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The Incredibly Particular Purpose Behind Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe

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Queen Elizabeth II has a signature look. When you hear her name, you likely think of her in a bright, pastel-colored suit, a hat with some kind type of bow or feather on it, a handbag dangling from her forearm, and white gloves covering her hands.

What is the deal with those gloves, anyway?

A Peculiar Purse

As the expression goes, you like what you like— and in this case, Queen Elizabeth knows what kind of outfits she likes. She has her staple pieces and she’s sticking with them. But, believe it or not, there actually is some rhyme and reasoning behind her repeat wardrobe choices that extend beyond being aesthetically pleasing to her.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Let’s start with the handbag. Typically, women carry around purses because they need a place to keep items such as their cell phone, wallet, and keys, plus a slew of other items that really aren’t necessary (like random pieces of gum and crumpled receipts). Surely the queen needs very few—if any—of these items, so what is she keeping in there that is so important she needs to bring it everywhere she goes?

Sending Secret Signals

According to Sally Bedell Smith, author of “Elizabeth the Queen: The Woman Behind the Throne,” the queen always carries a fountain pen, mint lozenges, reading glasses, lipstick, and a tiny mirror. Seems normal enough, right? Well, before you start thinking about how much you and the queen seem to have in common, know that there is a bigger purpose the purse serves: signaling her staff.

Apparently, while in public, if a staff member sees the British monarch switch her handbag from one arm to another, it’s her way of communicating that she wishes to get out of the conversation she’s currently in. The purse switch is her way of signaling one of her staff members to politely interrupt and excuse her from the engagement. Similarly, if she places her bag on the table during dinner, it means she’s ready to go. Basically, if you’re ever in the queen’s presence and she moves her bag, it’s not a good sign.

The Guarding Gloves

Now that we know her accessories serve a very specific and important purpose, it’s hard not to wonder what those gloves are for. Since 1947, when she wanted gloves designed for her honeymoon, Queen Elizabeth has had her gloves made by Cornelia James. The glovemaker’s creative director, Genevieve James, revealed that there is some fashion-related reasoning behind them. Since the queen prefers wearing hats and handbags, going gloveless would look silly and incomplete (of course — everyone knows that, right?).

However, James explained that another incentive for the gloves is that they act as a protective shield for Queen Elizabeth’s hands. When she is out all day, she is constantly shaking hands. The gloves help prevent dirt, damage, and germs. James added that the queen usually carries at least a couple of backup sets of gloves in her handbag. You know, just in case.

If you think this seems excessive, it might help to know that her majesty is pretty practical when it comes to the $140 gloves. If a pair starts to show signs of wear and tear, rather than throwing them out, she has them professionally washed and mended. James said she believes this is at least partly because the royal family wishes to be perceived as being economical rather than wasteful.

Suited To Stand Out

The last staple of the British monarch’s signature wardrobe and certainly the most noticeable are the brightly colored suits. While one might think that she simply likes cheery outfits, we know there must be more to it.

In the documentary, The Queen at 90, Queen Elizabeth‘s daughter-in-law Sophie explained that the reason behind the neon-shaded garb is that she wants to make sure people in crowds are able to see her. When the queen makes appearances, it’s not uncommon for the crowds to be at least five rows deep, so wearing bright clothing is her way of helping to ensure even those far back in the crowd are able to see what they came for. If she were to wear muted and neutral tones, she would blend in with everyone else.

Despite all this effort, all things considered, Queen Elizabeth probably never has to worry about standing out.

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