A royal look: Queen Camilla's style evolution
On Saturday 6 May, Queen Camilla was crowned alongside her husband of 18 years King Charles in one of the most talked about events this year, if not decade.
Wearing a gown designed by British couturier and longtime friend of the royal family Bruce Oldfield and shoes in the same silk fabric made by British designer Elliot Zed, she fitted into her new role perfectly.
It’s likely that took a look a lot of planning though; in a statement, Buckingham Palace revealed, “The embellishment of the Coronation dress features delicate garlands of abstract wildflowers from fields and hedgerows: daisy chains, forget-me-nots, celandine and scarlet pimpernel, representing The King and The Queen Consort’s affection for nature and the British countryside... In designing the garment, Bruce Oldfield’s vision was to create a sophisticated and modern dress that showcases Her Majesty’s style and personality in its details”.
Born Camilla Shand into an upper class family in 1947, Britain’s new queen has been dogged with controversy due to her relationship with the new King but has undergone an impressive rehabilitation of her image in the public eye, with polls showing her ‘likeability’ has increased significantly ahead of the coronation.
In many ways, she’s seen as an ideal queen for the United Kingdom due to her background and ability to tow the line and listen to public opinion. Earlier this year, she was lauded for deciding against wearing the controversial Koh-i-Noor diamond in her coronation crown, which had been a staple of the British Crown Jewels for nearly 175 years.
The diamond has long been plagued with disputed ownership claims and is seen by some as a spoil of Britain’s often controversial colonialist past, so Camilla’s choice not to wear it was the right one in the current political climate. Instead, she chose to wear the former Queen Mary's crown - she was the wife of King George V and was coronated alongside him in 1911.
In actual fact, Camilla broke with the tradition of recent queens and queen consorts by not choosing to have a new crown made especially for her coronation, with Buckingham Palace citing the reasons for this decision as efficiency and sustainability.
Historically, Camilla has always made style choices reflective of her upper class roots and has undergone a transformation from relying on somewhat generic ‘society girl’ looks to establishing herself partially through clothing as a solid figurehead in the UK and across the globe.
At just four years old, Camilla was launched into the world of upper class society at her ‘favourite’ uncle Jeremy Cubitt’s wedding Diana du Cane in 1952. She and her younger sister Annabel were bridesmaids at the ceremony and the event was one of the most reported of that year in the society pages.
From then, she lived a typically upper class life, with biographer Gyles Brandreth describing her childhood thus: “Camilla is often described as having had an "Enid Blyton sort of childhood". In fact, it was much grander than that… Enid Blyton's children were essentially middle-class children and the Shands, without question, belonged to the upper class. The Shands had position and they had help - help in the house, help in the garden, help with children. They were gentry. They opened their garden for the local Conservative Party Association summer fête”.
In 1965, Camilla was a debutante along with 310 other high-born young women and after a number of jobs, she married Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles, a former British Army officer in 1973.
Held at the Guards Chapel in London with a reception afterwards at St. James's Palace, it was quite the society wedding, with guests including the Queen Mother, Princess Anne and Princess Margaret. Camilla’s dress was fitting of her status and although rather simple - especially compared to that of Charles’ first bride Diana’s vast gown - made the right statement.
Although Camilla and Andrew remained married until 1995, having two children together, they had apparently been living separately for years and it’s widely reported that the now queen’s romance with King Charles never really ended.
In this snap from 1972, Camilla is certainly dressed appropriately, if not imaginatively. In embracing the prints and colours of 1970s fashion - as well as the hairstyles - she looks perfect for a day at the polo where she was spotted talking to the then Prince Charles.
For years Diana was long heralded as the ultimate style icon, the same compliments were not paid to Camilla during her earlier moments in the spotlight.
While Charles is famed for his often overly smart outfits, even in casual situations, Camilla has always embraced a more laid back approach to dressing - although it’s no surprise given that she didn’t become a royal until 2005. That’s made evident in this photo from 1980, when Camilla paid a visit to the Ludlow races with Diana. Both are fairly casually dressed, but Camilla’s choice of loose tailoring and a scarf accessorising a satchel mark her out as relaxed when it comes to outfits.
