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Hugo Vickers On Some Of The Best Style Moments From The British Royals

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When it comes to style, royals have always been center stage. While the past has been all about tiaras, diamonds and extravagant gowns, the present is much more sustainable. More and more royals are re-wearing garments and are supporting local designers.

“We are going through a period of austerity in this country,” said royal expert Hugo Vickers, who is giving a talk at Edward and Eve Lemon’s Capital Rare Book Fair, which runs from May 3 to 5 at the University Club in Washington, DC.

The fair is a feast for bibliophiles. Expect to see over 10,000 rare books on show, historic ephemera and maps. Highlights include a letter written from then-president elect George Washington on how he would approach his presidency, which is selling for $550,000, a first edition of Mansfield Park by Jane Austen from 1814, going for $40,000, and a leaf 27 of a 40 leaf xylographic Biblia pauperum from 1465, going for $85,000.

Vickers’ talk, “The Monarchy Today,” will feature the British writer in conversation with Jane Tippett on May 5 at 2 p.m., covering all things royalty.

“We have been through a rough time with the monarchy,” he said. “A lot of people are curious about what’s going on in Britain.”

Vickers is an expert on royals and has written biographies of 20th century icons like the Queen Mother, the Duchess of Marlborough, The Duke of Kent, as well as Vivien Leigh and Cecil Beaton, among others. His forthcoming book on Clarissa Eden, Clarissa: Muse to Power, The Untold Story of Clarissa Eden, Countess of Avon, is out on November 21.

He sees the British royals in a pivotal moment, in many regards. It includes their style. “We don’t have many stylish royals, at the moment,” said Vickers. “I did see the royals back in the day wearing all the lavish outfits, diamonds, and tiaras, looking like real stars. Now, it’s different. Kate represents everything as far as glamor is concerned, but her style is accessible.”

Kate Middleton, The Princess of Wales, is known for many things when it comes to her style, whether it’s embedding national symbols into her outfits to repeating stylish outfits on the red carpet. In the modern royal wardrobe, the culture around wearing an outfit only once has phased out, with new royals wearing garments multiple times, from weddings to Wimbledon.

Some of Kate’s most memorable outfits include her white, one shoulder Alexander McQueen dress she wore to the BAFTAs in 2023 (the same dress she wore to the gala in 2019). She has also helped usher rental fashion into the mainstream after she rented a dress from Solace London from Hurr for the Earthshot Prize Awards in 2022, or that time she rented a green Falconetti dress from ByRotation.

She veers away from a stuffy, traditional look, opting to wear more modern brands like Self-Portrait, which she wore to the reopening of The National Portrait Gallery last June, the green Burberry suit she wore to AW Hainsworth in Yorkshire in September, and Eponine London coat last May. She has also worn brands like Max & Co, Emilia Wickstead, Karen Millen, and LK Bennett.

“She supports a lot of British fashion designers, and when she wears one of their pieces in public, their careers take off,” said Vickers.

Some have noted Kate’s style is not only relatable but takes cues from French culture. She adores white and navy striped sweaters, which she pairs up with jeans and a khaki jacket, or when she announced her cancer diagnosis, while wearing a striped Breton cashmere sweater from brand Erdem. It’s a casual piece she has worn several times, first in 2019 on a trip to St Andrews, Scotland, then again last year in an official photo of Prince Louis.

“She has worn couture, but she also frequently wears the type of accessible clothing anyone can go out and buy, and becomes popular, in its style,” said Vickers.

“Personally, I loved the blue gown from Jenny Packham she wore when she was photographed at the piano of Windsor Castle last year,” he said.

Another stylish royal is Princess Anne, who still re-wears outfits she wore decades previous. Take her red wool coat she was photographed wearing in 1997, which she re-wore at the Cheltenham Festival this year. Another royal wearing her own closet is the Duchess of Edinburgh, who wears family heirlooms owned by her mother.

“Princess Anne is busy, sometimes she seems to take no interest in her clothes, other times, she looks incredibly stylish,” said Vickers. “She wears long tweed jackets, she’s an executive princess, a working royal. She just wears fashion like her uniform. She has been called an ’accidental style icon,’ and it’s true.”

Meanwhile, Princess Beatrice wore Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite tiara for her wedding day, which she paired up with a borrowed dress from her grandmother. She also wore an older pair of Valentino shoes she wore to Prince William and Princess Kate’s wedding in 2011. At that same wedding, Princess Eugenie wore an outlandish Philip Treacy hat that garnered headlines.

“It was a fashion disaster,” said Vickers. Princess Beatrice auctioned off her hat for charity, garnering $131,000 to benefit The Little Bee Initiative. “It was an awful hat, but she has done much better since then.”

Someone who is in the spotlight, but isn’t truly a style icon is Queen Camilla, known for wearing British couture brands like Fiona Clare Aldridge, Anna Valentine and Bruce Oldfield. She has a more classic style than the younger royals.

“She has her own particular way of dressing, she is often involved with large hats,” said Vickers. “I wish she wouldn’t wear these awful, regimental things. She dresses well but she isn’t a fashion icon.”

The royals love wearing up and coming British designers like Beulah, who are dedicated to sustainability, as they employ “vulnerable groups, protect human rights and have a duty to protect the planet,” they write on their website. The British Milliner Philip Treacy makes most of the extravagant hats for the royals. In terms of menswear, the royals have been noted to love shoes by Vince Fletcher, waxed coats by Barbour Ashby, rubber boots by Hunter Boots and suits by Thom Sweeney.

Nobody stood out compared to Queen Elizabeth. “The Queen wore bright colors like pink, green and yellow, mainly because she needed to be seen from far distances, in the crowds,” said Vickers. “She wore distinct colors in public, versus in private, where she wore more muted tones.”

His favorite style icon in the monarchy was Queen Elizabeth II, noting the unique pink hat she wore to her Silver Jubilee in 1977, designed by her longtime milliner Simone Mirman, who attached 25 bell-shaped pink flowers to it.

She was ahead of the Barbicore curve when she wore a bright pink coat to the Royal Windsor Cup Polo in 2019, too. The Queen’s personal stylist Angela Kelly wrote a book about dressing the Queen called The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe in 2019. “I think she dressed the Queen quite well, she used to make many of the garments herself, big buttons and hats,” said Vickers.

Looking to the next generation of royals, Vickers says that Princess Charlotte is one to watch. “She’s an adult masquerading as a 9-year-old,” he notes. “When she was leaving St. George’s chapel after the Queen’s funeral, she shook hands with everyone, then got into the car and, as most ladies do, she brushed her coat down before sitting down on it. She is worth watching, fascinating. She dresses rather well in pea coats.”

For Vickers, his favorite royal is Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who he met when he was 16. “I loved meeting her, she was like an actress, she made people feel better,” he said.

“If you made the Queen laugh, you can be certain you had. She was genuine. When she didn’t want to speak, she just smiled sweetly. We really don’t know what she was thinking.”

Hugo Vickers speaks on “The Monarchy Today” talk at the Capital Rare Book Fair on May 5, 2024, at 2 p.m. The book fair runs from May 3 to 5 at the University Club in Washington, DC. Vickers will also give a talk on September 27 at the Great Hall of City College of New York in Harlem.

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