For seventy years, a recurring question has accompanied each of the appearances of Elizabeth II of England. What hat will she wear? Symbolically, the stakes are high. It is a substitute for the crown whose function is to ensure the visibility of the queen with the necessary pomp and solemnity. However, since the monarchical institution is above fashion and since, in real life, women have not worn hats since the end of the 1940s, the royal bibi is an authentic field of expression. It can give free rein to a certain theatricalization, whether in terms of shapes but also colors, the choice of which regularly feeds bookmakers’ bets. In this case, the sovereign has rarely disappointed.
Queen Mum, her mother, gratified us with floating hats with wide brims and pastel shades, while Margaret, her sister, was familiar with extravagance. She asked the French Simone Mirman, one of the most famous Crown milliners, to make her a hat from a Moroccan carpet. Elizabeth, for her part, does not allow herself to be locked into a style. Even if she has calmed down a bit, the spectacular creations – mild understatement – have never frightened her. In this contrast with the oh-so-balanced way in which she has always assumed her role, we should no doubt see the very British ability to reconcile respect for tradition and a spontaneous penchant for fantasy.
The “talking hat”
Leafing through Elizabeth II, the Crown Hats by Thomas Pernette (EPA, 2021) is dizzying. We see Breton headgear, berets with bells, headdresses submerged in flowers, boater-bells, turbans, feathered hats (fur has been banned since 2019), spaghetti hats and flying saucers (“flying saucers”) worn on the side.
This hatter’s saga also had its unforeseen events, its casting errors and its misunderstandings. In 1991, Elizabeth spoke in Washington, DC after George Bush senior, who towered over her by 25 centimeters. Alas, no step has been provided and the sovereign literally disappears behind the desk. The episode stuck as the “talking hat” episode. In 1998, in Kuala Lumpur, the Queen discovered that the headgear that had been made for her was quite hideous. Without getting dismantled, she decides to wear it… upside down. The most controversial remains the one she chose in June 2017 to speak before the Commons, a year after the Brexit vote. A creation of blue fabric, studded with flowers in yellow pearls evoking – one would have sworn a manifesto – the European flag. Buckingham had to deny it.
We wish long life to the sovereign. When England will have a king again, boredom is likely to await. The Crown male dress code is so hopelessly predictable!