In the public eye
By the late 1980s and into the ‘90s, though, she was more widely known thanks to her relationship with Charles, and she was pictured more frequently smartly dressed on most occasions. In 1989, she wore this very smart navy blue jacket with gold buttons - a favourite design of Charles’ - with a pillbox hat to an event in London, likely knowing she’d be photographed.
The British upper classes are known for their love of uniforms and outdoor pursuits and this is no exception for Camilla. She’s long been a fan of equestrian events, including hunting, and looks just like the rest of the members of the gentry at the Highgrove Hunt in this photograph from 1995 in her jacket, riding hat and jodhpurs.
Flattery or faux-pas?
Arguably one of the most controversial parts of Camilla’s relationship with Charles, which was made official in 1995, was her perhaps unintentional decision to change her style to be more like his estranged wife Diana’s.
After Charles and Diana’s separation in 1994, the late princess wore an iconic black dress, which fashion experts dubbed the ‘revenge dress’, to an event at London’s Serpentine Gallery, on the same day Charles publicly confirmed that he had been unfaithful to her during their marriage.
Featuring bare shoulders and a skirt slit, Diana in the Christina Stambolian-designed dress was on most newspapers’ front pages, winning her praise for taking the news of Charles’ affair off the spot.
One year later at a party at The Ritz in London, Camilla showed up for her first outing as Charles’ official girlfriend in an almost identical piece to Diana’s ‘revenge’ dress, even choosing to style it in a similar way - with a pearl choker and Diana’s signature sheer black tights.
The look was universally panned by fashion critics and seen as a poor imitation of Diana’s style - but the criticism did push Camilla to find her own identity in the style stakes.
Say it with florals
Since that incident, Camilla has dressed more ‘traditionally’ royal (or royal adjacent), choosing entire outfits in one colour, like this pink ensemble with matching hat she wore to a society wedding in 1999.
At her own wedding to Charles in 2005, Camilla knew she had to tread carefully as the world was watching the culmination of a controversial and decades-long relationship.
She chose two looks - the first for the ceremony created by London design duo Robinson Valentine a white and cream dress and jacket combination topped off with a Philip Treacy hat. For the blessing afterwards, she wore a floor-length embroidered pale blue and gold coat over a matching chiffon dress, also designed by Robinson Valentine. The much talked about ‘golden feather’ headpiece was another design by milliner Philip Treacy.
Like her husband Charles, Camilla has always been keen to represent British brands as part of the royal ‘UK PLC’ message, choosing heels from London-based L.K.Bennett for her wedding looks and in many outfits since.
As Camilla was more welcomed into the royal family by the British public, the more confident she got with her personal style. Like her husband, in later life she has dressed appropriately for every occasion, as seen here at the 2007 Chelsea Flower Show, where she leaned into the floral theme but matched it with sharp tailoring, ensuring she looked smart but respectful.
By 2018, at Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle, Camilla had truly found her style stride. Wearing an all pink outfit with an impressive feathered hat, she made sure she would stand out on the world stage as the groom’s stepmother, but the tailoring choice showed respect to the couple, not drawing attention from them.
Many commentators do say that, despite the rocky road to their wedding and marriage, Charles and Camilla do appear to be soulmates. She has certainly embraced his passions and his own style choices - as seen here during a visit to Scotland, where the royals famously spend much of their time - choosing a tartan two-piece which complements Charles’ kilt without detracting from the strength of his look. Every time the royal couple visit Scotland, Camilla dresses in traditional tweeds and check prints and it marks her out as being a true part of the royal family.
After Queen Elizabeth’s death last September, Camilla came into her own - as a supportive partner to Charles as well as in her style choices. Never leaving Charles’ side, she joined him in traditional black mourning clothes, making subtle choices that spoke for her sorrow and didn’t snatch attention from the late monarch or Camilla’s husband, the new king.
Ahead of - and since - her crowning, Camilla has no doubt been thinking about her upcoming role as queen. The late Queen Elizabeth was famous for wearing bright colours so she would stand out in a crowd and Camilla has been taking inspiration from this thought process.
At a reception just last week at Buckingham Palace, the now Queen Camilla chose a red coat with matching - and very striking - headpiece, accessorised with black boots, gloves and handbag. She certainly made a statement and it’s likely she’ll continue to embrace colour and attention-grabbing pieces now she’s been crowned.