Some believe that Elizabeth was wearing jeans at the exact moment she became Queen, when her father passed away in his sleep at Sandringham on 6 February 1952 while she was on a safari holiday in Kenya.
She arrived back in Britain without a black mourning outfit and was forced to wait on her plane while one was brought for her to change into, but the new Queen was already beginning to assert her own mind.
‘Lilibet, your skirts are much too short for mourning,’ her grandmother, Queen Mary, admonished when she greeted her. At her father’s funeral a week later, her mother wore a skirt that reached to the floor, while the new Queen’s dress hovered a few inches above her ankles, a subtle but sure sign that this was a sovereign with her own way of doing things.
Thoughts soon turned to the most important outfit of the Queen’s reign – her coronation gown. Hartnell was once again entrusted with the commission. ‘Her Majesty told me graciously that the dress was triumphant,’ he said. She later compared it to wearing a radiator, too.
Women everywhere sought to copy the new Queen’s looks, which wasn’t always easy given most of her outfits were couture creations. In October 1952, she caused a sensation when she arrived at the Empire Theatre in Leicester Square wearing a blazer-style gown by Hartnell. Manufacturers rushed to make copies of the fashion-forward dress and even those on a budget could emulate Her Majesty after a 30p paper pattern was produced. It’s a vanishingly rare example of the monarch channelling menswear. The dress, dubbed the ‘Magpie’, was never worn again.