Fascinating Traditions: Royal Dress Code and the Story Behind It
What if we told you that the Queen uses a specific fashion accessory to send out hidden messages and that Princess Diana had a really good trick to avoid indiscreet moments in public? In this article, we tell you all about 20 Royal dress code rules that will make you consider your own fashion choices from now on.
GLOVES ARE A MUST
Not only are gloves a fashionable accessory, but they also protect us from germs and bacteria. And when you think about the thousands of hands the Queen has to shake when attending public events, you can imagine how important it is for her to be protected.
However, you have probably noticed by now that the Queen is not always wearing gloves. It depends on the outfit she’s wearing, the occasion and who she’s meeting, but when she does wear them, they are always either white or black.
DAY EVENTS REQUIRE HATS
Another highly fashionable accessory that you see royals using frequently. Until the 50s it was mandatory since it wasn’t appropriate for women to show their hair. Nowadays the Queen is a little bit looser about it, but she still demands that hats be worn at formal events.
Whenever the Queen is not wearing a hat, she is wearing her crown or a scarf. According to etiquette expert Diana Mather, “The old rule is that hats are never worn indoors after 6 p.m., because that is when the ladies changed into evening dress, and tiaras and the family jewels would come out.”
ONCE A SOLDIER, ALWAYS A SOLDIER
Certain official events like Trooping the Colour, Remembrance Day and any event that pays tribute to the British army, require royal members who have served in the army to wear military uniforms. This also includes their own wedding, as Prince William did on his wedding to Kate Middleton back in 2011, although he changed into a tuxedo for the reception.
Princess Anne, the Queen’s daughter, has also served in the military and is regularly seen wearing her uniform at formal events, which makes her the first royal female member to publicly wear military uniforms since Queen Elizabeth I back in 1588.
A CLUTCH IS ALWAYS IMPORTANT
Clutches are not only a much-appreciated fashion accessory for royals but also extremely helpful on different social moments. Princess Diana and now Duchess Kate Middleton have efficiently proven their importance in the past: Diana used them to cover her cleavage when stepping out of the car and Kate uses her clutches as a way to avoid shaking hands-on events.
Fashion designer Anya Hindmarch talked about when Diana used to buy clutches from her, "We used to laugh when we designed what she called her 'cleavage bags. [They were] little satin clutches which she would cover her cleavage with when she stepped out of cars."
AS BRIGHT AND COLOURFUL AS POSSIBLE
You’ve probably noticed by now that the Queen always appears in public wearing bright, vivid colors. It could be attributed to her personality, but it is, in fact, a technique that prevents her from going unnoticed when walking among a crowd, in public events. She has actually worn all the colors of the rainbow throughout her 66-year reign.
Princess Sophie, the Queen’s daughter-in-law, explained in the documentary The Queen at 90, "She needs to stand out for people to be able to say, 'I saw the Queen'. When she turns up somewhere, crowds are two-, three-, 10-, 15-deep, and someone wants to be able to say they saw a bit of the queen's hat as she went past."
TIARAS ARE NOT FOR EVERYONE
If there’s one thing that screams out “Princess” is a sparkling tiara. But not every Princess is allowed to wear them. Actually, the tiara is only destined to married women and is only meant to be worn on very special occasions like the Princess’s wedding or nighttime formal events.
Geoffrey Munn, author of Tiaras - A History of Splendour said, “It signals the crowning of love and the loss of innocence to marriage. It was worn by the bride, and from that moment onwards, it was the groom’s jewelry she was expected to wear. It was a subliminal message that she had moved from her own family to another.”
HANDBAGS ARE NOT JUST HANDBAGS
Although the Queen does use her handbag to carry some of her personal items, it is known to be used to send out discreet messages to her staff. Depending on where the handbag is placed, the Queen discreetly informs how she’s feeling about that particular situation and what she expects to be done.
If the Queen places her handbag on the floor during a conversation, or if she changes the hand holding it, it means that she is finding it very boring. Also, if she places the handbag on top of the table at a dinner event, it means she wishes for it to be wrapped up soon so she can leave.
