby, as is tradition, but at nearly every stop along her way, allowing plenty of opportunities for mild ribbing.
To me, her ever-present chapeaux always have represented the single dollop of personal expression that she allows herself in her wardrobe. Her hats are no mere sun protection -- they are usually fancifully, fantastically ornamented, with feathers and pins and rosettes, bows and ribbons and pompoms, her brims tilted a rakish angle. The colors are vibrant, bringing to mind marzipan candy and Martha Stewart-decorated Easter eggs.
Unlike in America, hats still play a major role in British style, with women sporting them for weddings, funerals and other formal events. There are hat makers in Britain -- Philip Treacy springs to mind -- who enjoy the sort of adulation we reserve for celebrities here.
In such a wide and varied scene, plainer hats could certainly be made for Queen Elizabeth, yet she rarely misses a chance to sport a feather in her cap. In a life given over to duty and public appearances, they may be her only personal indulgence -- other than her too-handsome husband, Prince Philip, but that is a column for another time.
Simply put, her hats just make the queen more interesting, offering a glimmer of the woman behind the throne, behind the generations of tradition, protocol and values that are so well-embodied in her upright little figure.
In more practical circumstances, her hats and her smart, brightly hued ensembles make her easier to spot in a crowd, a kind consideration to her public. Imagine trying to catch a glimpse of Hillary Clinton, in her sensible black pantsuits and golden-blond highlights, in a crowded room on Capitol Hill.