Elegance is defined as “the quality of being graceful and stylish in appearance or manner.” Throughout history being seen as an elegant woman was viewed as a desirable trait to aspire towards. Elegant women set the fashions, they were favoured among portrait artists, they were public figures, queens, models and actresses. They have often been admired not just for their style, but for their grace and sophistication. So today we celebrate these women.
While she is best known as the ill-fated queen of Henry VIII, she was also quite the trendsetter. She introduced French fashions to England, including the French hood, which scandalously showed off the front section of her hair. She was also known for her trademark pearl necklace with the “B” pendant.
Elizabeth I shared the same passion for style as her mother. Fashion was essential to her public image and her wide array of outfits are celebrated in her numerous portraits.
Madame de Montespan
The 17th century saw France become the fashion capital of Europe. At the court of Versailles, noblewomen copied the loose and free fashions started by Louis XIV’s mistress Madame de Montespan. The extent of her influence is demonstrated by the fact that women were still copying her style years after her downfall.
Empress Elizabeth of Russia
Elizabeth of Russia famously loved style. She never wore an outfit twice and would change clothes multiple times a day. Staggeringly, she had an estimated 15,000 dresses and a couple of thousand shoes.
Madame de Pompadour
The mistress of King Louis XV was depicted in portraits in fabulously opulent dresses. She was a huge style icon during her time, popularising the Rococo fashions which included pastel colours and floral patterns.
When she arrived in France to marry the future Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette quickly adapted to the French fashion for extravagant dresses. In the centuries since her death she has remained as a symbol of the opulence and extravagance of Versailles.
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
During her lifetime she was a style icon and the prime trendsetter of 18th century England. Everywhere she went, people flocked to see what stunning ensembles she would emerge in.
Elisabeth of Austria
Elizabeth, Empress of Austria was praised for her natural beauty, as such she rarely used cosmetics. She had an exhaustive and dedicated beauty and style regime, filled with various diets, three hours of hair styling a day and rigorous exercise.
Louise Brooks was one of the most popular silent film stars of her day. She also epitomised the flapper lifestyle and fashion and was known for her trademark bob.
Audrey Hepburn has become one of the most enduring icons for fashion and elegance. This is best seen in her iconic film roles, from the casual skirt and shirt pairing in Roman Holiday to the iconic LBD in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. No matter the occasion Audrey Hepburn was always elegant and graceful.
Grace Kelly absolutely nailed the classic feminine elegance of the 1950s. She dazzled Hollywood in the 1950s with her style and charm, before becoming the Princess of Monaco in 1956.
Every woman in the early 1960s wanted to emulate the sophisticated glamour of First Lady Jackie Kennedy. She impressed the fashion world with her effortless sophistication and was known for her pillbox hats and brilliant colours.
Diana was the icon of elegance and 80s glamour during her time as Princess of Wales. Her effortless fashion sense was admired and copied by many women and she has become one of the most enduring style icons of modern times.
Michelle Obama has done everything in style, including her role as First Lady. Along with Jackie Kennedy she is one of the most elegant of the First Ladies. She has really popularised elegant fashion for the 21st century woman.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge
Along with Michelle Obama, the Duchess of Cambridge has become a style icon for 21st century women. Her style has become so talked about and emulated that it is known as “The Kate Middleton effect.”