Not merely costume: the power and seduction of the Queen’s hats

Fascinating piece by Oliver Watts Honorary associate, Sydney College of Arts, University of Sydney.

He points how the England Queen’s hats are so much more than mere costumes:

There is always something more in it than mere instrumental reason. The Queen understands all too well that she must not only represent and embody the authority of her position, but she must also seduce the crowd, make them desire her or be awestruck by her. That’s where the artfulness comes in.

When Mirren finally put on her costumes she had an epiphany. The film producers had engaged the Queen’s makers and costumiers to create the clothes, and they were not like any clothes Mirren had worn before. Weighted with lead in the hem, made from the softest mohair, shoes perfectly fitted in fine kid leather: the apparent banality the Queen goes for is actually a lesson in excess.

The hat is the example par excellence of aristocratic excess, and a particularly British courtly game. It is the style of that class to wear something quite banal but “top it off” with an extravagant hat. This was exactly the move Princess Beatrice made at the most recent Royal Wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. Her Valentino dress and day coat, which by my estimate would have cost around $350,000, tricked the crowd with its lack of obvious luxury. That the internet went wild about Philip Treacy’s hat as always amazed me; of course the hat was outlandish. That is the game.And it is a particularly British form of aristocratic excess, in which you work hard, as a princely virtue, not to stand out except to those that know. A similar approach has been used for Jude Law’s costumes in The Young Pope. They are a little lighter silk, a little closer fitting, to allow him to exude his brand of restrained sexiness.

This one just sums it:

We are brought to the power of the law and the state as much by constitutions and elections as by royal hats and royal weddings. Queen Elizabeth II’s seduction of her subjects has been as mannered as any Renaissance Prince. Machiavelli needed to add a chapter on Princesses’ hats.


This reminds me of the way different communities in India have designed their headgear to distinguish themselves across castes and classes. It is all so amazing to note of the differences..


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