Queen's fashion (and hats) will impress and might surprise you

Royal Collection conservator Caroline de Guitaut with outfits from Queen Elizabeth II's wardrobe in exhibit 'Fashioning A Reign: 90 years Of Style From The Queen's Wardrobe.' (Photo: Ian Gavan, Getty Images)

We are used to seeing Her Majesty as a slightly hunched granny figure, but once upon a time she was a real-life fairy princess and then a dazzling fairy queen.

Now her people and tourists from around the world will get an unprecedented look at Queen Elizabeth II's fashion during her 64 years on the throne, when Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen's Wardrobe opens at Buckingham Palace on July 23.

Fashion is fun, yes, but for a head of state who is instantly familiar around the world as the living embodiment of the British people, fashion also is very serious business as a symbolic expression of nationhood.

Her Majesty has been somewhat bemused by the birthday fuss made in her 90th year, and it's not over yet: This exhibit is the first of a series of exhibits (there will be two others later at two other palaces) of some 150 iconic outfits tracing significant events in the queen's life and in British history, from her childhood to the present day.

The queen's hat, designed by Angela Kelly and worn to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey in 2011. (Photo: Ian Gavan, Getty Images)

The first exhibit got a press preview on Monday in the White Drawing Room at the palace, under a huge crystal chandelier and in front of a life-size portrait of the queen's great-grandmother, the Danish-born Queen Alexandra, famous in her day for her beauty and style.

Queen Elizabeth's look in recent decades has been consistent: A coat-and-dress in an eye-catching color, topped by a tallish hat, gloves, black sensible shoes and black luxury handbag over her arm.

"I must be seen to be believed," she has said, and that's what her dressers have aimed for during all of her thousands of public appearances over the 64 years she has reigned.

The Auxiliary Territorial Service overalls and cap worn by Princess Elizabeth while serving during WWII. (Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS, AFP/Getty Images)

So there are ball gowns, such as the pale blue and gold dress by Sir Norman Hartnell, one of her favorite early designers. There's the buttercup yellow outfit and hat by her current designer, Angela Kelly, that she wore to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. There's a turquoise silk shift dress with silver floral embroidery by Hardy Amies, another early favorite.

And there's even her Auxiliary Territorial Service uniform of overalls and cap worn when she was Princess Elizabeth serving as a car mechanic during WWII.

A royal blue coat dress by Sir Norman Hartnell worn by the queen to the wedding of Princess Anne to Captain Mark Phillips at Westminster Abbey in 1973. (Photo: Ian Gavan, Getty Images)

Tickets for the exhibit (about $28 per adult) are on sale at The Royal Collection and a preview of the outfits is available there.

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