The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place in Westminster Abbey on 2nd June, 1953. The event was broadcast for black and white television by the BBC and was also recorded on colour film. Parts of the procession were also televised in colour as an experiment but the transmission was only viewed publicly by the children and staff of the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormonde Street, London.
Planning for the event took over 16 months, so there was plenty of time to make sure that everything was in order, including the make-up the Queen and her Ladies-in-Waiting were to wear on the day. This was entrusted to Thelma Holland, the director of the London salon of Cyclax, a well-established English cosmetic company. The Queen’s hair was dressed by her personal hairdresser, Mr. Jules Henri Joerin of the London firm Emile.
Thelma Holland, née Besant, was born in Melbourne. After receiving Cyclax training in London in 1934, she returned to Australia and travelled the country as the Australian demonstrator for Cyclax before returning to London in 1940 to join the London salon in South Molton Street.
In 1943, Thelma had approached Queen Elizabeth – later the Queen Mother – about providing cosmetic advice to the two young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. When the Queen agreed, Thelma became the cosmetician and beauty adviser to the royal household and was entrusted with the royal complexion.
See also: Cyclax
The relationship between Elizabeth and Cyclax was a good fit. The ‘English rose look’ that Cyclax promoted suited Elizabeth’s skin colouring perfectly. With her dark brows, blue eyes and clear, creamy skin, she did not need to use a lot of make-up and generally limited herself to a powder base, a little face powder and a pink-toned lipstick.
Elizabeth follows the rule of understatement in makeup says Mrs. Holland—A safe rule for everyone. She has flawless skin and doesn’t need to plaster it with heavy foundation tints. In general she likes pinky tones in lipstick and cosmetics, having learned early on in life that pink is the most flattering tone for practically all women.
She does not go in for heavy eye makeup, since her lashes and brows are naturally dark and well shaped, and her blue eyes are one of her most attractive feature.
A great deal of time and effort went into the Queen’s make-up for the coronation.
Six months of testing and preparation went into the perfecting of beauty techniques for the coronation, Mrs. Holland said. Two young women who had coloring similar to that of the queen were used in testing various shades of lipsticks, make-up foundations and powder.
A number of considerations had to be taken into account when determining what make-up Elizabeth would wear on the day. She had to look her best for the crowds that lined the streets to see the state procession but also photograph well for black-and-white television and colour film. In addition, the make-up had to perform in three types of lighting: the artificial light of Westminster Abbey; the interior of the state coach; and instances of full daylight. As there was only one brief break in the ceremony just before the Queen returned to the palace, the make-up also had to remain in place for up to four hours without retouching – the Abbey service alone ran for just over three hours – and for most of the day without being reapplied.
As well as Elizabeth’s preference for wearing a minimal amount of make-up, there was another reason for keeping things simple. The coronation was a religious event with one part, the anointing, considered so sacrosanct that it was not filmed or broadcast. Given this, the Queen considered that make-up should be kept to the minimum needed for broadcasting and filming.
The Queen’s feeling is that the Coronation is a deeply religious ceremony. She wants to be herself … None of this movie star stuff — although she appreciates that some special touches are necessary for photographic purposes.
This simplicity also extended to Elizabeth’s hair style. Mr. Henri Joerin, who had looked after Elizabeth’s hair since she was a little girl, believed that “simplicity and good taste should be the keynote of all good hairdressing” (Sydney Morning Herald, 1953, p. 9). It was a good policy as it meant that official photographs of the Queen would be less likely to date. It also suited the coronation requirement that the Queen’s hair be set to accomodate the two different crowns she would wear during the ceremony – the St. Edward’s Crown and the Imperial State Crown – as well as the ‘Diamond Diadem’ she wore from the Palace to the Abbey.
Considering the length of the ceremony and the state processions before and after the service, it was agreed that Elizabeth would wear a liquid foundation as it would last longer than a cream. Given the Cyclax range at the time this would suggest that the Queen used some version of Cyclax GlamOtint covered with a light dusting of Cyclax loose or compressed powder.
As well as the considerations of skin tone, lighting and film type, the colours used in Elizabeth’s make-up had to tone with the coronation regalia, some of which – like the Robe of State – were a rich red.
Taking into account the colours of the assorted Hartnell designed gowns that Elizabeth wore and her natural skin tone, it was decided to use a peach-tinted, liquid foundation (Rose Rachel) with a lipstick described either as being ‘pink to red’ or as a ‘deep, ruby red with soft undertones’. Elizabeth’s maids of honour were also assisted with their make-up. Some had their eyebrows darkened and all wore lipstick to ensure they looked their best when filmed.
Looking at photographs of the event it is clear that the Queen and Thelma Holland chose well. The Cyclax make-up held up for the entire ceremony and the Queen looked radiant for the whole day.
Updated: 10th September 2017
Arlott, J., Snagge, J., & Wollaston, G. W. (1953). Elizabeth crowned Queen. The pictorial record of the coronation. Sydney: Daily Telegraph.
Elizabeth will wear little makeup, but this must last for many hours. (1953, June 2). St. Petersburg Times, Florida, p. 30.
Follow the Queen’s beauty tips, beauty expert says. (1957, August 21). The Milwaukee Sentinel, p. 38.
The Queen. The Coronation. 1953. (1953). London: Keliher, Hudson & Kearns, Limited.
Queen Elizabeth to get proper lipstick shade. (1953, May 28). Evening News, p. 7.
Queen’s hairdresser is in the Gothic. (1953, December 3). Sydney Morning Herald, p 9.
Queen’s lipstick important factor in coronation plans. (1953, May 27). The Progress-Index, p. 22.
Too much adornment mars attractiveness. (1957, July 7). The Kansas City Times, p. 57.