Oh, the life of a royal. On the surface it can seem exciting to live within the palace walls, wearing expensive outfits and attending celeb-studded red carpet events. (Well, at least that’s what we thought before Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s bombshell Oprah interview.) But behind all the glitz and glamour is a hard set of fashion rules that every member must follow, regardless of where they stand in the line of succession.
Despite the rigid rules, there have been some major breakout fashion icons to come from the House of Windsor – most notably Diana, Princess of Wales, Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex. Whether it was Diana’s infamous black “revenge dress” or Meghan’s sleek and simple wedding dress, the royal women, in particular, have brought their fashion A game to an often stuffy institution.
But what exactly are these fashion rules the royals have to follow? Although there are many, we’ve narrowed it down the biggest fashion do’s and don’ts that Queen Elizabeth has on her radar, from hats to heels.
Subtle nail polish only
Remember all the tabloid ink spilled that one time when Meghan Markle dared to venture into the public sphere wearing black nail polish? The horror! Royal watchers clutched their pearls as the “rule-breaking” American politely pushed back against the queen’s preference for subtle nail colours (although she went with a pale pink on her wedding day in 2018). However, it would appear that Meghan isn’t always in favour of wearing Her Majesty’s personal favourite hue: Essie’s Ballet Slippers, which the queen’s been faithfully using since 1989.
A hard pass for wedge heels
OK, so there’s no official rule against donning wedge shoes, but it’s widely known that the queen absolutely loathes them as much as she dislikes the taste of garlic. On the rare occasion when Kate Middleton’s been spotted wearing a wedge heel, it’s always been at the more low-key royal engagements when the queen herself was not present. Out of sight, out of mind, in Her Majesty’s estimation. Here’s hoping she never came across this photo.
Boys must always wear shorts
Ever wonder why Princes George and Louis are always in those knee-length shorts? Brace yourself, because the reason is pretty bougie: in England, shorts represent a high station in society, which is why William and Kate’s boys have almost exclusively been photographed in their iconic knee-length bottoms. That being said, George is only a few short months away from being able to wear some “big boy pants” – royal boys can finally don a pair of trousers once they’ve turned eight, which George will do in July.
Coats must stay on for women
If you’re attending an event on behalf of the royal family, women must keep their jackets on at all times, even indoors. You know, lest you be deemed “unladylike.” That’s why you’ll see all the women, from Her Majesty right down to Kate, Meghan and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, sweating in out in church pews and high-profile engagements even when the weather is sweltering.
Women must wear hats to all formal occasions
There once was a time when royal decree demanded that women wear hats at all times outside palace walls. It’s a rule that dates back to the 1950s at a time when it became more common for everyday women to doff their caps in favour of comfort. At the time, the royals didn’t want to follow in the path of plebs. However, in the ensuing decades the queen has eased the restrictions somewhat, stating that hats must now be worn at all times only during formal occasions.
Fun fact: hats can be replaced with tiaras after 6PM. It’s the royal equivalent of letting your hair down.
Tiaras are reserved for brides and married women
Speaking of tiaras, they can only be worn by brides and married women in the royal family. That’s right – should Princess Charlotte decide not to marry down the road, she can’t wear a tiara even though she’s in direct line to the throne behind her brother, Prince George. Here’s hoping the mischievous cherub rebels against this outdated rule one day. As for the reasoning behind it, Geoffrey Munn, author of Tiaras: A History of Splendour, told Forbes:“[A tiara] signals the crowning of love and the loss of innocence to marriage. The family tiara 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.” How very 21st century of them.
All royals must pack a black outfit when travelling
For practical reasons, every single working member of the royal family – even the ones on the outskirts – must pack a black mourning outfit whenever they travel in case of a sudden death. No doubt this fashion rule came about after Queen Elizabeth herself was caught unawares by her father, King George VI’s, sudden death in 1952 while the then-25-year-old future queen was traveling through Kenya with hubby Prince Philip.
Wedding dresses must be approved by the queen
All wedding dresses for the last few decades have required the queen’s seal of approval. Her Majesty would have had plenty of sneak peeks in the early design phases, even before the dresses were sewn together. She even gives her final nod of approval a few days leading up to the big day, much like she did most recently for Meghan and granddaughters, Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice. Design rules include long hemlines, no low necklines and zero shoulders on display. However, Meghan found a clever workaround when she she stepped out in a second dress for her 2018 wedding reception – a Stella McCartney halter neck gown that left our jaws on the floor.
Go bold or go home – but not bolder than the queen
Throughout her 69-year reign, Queen Elizabeth has worn every colour of the rainbow, from canary yellow to lime green. The brighter, the better, seems to be her fashion motto. Angela Kelly, the queen’s longtime dressmaker and confidant, has been helping Her Majesty select outfits for decades. The reasoning behind her bold attire? She wants the public to be able to spot her in a crowd. For that reason, other members of the royal family – while apparently encouraged to dress as though spring was a year-round season – should never go quite as bright as the queen.
Keep your hands gloved or clutched
Those clutch purses you always see Kate and Camilla gripping when they perform their royal duties? That’s so they have something to hold when meeting commoners – lest anyone want to shake their hands if they’re not in the mood. It’s a polite signifier that it is not the time nor place to try to reach for a royal handshake. On the flip side, the queen almost exclusively wears gloves – so that she can shake as many hands as she wants, albeit without catching any germs.
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