boadicea queen of the iceni original illustration by re groves 1907 picture

Dress to Rule ― on a Budget

Channel your inner spirit-queen.

Nothing inspires confidence quite like embracing the strong, majestic woman within. But channeling your inner spirit-queen doesn’t require access to a royal treasury. The tips here will help you power-dress like history’s mightiest rulers, lifting your mood when you’ve been feeling like a peasant for too long. Best of all, you can create these looks on a budget, at home ― where you can also eat cake.

portrait of queen elizabeth i of england known as the armada portrait picture Photo Josse/Leemage/Corbis via Getty Images


Elizabeth was an extraordinary queen. Raised without a mother (Anne Boleyn: decapitated), ignored by her power-mad dad (Henry VIII: decapitator), she grew up tough as nails, and was super smart. Her look is so iconic, she’s probably the one queen your 8-year-cousin could pick out of a line-up. If not, get that kid a book. A red heart-shaped wig, pillowcases on the arms, plastic pearl necklaces, and some paper doilies on the neck, and you’re good to go. Dig hard enough and you might find some clip-on bows in the back of your dresser drawer. Use SPF 80+ or zinc sunscreen for that trademark, porcelain-white Elizabethan complexion.

Isabella size1280 Stock Montage/Getty Images


A red velvet American Apparel dress and a gold window curtain. Add two braids tied with string and a padded headband, and you’re ready to reign. For a full Isabella vibe, sprinkle a Castilian accent on your high-school Spanish. She was super into Catholicism, so a rosary is a great accessory. She's best-remembered, however, for financing Columbus's 1492 journey, so maybe carry a small globe around with you, to remind the haters that the world is, indeed, round.

joan of arc from figaro illustre magazine engraving illustration DEA / M. SEEMULLER


Time to get creative in the kitchen: a chef’s knife for a sword; a baking sheet for a breastplate; a pair of stainless-steel food steamers as shoulder pads; and a colander for a helmet. (Bonus: The holes in the colander will keep your head cool.) Brillo pads make for excellent chainmail. Joan began hearing the voices of what she believed were angels around the age of 13, commanding her to “lead France to victory!” Today she'd probably be diagnosed as schizophrenic, but the voices helped make her a fearless military strategist in her teens. Technically not a royal or a ruler, Joan led French armies to victories during The Hundred Years War, so we’ll let her in the club. Note: Don't try to wear this through airport security.

boadicea queen of the iceni original illustration by re groves 1907 picture Culture Club/Getty Images


Imagine if Wonder Woman shopped at Free People, and you're halfway to your outfit for the warrior-queen leader of the Celts. She protected her people from foreign invaders, e.g., slaughtering thousands of Roman troops in battle. She rocks some great footwear; in fact, emulating Boadicea is the only time you're allowed to wear socks with Roman-style sandals. She has a cape, and who doesn't love carrying around a blanket. She died by her own hands (poison) to avoid being captured, which is one way to duck out early from any party.

queen tomyris by andrea del castagno picture Thekla Clark/Corbis via Getty Images


Little is known about the look of this nomadic central Eurasian empress from the 6th century BCE, so feel free to take some artistic liberty. We suggest soft layered fabrics with some violent accessories and a crown of your choosing. Need an excuse to carry boxed wine? According to legend, Tomyris defeated the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great after he got her son hammered drunk and kidnapped him. She took revenge by defeating the Persian armies, chopping off Cyrus’s head, and keeping his noggin as a trophy in a blood-filled wineskin. A quote attributed to her: "I warned you that I would quench your thirst for blood, and so I shall." Mic drop. Bottoms up.

olga of kiev by bruni nikolai alexandrovich oil on canvas circa 19th illustration Fine Art Images


Don't let her youth deceive you: Olga obliterated an East Slavic tribe known as the Drevlians sometime around 950 AD. Drape a towel on your head and adorn yourself in plastic pearls, wrap-around beads, puka shell necklaces, whatever you've got. Try a dog cone collar for a crown, if you have one, or get crafty with some cardboard. Essential here is a big cross — Olga was on a mission to spread Catholicism and was ultimately proclaimed a saint. She was also a stone cold killer, and Prince Charming’s worst nightmare. Legend has it that 20 male suitors approached her, one at a time — and one by one, she slaughtered them. By the sixth or seventh kill, wasn't anyone catching her drift? It’s unclear what happens when you pray to St. Olga. Save it for a breakup.

mosaic showing saint theodora and her followers theodora empress of picture Culture Club/Getty Images


Theodora upended the traditional concept of a lady ruler with her electrifying, action-packed life. She wasn't born a royal; she worked at a brothel and performed on stage, earning her own living and making a name for herself with her charm and sense of humor. As a commoner it was forbidden for her to marry into royalty, so the king just changed the law. Want to party like it’s the 6th century? Wear some gems, get a gold chalice, bead up your hair, and break the rules. Get your Theodora on.

wu story large Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images


The only known female emperor in Chinese history, Wu grew up in a wealthy family. She was able to spend her time on leisure activities (treat yourself to an Uber) and she read voraciously. Uncommonly for the age, her father encouraged her to pursue an education. She started as a sort of secretary, and ascended through the ranks of the Chinese court while raising four kids. Eventually girl established her own dynasty under the killer name, “Sacred and Divine Empress Regnant,” in 690 AD. Her traditional garb is flowing and soft, but her leadership style was authoritative and precise. She also had her own secret police. (Wu Zetian and Her Secret Police is a great game to play with kids.)

jadwiga story large Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images


At just 11 years old, Jadwiga was crowned queen of Poland. She was kind, well-educated, pious, spoke five languages, and loved by her people. To emulate her, grab a paintbrush and a quill, as she was an advocate of the arts. No need for many accessories here, as Jadwiga donated her jewelry to finance education for her people. (But by all means, still rock the crown.) Castles can get drafty, so layer up those fabrics. Take the whole comforter if you need to, and any velvet you have lying around. It’s not always easy knowing what occasions in life warrant a big old brooch, but now seems a good time.

portrait of empress catherine the great in her coronation robe found picture Heritage Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images


It’s no surprise Catherine the Great is one of the most celebrated Russian leaders of all time. She knew how to get stuff done, and did it while looking fabulous. Be sure to get the crown in extra-large and bring out the rouge. She was a diplomatic mastermind, so get in character by negotiating for expansion and control over the best of the cheese plate at the dinner party. Use as much crumpled newspaper to stuff into that skirt as you can, and maybe read a few pages of something before you go out: her friends were super smart, and included the great philosophers of the day. Don’t be afraid to wave that scepter. Point to the things you want in life, and imperialize them.