11 December 2020

Book Review: HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style (2020)

Image: The Court Jeweller


With the holidays coming up quickly, I've got one more new book review for you this month as you plan your wishlists and gift purchases. Today, the spotlight is on HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style.


Image: The Court Jeweller


As the subtitle suggests, this book was inspired by the "So Many Thoughts" series written by Elizabeth Holmes (Wall Street Journal, Town and Country) on her Instagram account. Holmes is a fashion journalist who became interested in the royal family during the Cambridge wedding festivities in 2011. In more recent years, she's offered quick, off-the-cuff reactions to royal outfits in her Insta stories, mostly focusing on fashion worn by the Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex. 

The book (which, though titled HRH, features major sections of content about HM The Queen and Diana, Princess of Wales) is a sort of mash-up of those sorts of quick style reactions and lengthier biographical segments. The text, published by Macmillan's Celadon division, is printed on glossy pages and features high-quality photos, giving the book a fairly lux feel. (You'll note in the pictures, though, that my copy arrived with a rather badly bent corner--a casualty of the shipping process, I think.) Like the book we discussed last week, though, it's much smaller in size than your usual coffee-table book.


Image: The Court Jeweller


Though most of the focus is on clothes, there is a little bit of royal jewelry content. Above, I've added a peek at a page on some of the Queen's tiaras. I'm not sure why these four in particular were chosen— there's no narrative used to connect them. Instead, their history is described quickly. There's also some brief discussion of Kate's three tiaras, as well as the famous sapphire engagement ring, and Meghan's wedding tiara and engagement ring. Primarily, the focus here is on the clothing, not the jewels. But taking a little trip through the history of Kate's and Meghan's wardrobes was a mostly pleasant way to spend an afternoon.


Image: The Court Jeweller


I will admit that when I cracked open my copy of the book, I was looking forward to getting a more in-depth discussion of Holmes's perspective on royal fashion than you can get in a quick Instagram story. I found myself a little disappointed. Though she often tries to make links between outfits and generations, discussing things like style stories and clear connections, there's a lack of a strong overall argument about what royal style is really meant to do. That kind of unifying narrative—something, for example, about the royal family's use of clothing as a tool of diplomacy and power, as well as the notable moments when royals like Diana subverted that image for personal reasons—would have elevated the text considerably. 

Without that central thesis, the book really does feel a little like a loosely-linked collection of "so many thoughts," and at times it treads perilously close to the "sweet nod" school of superficial royal style analysis that you'll find in the grocery store checkout line. (I noted that the actual phrase "sweet nod" was even used at least once.) If Kate wears an outfit with an overt visual reference to one worn by her late mother-in-law, I'm most interested not just in the reference itself but also in the reason behind it, not just that it's a "sweet nod" to the past. What statement is being made in the echo? Why? I wanted more analysis on that level. Now, don't get me wrong—I very much enjoyed the book, and I think those who are interested in royal wardrobes will, too. I just saw moments where it could have been something really different from the usual writing on the subject.


Image: The Court Jeweller


For fans of royal style, though, the book's photographs alone will be enticing. It's also one of the more affordable books on the topic to come out this year; it retails for $35, but you can find it for considerably discounted rates. If you'd like to add the book to your collection, or purchase it for another royal style-lover in your life, I've included links to Amazon throughout the post. (These are affiliate links that support TCJ.) I'll also include a link here to the book's Bookshop page, which allows you to purchase online and support your local bookseller.


Note: Some links on this website are Amazon affiliate links. I put all money that I receive from these affiliate links back into materials for review on the site (including the book discussed in this post, which I purchased myself), so if you want to read more reviews, please consider purchasing items through the affiliate links in this post and throughout the site. Thanks, everybody!