Welcome to CF’s newest column, Fashion Philosophy, which offers a new way to examine a person’s sense of style. We’ve all admired someone else’s dress sense… but have you ever wondered WHY that person wore the precise pieces they did?
This column will explore the many factors that impact a person’s fashion choices, from cultural influences to life circumstances and even personality types. Every other week, I will choose a famous person or group from history and explain the factors that drove their sense of style and attitudes towards fashion. I will also show you how to apply those attitudes to your modern wardrobe and lifestyle.
This week, we’ll be focusing on one of history’s most remembered women: Queen Elizabeth I.
History 101: About Queen Elizabeth I
- Elizabeth was the only child of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Though Elizabeth was born in wedlock, her legitimacy as an heir was soon called into question – a question that would persist throughout her reign.
- Henry had Anne beheaded when Elizabeth was only two years old. Upon her mother’s death, Elizabeth was declared illegitimate and deprived of the title of princess, though she would still grow up in her father’s royal household.
- Elizabeth ascended to the throne at age 25, following the deaths of her father and his subsequent heirs, Elizabeth’s half-brother Edward VI, and, later, her half-sister Mary I.
- Elizabeth never married, earning herself the title of The Virgin Queen.
- Many thought that Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, had a greater claim to the throne than the protestant, arguably illegitimate Elizabeth. Mary was a devout Catholic, the Queen of Scotland in her own right, and had a strong claim to the English throne through Henry VIII’s sister. Many bloody conflicts ensued during the course of Elizabeth’s reign in an attempt to overthrow Elizabeth and replace her with Mary.
- In short, Elizabeth spent a lifetime trying to prove herself. And, ultimately, she succeeded.
Elements of Elizabeth’s Style
Elizabeth was known for her red hair and incredibly pale skin. Because of her alabaster complexion, Elizabeth always shielded her face from the sun when outdoors. Extreme pallor soon became all the rage, and women went to dangerous lengths to achieve a complexion like the queen’s.
Obviously (and thankfully!), times have since changed. If you have pale skin, then by all means, rock it – but all skin tones are beautiful and should be embraced. Instead, to bring a little of Elizabeth’s fashion vibe into your life, focus on taking good care of your skin. Make sure to cleanse your face every day and to use moisturizer. And, of course, make sure to remove your makeup before going to bed.
England had very strict social classes in the 16th century. Your class would dictate every aspect of your life – even your style. It was illegal for peasants to wear certain colors and nobody could ever dress more lavishly than the reigning monarch.
So, naturally, Elizabeth was always the best-dressed person in the country, wearing the most elaborate dresses made of the best possible materials.
For college girls on a budget, dressing to the nines every day is a little impractical. If you want to channel your inner queen in a small way, try wearing one opulent piece instead. Now’s the time to wear those Jeffrey Campbell Litas you got for your birthday or that YSL lipstick that you splurged on. While we may not be queens, we can still find little ways to feel like princesses.
Today, Elizabeth’s dresses might be seen as ultra-feminine, but at the time, they were considered very masculine! The bodices of her high-necked dresses were intentionally V-shaped, which created the illusion of a more manly body type and downplayed the wearer’s breasts. Strong shoulder and neck details, like those found on mens’ garments at the time, further detracted attention from the wearer’s body.
It’s easy to understand why Elizabeth might have chosen a more masculine style of dress. Despite her title of Queen, she was still very much living in a man’s world. Having struggled to prove herself worthy of her title, Elizabeth, as Queen, chose masculine clothing to convey her strength as a ruler and to gain respect in a male-dominated society.
Today, we’re lucky to have more leeway with our fashion choices – women no longer have to dress like men to garner respect. However, menswear-as-womenswear is an easy trend to translate into the modern world. Throw on your favourite blazer, find your old fedora, borrow your dad’s watch – or, if you’re really adventurous, try a completely androgynous outfit!
Putting It All Together
Outfit 1: Reigning Beauty
This first look is for those of you living in warmer climates (or willing to wait until spring). The blazer, fedora, and oxfords give the outfit masculinity, as does the Michael Kors watch, which adds a touch of luxury while still keeping with the masculine vibe. The white dress is a tribute to Elizabeth’s title as The Virgin Queen and is a visual counterweight for the masculine pieces. Be sure to keep your makeup simple, using it only to bring out your natural beauty. Also, be sure to wear plenty of sunscreen!
This outfit is for our readers residing in colder climates. The structured coat and satchel start the outfit off with a masculine touch. (I chose a purple coat for its association with royalty, but any color would work.) Be sure to wear gloves to protect your hands from the cold, and use moisturizer and lip balm to keep your skin from drying. I chose the boots mainly for their practicality, but the faux fur trim is a callback to the love of furs in Elizabeth’s time. Finally, faux diamond studs add the extra touch of glamour needed to keep you looking like a modern monarch.
What do you think of Fashion Philosophy? Are you inspired by Elizabeth I’s style? Who would you like me to cover next? Leave a comment below!