Closer Look: The Purple Somerville Pillbox

Royal HatsQueen Elizabeth has a few hats worn over the years that are instantly recognisable. One of these is a lilac straw pillbox hat made for her by Philip Somerville with a distinctive fan ruffle at the back, filled with silk violets.

Embed from Getty Images  Embed from Getty Images Embed from Getty Images

This hat is one of many pieces on exhibition at Holyrood House this summer, ‘Fashioning a Reign: 90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe’ and The Royal Collection Trust recently released this short video of it. For those of us not able to make it to Scotland this year to see it in person, this short clip provides a great closer look.

This closer look shows how beautifully the hat is finished but also reveals a number of small holes in the left side of the pillbox base, no doubt from hat pins. We seldom see such visible signs of wear and tear on a royal hat and it’s an interesting glimpse to have.
Photos from Getty as indicated

22 thoughts on “Closer Look: The Purple Somerville Pillbox

  1. Yes, beachgal, the Queen seemed to dress older than her years for awhile and even as a kid I wondered why. Perhaps she didn’t want to shock or look in any way other than refined and dignified. Queen Daisy
    has been the antithesis to this attitude with her creativity and flair all her life. Actually I believe QEII is the most stylish and attractive of her life right now. She has a glow, a warmth and an aura of kindness more than she ever has. True, Elizabeth was absolutely beautiful when young and even middle aged, but now she just radiates a sense of calm and inner peace. …and yes, I can’t help it–I adore violets in any form and the purple hat just appeals to me. The dress print is just far too busy, though.

  2. Not my favorite hat ever on HM, but definitely of the time when it was worn. As others have said, the flowers are in excellent shape, actually the whole hat is – other than the holes made by the hat pins it could be brand new. I’d love to get a peek into how all these are stored and cared for!

  3. I’ve seen her majesty many times to talk to and she does have some hats very much like this one .
    I do like the pink one with the flowers on green stems that move around .
    Was said it was the silver jubilee hat at St Paul a cathedral .
    Did see it a few times in exhibitions same sort of style to the 1981 royal wedding .
    But it had little star type flowers in glass stalks that caught the light when I studied it .

  4. I would love to see this hat worn back to front, and tipped back a bit so the fan stands up a bit. Am I crazy?

  5. I see it and think “purple clamshell”. Is the ribbon stiff too? If so, my novice eyes think it’s a remarkable bit of sculpture, because it looks soft, like a real ribbon.

  6. I think this is such an interesting hat. It was always a one off piece, a true original. What impresses me most is what good condition the violets are in. This type of flower so often end up looking rather limp and lifeless, but these are still in good shape. Do you think each stem of flowers has been stored individually supported by tissue for these decades?!

  7. OK, can we all just step back a second and ponder the realization that 63+ years of the Queen’s hats are stored somewhere?!?! And I’d assume, consequently, that so are the Queen Mother’s hats, possibly Queen Mary’s hats, etc. That is one big storage closet! And hats are not easy to store – they take up so much room in a closet.

    • I’ve been asking the same question for a long time now, and NOBODY seems to know. HQ, how about a photo of such a space! It would be Hat Christmas all over again! Mrs. Jimbo has a moderate number of hats – around 70, and guess whose closet the off-season boxes are stored in; you guessed it – MINE!

    • Interesting storage problem created by just the royal ladies- as you’ve previously pointed out, the men wear the same hats over and over and over…

      What I wouldn’t do for a day in that millinery archive.

    • All the dresses and coats must be stored too and must be tagged for each other. (I’m assuming that they can’t be stored as sets for the impracticability of space requirements.) There’s no way that one could tell 100% of the time which pink hat goes with which pink dress with which pink coat by holding the items next to each other. I think I’ve read that all are stored at Buckingham Palace, but since outfits travel so often, one does wonder whether some part of an outfit might sometime be left at, say, Sandringham by mistake. Are they all arranged by color, by season, by date first worn, by designer? Perhaps an assortment of items are pulled from deep storage for a season.
      And then there are the scarves, not to mention rows of nearly identical black purses!

  8. Thank you for this post that reminds us what continuity and strength the Queen is for us especially on this dark day in our history.

  9. Hat Queen, it’s funny that in the post below you compare Princess Tessy’s hat to a giant taco, because my nickname for this creation has always been ‘The Lilac Taco.’

  10. The hat looks to be beautifully made, but I never cared for it personally. She always looked behind the times and older in her tastes then she was in years at that point.

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