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Why Did Queen Elizabeth
Wear Men’s Clothes?

Dear TIA,

I recently saw a picture of HRM Queen Elizabeth when she was Princess Elizabeth serving in the ATS during World War II (below). I was surprised that the outfit she is wearing is so masculine looking. I don't see anything that distinguishes her clothes from what a man would wear. Even if one were to make the argument that wartime is an unusual situation, and that her clothes are appropriate for her duties, she is even wearing a masculine looking tie, and there should be no reason for that.

Why do you suppose she is wearing such clothing? Does it fall within the norms or even extra-norms of Christian morals?

     Yours truly,


Princess Elizabeth in uniform during WWII


Dr. Horvat responds:

Dear Dr. M.R.,

Princess Elizabeth was 15 years old when the war broke out. As it progressed, like many young women, she wanted “to do her part” and join Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), one of the women’s branches of the British Army during WWII. Her father discussed the matter with the Minister of Labor, and it was decided that Elizabeth should not enlist in anything because, as heir to the throne, the danger was too great and her training for the throne was of first importance.

Women in the ATS carried out non-combatant duties to assist the military units, at first mainly as cooks, clerks and storekeepers. Later a uniform that included pants and a tie, like the one Elizabeth is wearing above, was issued as women began to assume the jobs of men to free them for active combat. Women in the ATS took over many support jobs, becoming drivers and mechanics for army vehicles and heavy ambulances, radar operators, and crew members of anti-aircraft gun units, the military police and searchlight regiments.

Throughout the war, the ATS was the focus of critical and often sarcastic comments from some of the military and the conservative sector of society that disapproved of women working in pants alongside servicemen.

Just before her 19th birthday in 1944, her father permitted Elizabeth to volunteer in the ATS. By the time she finished the course, it was 1945 - after the tide had turned against the Nazis in Europe. By then it had become common to see women doing work formerly performed by men: changing wheels of army vehicles, taking engines apart and rebuilding them and driving heavy vehicles such as ambulances. The picture above and the one at right were taken in March 1945, and clearly were largely intended for the propaganda effect.

There were many benefits for the Crown for allowing Elizabeth to join the rather controversial ATS in one of its more criticized courses:
  • The ATS received a needed boost when Elizabeth joined and graduated as an honorary Second Subaltern and was assigned to be driver for heavy ambulances.

  • The publicity that accompanied her enlistment in the war effort made the young princess and heir to the throne immensely popular with the public. When the war ended in May 1945, the princesses appeared before the cheering crowds on the Buckingham Palace balcony alongside their parents and Winston Churchill with Elizabeth in her ATS uniform.
It seems to me that the Revolution also benefited with Elizabeth’s enlistment in one of the services that replaced men and issued ‘pants’ to women as part of their uniform.

First, it seems egalitarian for the future Queen of England to enlist in a service, vs. assist the war effort at home. Nonetheless, the decision was made – clearly only after any real danger was over and with the stipulation she return “home” to Windsor Castle every evening.

Then the question arises: Why was this particular service chosen for her? She could just as easily have entered the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) established by the Dowager Marchioness of Reading, the ATS as a clerk, or the Civil Nursing Reserve as an aide. In all these capacities she would wear a uniform with a skirt or regular lay clothing, and not the revolutionary pants and jumpsuits.

For the first time, women working in factories and doing other forms of "men's work" were wearing trousers. Most importantly, these working women shifted the trajectory of women into the workforce forever. It seems to me that pictures of the popular Princess in work pants or a laborer jumpsuit served the interests of the Revolution, which promoted feminism and women’s liberation as an item of its egalitarian platform.


     Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.


Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted April 15, 2014


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