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At 69, Princess Anne's country-chic look and penchant for re-wearing couldn’t be more on trend

Princess Anne 1968
As she celebrates her 69th birthday, Bethan Holt examines why Princess Anne's style has an eternal appeal. Pictured here in 1968. Credit: Getty Images

Princess Anne’s annual moment of glory tends to come when the Royal family’s engagements for the year are totted up. She has long come out on top; last year she was hailed as our hardest working royal, completing 180 days of engagements in 2018 which is 20 days more than Prince Charles.

But as the Princess Royal prepares to celebrate her 69th birthday tomorrow, it is her fashion prowess which is taking its turn in the spotlight. At first glance, you may presume that Anne’s looks are purely practical, the epitome of British countrywoman poise and correctness - and you’d be right. But, as W magazine recently declared, she is also a ‘modern fashion icon hiding in plain sight’. 

At the Royal Windsor Horse Show in May, Princess Anne paired her teal scarf with a horse brooch and reflective sunglasses

Take her look at the Royal Windsor Horse Trials in May. The luxe teal silk scarf blouse could well have been in her wardrobe for years, but it also nodded to a key piece for autumn/ winter 2019, as seen on the catwalks at Victoria Beckham and Burberry. This right-for-now piece was layered underneath a tweed skirt suit, another on-point allusion to autumn’s bourgeois-ladylike look. The street style set would be proud of the futuristic twist she gave the ensemble via a pair of Prada-esque sporty sunglasses (‘Princess Anne just beat every Instagirl to the next big sunglass trend’ Vogue wrote of said sunglasses upon their debut). The finishing touch was a horse brooch which has become a favourite accessory of late, and could as easily have been a collectible by Chloe (the label’s equine motif is a fashion favourite) as the logical decorative choice for a riding-mad royal.

Practicality may rule Anne’s style outlook, but this can, on occasion, be interpreted as the ability to give an outfit a clever, offbeat twist. At Royal Ascot this year, for example, the Princess donned a beige Mac when it began to rain - no doubt this was an exercise in staying warm and dry, but the impression was also very ‘Alexa Chung at Glastonbury’ . Many of Anne’s style tics are, of course, learnings from her style icon mother, but the Princess has a knack for adding a dash of eccentricity to the prim perfection. “She does the tiara stuff beautifully,” Richard Ralph, former governor of the Falkland Islands, once observed, ‘but she’s happiest in jeans and a Barbour.’

Many of Princess Anne's looks bear a resemblance to current designer collections, like Burberry and Celine (pictured) Credit: Getty Images

Besides her likely unintentional references to catwalk themes, Anne’s royal style icon status is set for re-examination later this year when The Crown returns to Netflix on 17th November. Series three will follow the Windsors in the late Sixties and early Seventies, the period when Anne when was an It girl of her time. Set to be played by Call the Midwife actress Erin Doherty, we may see Anne pose for one of the three Vogue covers she appeared on between 1971 and 1973 and we will certainly witness her marriage to Mark Phillips.

Images of Anne as a young woman could easily pass as the latest Gucci ad campaign or a Vogue shoot on the trend for blousy, frilly, ultra-girlish dresses as created now by It labels like Batsheva, The Vampire’s Wife and D’Ascoli. A few highlights: a shirred, pie-crust collar maxi gown in shades of turquoise, fuchsia and mandarin for a film premiere in August ‘73, a gold-buttoned, double-breasted canary yellow coat with matching hat for a horse show visit in ‘68 and a glorious Norman Parkinson shot of Anne in a billowing doll-print dress posing for a shoot to celebrate her 21st birthday in ‘71. And then, of course, the Maureen Baker for Susan Small wedding dress with dramatic trumpet sleeves which took its inspiration from dresses worn in the court of Elizabeth I - Baker would go on to design some 250 outfits for the Princess, including plenty more frilly frocks.

Princess Anne, photographed at 21-years-old by Norman Parkinson, favoured frilly floral dresses Credit: Norman Parkinson

Anne’s fabulous style streak continued into the Eighties, even if her star was eclipsed by the arrival of Diana. Where the Princess of Wales eschewed regal formalities like gloves, Anne toed the party line but showed that a fashion-forward approach could still work. Sometimes it was formal and intentional, like her penchant for statement capes to pare back bold Pucci-seque prints, other times her look felt personal and instinctive, like the silk scarves (very Celine autumn/ winter ‘19) and headscarves which she wore to add zing to country casual looks.

Equestrian influences have long infiltrated the Princess’s wardrobe. At the first Gatcombe Park Horse Trials in 1983, she wore a blue and white headscarf, a checked shirt, an indigo A-line denim skirt and a pair of white block heels which might well have inspired Gucci’s now-cult Marmont loafer. We may now be obsessed with tracking the Duchesses of Cambridge’s and Sussex’s every outfit change, but fashion insiders are more likely to look to Anne’s vintage looks for inspiration than rush out to buy Kate’s latest L.K Bennett tea dress.

The Princess Royal's tailored suits in heritage check and silhouette skimming skirts prove her style is eternal Credit: Getty Images

Anne no longer plays the fashion game like her younger, more obviously glamorous counterparts (though just imagine if she did let that industrially hairsprayed bun down for a day) but she still makes headlines with her impressive approach to re-wearing, a strategy which chimes nicely with fashion’s current preoccupation with sustainability and getting at least 30 wears from everything you buy. For Lady Gabriella Windsor’s wedding in May, she wore a mustard and navy coat debuted in 2007 while for last year’s Commonwealth Day celebration, she donned the same cream and navy coat she’d first worn at Royal Ascot in 1980. Many women could hardly dream of fitting into the same outfit 40 years on, let alone demonstrate the imagination to think it could still pass muster.

Anne has not doled out many fashion secrets but she did once proclaim that, “a good suit goes on forever. If it is properly made and has a classic look you can go on wearing it ad infinitum. Economy is bred into me. My parents believe that things are not to be wasted.” What may once have seemed like a fusty unwillingness to get with the times is now the height of chic thinking. Now might Anne dig out some of those old Maureen Baker florals in time for The Crown?

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