Being a royal means you get access to the most fashionable and luxurious clothes around. After all, designers will be falling over themselves to dress you. But there’s a downside: everything you wear is governed by some pretty strict restrictions. In the summer of 2020 Kate Middleton chose a particular outfit that wasn’t quite in keeping with royal protocol, and the Queen may well have disapproved.
Kate was making a public appearance at The Nook, which is part of East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices. The Duchess of Cambridge is patron of their charity, and she visited on June 27 to help plant a garden with the people there.
Kate interacted with the families at the hospice and was very moved to hear their stories. One little boy called Sonny gave her a bracelet, and she put it straight on her arm. The duchess then got to work planting a new garden for the children to enjoy. It included sensory herbs and strawberries as well as sunflowers, in memory of hospice children who had sadly passed away.
Kate also revealed that her own children had been having a sunflower-growing contest back at home. She reportedly told the families who were helping, “Louis is winning so George is a little grumpy about that.” Kate kept a smile on her face and seemed to lift spirits – despite the difficult circumstances.
The duchess’ outfit during the public appearance looked casual. However, the truth is that royal outfits are almost always anything but. Kate and all the other royals have some strict rules to follow whenever they’re and about. Protocol governs not only what a royal must wear, but also how they should wear the clothes and when.
Kate obviously didn’t wear a tiara to the children’s hospice, but these items alone are a minefield of protocol. They can only be worn at certain events and only by married women. As a result, single female royals don’t get a sparkly headpiece. Weddings are a good time for them to come out, as the bride is meant to wear a “family tiara.”
Military uniforms are similar in that they’re also generally a part of royal weddings. Prince William of course wore his bright red military attire for his wedding to Kate. The uniforms also come out during any royal event British soldiers are involved in – such as Trooping the Colour. And they’re not just for men; Princess Anne wears her uniform on occasion, too.
Royal protocol even dictates what the young children of the family should wear. Prince George – the heir to the throne – is never seen in public wearing pants. He has been dressed in shorts for all of his life so far. Furthermore, royal etiquette experts were happy to explain when people noticed this and started to question it.
In 2018 etiquette expert William Hanson told Harper’s Bazaar magazine, “Trousers [pants] are for older boys and men, whereas shorts on young boys is one of those silent class markers that we have in England. Although times are slowly changing, 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.”
Many of the royal fashion rules for women apparently involve maintaining a sense of modesty. A major wardrobe malfunction would probably make headlines all over the world, and that’s the last thing the royal family wants. Already, Kate’s skirt has almost blown up to reveal her underwear a couple of times.
Needless to say, the whole world knowing what Kate wears beneath her dresses would be very embarrassing for everyone involved. So, she’s apparently been taught a fashion hack from the Queen herself. The monarch has tiny weights sewn into the hemlines of her dresses so no gust of wind can lift them up, according to the website Mental Floss.
And for obvious reasons, the women of the royal family generally don’t wear short skirts at all. Their dresses remain more or less at knee-length. It’s also encouraged that the royal ladies wear pantyhose for an extra level of modesty. This rule seems more negotiable though, as Meghan Markle sometimes goes without.
Princess Diana apparently had a trick to preserve her modesty when out in public. The mother of Harry and William liked low-cut dresses, but she understandably didn’t want photographers snapping pictures of her cleavage. So, Diana would hold her clutch bag to her chest and cover everything up whenever she was getting out of a car.
In fact, bags and clutches are a whole subject in themselves. Royals almost always hold these items in their hands, rather than slinging them across their shoulders with a strap like most of us would do. There’s a reason for that; it means they have an excuse not to shake hands with people during walkabouts, according to Bustle.
And the Queen too uses her handbag to avoid people, but in a different way. When she wants a dinner party to wrap up, Mental Floss claims that she will subtly place her bag on the table as an indication to her staff that they have to finish things within five minutes. And this is not the only signal she uses.
It’s not a good sign if you’re ever speaking to the Queen and she shifts her handbag from one hand to the other. Hugo Vickers – a royal historian – told People magazine that it means she’s tired of the conversation and would like to move on. And if she puts it on the floor that’s even worse; the Queen is signaling that she would like to be “rescued” from you immediately.
The Queen does, however, specifically pick her clothes out with the public in mind. Royal fans may note that the monarch wears something very brightly colored during almost every public appearance she makes. And that’s apparently done on purpose. The Queen’s daughter-in-law Sophie, Countess of Wessex, explained on The Queen at 90 documentary that this is done so that members of the public will be able to spot her in a crowd.
There’s also the matter of the Queen’s gloves. These items are fashionable, but that’s not their only function. They also spring from the concept of a monarch frequently going out and meeting her people. The Queen wears gloves because they help slow down the spread of germs, and obviously that’s of paramount importance.
Then there’s a few royal fashion rules which aren’t a matter of protocol or safety, but are simply there due to the personal preferences of the Queen. For example, she reportedly hates brightly colored nail polish and considers it vulgar. Therefore, you won’t see members of the family wearing it very much.
There’s another royal rule the Queen has placed down during her life, but this was because she had to learn it the hard way. All royals need to carry a black outfit when traveling overseas in case another member of the family passes away while they’re gone. It’s no doubt unpleasant to think about, but this rule must be adhered to.
The Queen – then still a princess – didn’t bring black clothing with her when she went abroad to Kenya in 1952. But while she was away her father the king died. It would have been very inappropriate for her to be seen wearing a color other than black when she arrived in Britain, so she had to wait while someone fetched her one.