SMART CASUAL DRESS CODE FOR DAYTIME
Whenever going about their normal life during the day, in public, royal members are obliged to respect a smart casual dress code which means a blazer, polo, khakis or chinos and a collared shirt for men, and a day dress or trousers with a cardigan or blazer for women.
COLOURED NAIL POLISH IS A NO-NO
It’s perfectly fine for royal women to wear nail polish, but they do have to be careful about the chosen color, which should be as discreet as possible. According to the brand Essie, back in 1989, the Queen’s hairdresser asked them to create the nude shade called “Ballet Slippers”, which has remained a favorite for her ever since.
Both the Duchess of Cambridge and Megan Markle have been seen wearing nude nail polish in public, although Kate has worn bright red nail polish on her toes at a London Premiere a few years ago. So, it remains unclear if the nail polish situation is mandatory or just a firm recommendation from the Queen.
COATS ARE TO STAY ON
According to royal etiquette, removing your coat or any clothing in public during an event is considered to be unsuitable for ladies, so, regardless of the weather, royal women are supposed to keep their coats on at all times, even indoors.
One example was Kate and William’s visit to Norway's Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit. During the meeting, although they were indoors, Kate (unlike the other royal members present) did not remove her coat once, even though she was 6 months pregnant at the time and, as such, probably feeling warmer than usual.
PRINCE GEORGE CAN ONLY WEAR SHORTS
Royal etiquette demands that the youngest royal members are supposed to always wear shorts when attending public events until they are 8 years old. According to Royal Butler and etiquette expert Grant Harrold, this tradition goes back to the 16th century.
“This saw young boys wearing gowns or dresses until the age of eight, if not before. Thankfully in the late 19th century and early 20th century, this developed into shorts.”
NO “MARILYN” MOMENTS ALLOWED
Who among us ladies doesn’t feel terrified about the idea of having our dress or skirt fly up, creating an embarrassing public moment? The Queen is definitely horrified by it, that’s why she decided to have lead curtain weights sewn to the inside of her hemlines. They weigh very little but are enough to keep her skirt from going up.
THEY SHOULD ALWAYS PACK A BLACK OUTFIT
When traveling outside of the UK, British royal members are required to pack at least one black outfit to be worn in case of an unfortunate situation, like the death of a family member, is to take place. If this happens, they are expected to return home already wearing black attire.
This rule was implemented on the occasion of King George VI’s death. When then-Princess Elizabeth had to return home from Kenya because of her father’s death, back in 1952, and she was forced to wait in the plane while her staff brought her a black outfit since she couldn’t be seen without it in public.
However, black is only to be worn at funerals or special events such as Remembrance Day, which honors soldiers who have died in combat. Other than that, you will never see a royal member wearing this color, since it is considered a “faux-pas”.
NO MINI-SKIRTS ALLOWED
Mini skirts have been one of the most fashionable clothing items ever since the 60s, but not for the Queen, which is definitely not a fan of them, especially when worn by royal members. The ideal skirt or dress length is knee-length, something Kate Middleton had to get used to when she became part of the Royal clan.
KEEP THAT FACE SHAVED
In addition to mini skirts, if there’s one other thing that the Queen sees as no-no is facial hair. Reportedly, the Queen was less than impressed when Prince Harry presented himself at a Remembrance Day parade with a full-grown beard while wearing his Blues and Royals uniform.
Although some people commented he was breaking military law, it’s actually not forbidden to wear a beard and a uniform, as long as the beard is kept trimmed and clean. In the end, it all comes down to the Queen’s personal taste.
WEDGES ARE NOT WELCOME
It’s not as they’re forbidden and an absolute faux pas when it comes to Royal dress code. They’re ok, as long as the Queen doesn’t see it. According to a royal source, the Queen is also not a fan of these types of shoes. “She really doesn’t like [wedges], and it’s well-known among the women in the family.”
Duchess Kate is a well-known fan of wedge shoes and has been seen wearing them on several public occasions in the past, like for example playing volleyball back in 2013. She has apparently given up on them since she hasn’t been seen in a pair for a while.