Fashion Rules the Royal Family Lives By
The British royal family abides by a very specific—and strict—style guide. And though it must be tough to appear prim and proper all the time, the queen’s handful of sartorial rules have kept the family looking posh and avoiding potentially embarrassing faux pas for 60-plus years. When should one wear their military garb? What else might clutches be good for, beyond carrying breath mints and lipstick? It’s all in the (figurative) handbook!
After all, she wants to be noticed. Throughout her 66-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II has sported monochromatic fuchsia, lime green, and canary yellow outfits from her wardrobe, which boasts every (yes, every!) color of the rainbow. The uniform is quite sensible, though: She wants to guarantee the public can see her through the crowd.
“She needs to stand out for people to be able to say, ‘I saw the Queen,'” her daughter-in-law, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, explained in the 2016 documentary The Queen at 90. “Don’t forget that when she turns up somewhere, crowds are two-, three-, four-, 10-, 15-deep, and someone wants to be able to say they saw a bit of the queen’s hat as she went past.”
Royal etiquette requires one be worn by women to all official events. It’s a stipulation that dates back to the 1950s, a time when women were starting to ditch their hats when going out in public. Though further modernization has eased up on the rule—Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton’s perfect blowout is proof enough—the Queen insists the tradition be kept alive, especially at formal engagements like weddings and christenings. In fact, she rarely forgoes a headpiece, often trading a hat for a crown or headscarf.
The most important rule: Hats are discarded after 6 p.m., when it’s time to break out the tiaras!
Yes, only married women of the family get to don the jewels. That’s because tiaras signify relationship status—and let curious bachelors know if a woman is off limits.
“It signals the crowning of love and the loss of innocence to marriage,” Geoffrey Munn, the author of Tiaras: A History of Splendour, explained to Forbes. “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.”
According to Munn, Princess Diana was the last royal to strictly adhere to the family jewels portion of the tradition—she came from the aristocracy and wore her family’s Spencer tiara at her 1981 wedding to Prince Charles. Kate Middleton donned her first tiara, a Cartier halo piece borrowed from the Queen’s collection, on her 2011 wedding day. And though it has yet to be confirmed, it is rumored that Meghan Markle will likely pay tribute to Prince Harry’s mother by wearing one of the late Princess Diana’s tiaras at her May 19 vows. As an American, odds of Markle having a “family tiara” are pretty low.
There are no dinosaur sweatpants in Prince George’s closet. Like his father, Prince William, and his Uncle Harry, the 4-year-old heir—he’s third in line to the throne—will only attend public events wearing smart shorts and never pants.
“Trousers are for older boys and men, whereas shorts on young boys is one of those silent markers that we have in England,” British etiquette expert William Hanson told Harper’s Bazaar. “A pair of trousers on a young boy is considered quite middle class—quite suburban. And no self-respecting aristo or royal would want to be considered suburban.”
The tradition actually dates back to the 16th century and the practice of breeching, or when a tot grew out of gowns and moved on to, well, breeches. Adds Hanson, “The usual custom is that a boy graduated to trousers around 8 years old.”