Such is the seriousness of managing the Queen’s wardrobe that the monarch even has someone break in her shoes for her. In 2017 royal wardrobe designer Stewart Parvin told the Evening Standard newspaper, “The shoes have to be immediately comfortable… she does get someone to wear them. The Queen can never say, ‘I’m uncomfortable, I can’t walk anymore.’”
So, there’s clearly a lot that goes into picking a royal outfit – whether you’re the Queen or a duchess. Kate’s outfit for The Nook children’s hospice outing seemed well-chosen at first. It was highly praised by royal fashion fans, despite the fact that there was a noticeable rule-break in there.
Kate’s dress was a $189 Marie-Louise Midi Dress by Faithfull the Brand and it was especially praised. One commenter wrote on the royal fashion website What Kate Wore in June 2020, “I simply love this dress on the duchess. It’s simply cheery and everyone needs a bit of cheer these days. It made her stand out in photographs in a pleasant way as well.”
Kate wore a pair of $167 wedge heel Coco-nut Espadrilles shoes from Russell and Bromley to go with the dress. And one person on What Kate Wore commented on the attractive number, “I adore the espadrilles with the metallic sheen.” However, they were a big breach of the Queen’s fashion rules.
Elizabeth II also apparently hates wedge-heeled shoes just as much as colored nail varnish. Back in July 2015 an inside source told Vanity Fair magazine, “The Queen isn’t a fan of wedged shoes. She really doesn’t like them and it’s well known among the women in the family.”
Interestingly, Kate appears to rarely wear wedged heels while the Queen is actually present. But looking back over her many public appearances it’s clear that she doesn’t share the thoughts of her grandmother-in-law. The duchess has rocked wedges a few times after she became a member of the royal family.
And Kate seems to be quite a fan of wedges. The duchess has a few particular pairs she wears during engagements when the Queen isn’t around. One style from the outlet Monsoon has been seen on her during her tour of India and Bhutan and also when she helped launch the Heads Together initiative in 2016.
And Kate’s sister-in-law Meghan Markle has also worn them a couple of times – again, when the Queen is not present. She wore black Castañer wedges during a tour of South Africa with her husband Harry in September 2019. These also were affordable for those who wished to copy her style, as they sold on Net-a-Porter.com for only $120.
And other royals also seem to like the shoes, too. In 2019 Lady Amelia Windsor wore wedges to her sister’s wedding, even though they were arguably far too casual for such an occasion. At the time the website Who What Wear noted, “We would never think of wearing espadrilles to a wedding – and a very formal one at that – yet Amelia Windsor gets the balance right with her daisy-print Gül Hürgel dress and white hat.”
Meanwhile, Elizabeth II may not like wedges, but it turns out that other Queens do. In 2020 Queen Letizia of Spain toured a monastery with her husband and wore Castañer canvas wedge shoes. The Daily Express wrote that they were “clearly comfortable for the royal as she walked around the medieval monastery.”
And it seemed that Kate had no problem at all flouting the wedges rule. Indeed, not long after wearing that style of shoe to the hospice event she decided to do so again. In July 2020 she appeared at the launch of a BBC initiative for children called Tiny Happy People wearing wedges.
The What Kate Wore website noted that the shoes the duchess had on during the BBC event were Castañer Carina wedge espadrilles, which retailed for $190. The website informed viewers, “The style is handmade in Spain and has a suede upper, thin ties that wrap around the ankle, and a 3-inch rubber-trimmed heel.”
It’s also been noted by keen fashion-watchers that Castañer wedges in particular seem to be a favorite among the royals. In November 2019 Good Housekeeping magazine did a feature on them and showed where fans could get hold of them for inexpensive prices. They called the items “Kate and Meghan’s favorite shoes.”
The magazine wrote of the shoes, “Why are Castañer’s espadrilles so coveted, you may ask? Well, quite simply, they are comfortable – we can vouch for that – and where trainers aren’t so appropriate for public outings, these wedge shoes are the next best thing. What’s more, the Spanish brand is known for its craftsmanship. Rumour has it [that] lots of luxury designer brands’ espadrilles are made in the same factory, so if you buy a pair you know they’ll last you a few summers.”
Good Housekeeping also suggested that Kate’s royal rebel sister-in-law might have encouraged the duchess to let her guard down regarding shoes. The article said, “It seems Meghan’s smart/casual outfits inspired Kate to try something new in 2019. [She] was spotted wearing a pair of suede Castañers several times this summer.”
There’s another option too; Kate might well have developed her apparent love of wedge heels from her sister Pippa. The other Middleton sibling has been seen in that kind of shoe a lot, including while she was on her honeymoon to Australia. And she too seems to prefer the Castañer brand above all others.
But why does the Queen herself dislike wedge heels so much? People have long been trying to figure it out. In 2019 someone posed the question on the Quora question-and-answer forum and got some interesting responses. One person suggested that the Queen’s experience of World War II could be to blame.
One user wrote in response, “The Queen hates wedges because they remind her of austerity and rationing during [WWII]. One thing that was not rationed was cork, so people used it to make their own shoes, which had to be a wedge shape because the cork was too soft to make a separate sole and heel.”
Nevertheless, Kate manages to wear her wedges despite the Queen’s hatred of them. Furthermore, there have been no reports of footwear-related tension at the palace. And, as people on the What Kate Wore website pointed out, fashion choices are probably the least important thing when visiting a children’s hospice.