20 Subtle But Strict Fashion Rules That The Royal Family Secretly Obey

While the royal family may have a lot of power and prestige, they can’t just wear whatever they like. In fact, their public outfit choices are dictated by a long and detailed set of rules. Practically everything, it seems, from the placement of purses to the reason why the Queen often dons turquoise hides a fascinating secret meaning.

20. No tiara unless you’re married

Royal tiaras are beautiful, of course, but good luck getting your hands on one unless you’re a married royal. In 2019 former butler Grant Harrold told the website Insider, “Traditionally, tiaras are a sign of marriage. So, typically they could be worn by a bride on her wedding day. Or after she is married, she can wear one to any white tie event.”

Kate Middleton, like several other royals, wore a tiara for the first time at her wedding. After that, she stuck to traditional and only wore them sparingly. She wears impressive pieces like the famous Lover’s Knot Tiara for state banquets and the like – but she does so very carefully. To prevent a tiara falling off, often it’s sewn right into the hair.

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19. Handbags are used for sending signals

The Queen’s various handbags and clutches look nice, but they also serve an important purpose. She uses them to subtly send out signals to her waiting staff. If you’re ever lucky enough to dine with the Queen, keep an eye on her bag. If she places it on the table, it means she wants the dinner wrapped up within five minutes.

And if the Queen’s bored of a conversation, that’s where the handbag comes in again. If she places her bag on the floor or changes the hand that’s holding it, it supposedly means she’s keen to escape. A staffer will notice and politely whisk either her or you over to another person. So, if you ever meet the Queen, keep your conversation sparkling!

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18. Fur isn’t strictly allowed

Royals aren’t really supposed to wear fur. This dates all the way back to 1137, when King Edward III issued a law preventing even his own family from wearing it. In 2019 the modern royal family also appeared to stop wearing fur. And according to royal dresser Angela Kelly the Queen even had it separated and taken away from an old outfit.

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But Kate Middleton may not follow this rule; nobody’s completely sure. In 2018 she was seen wearing a hat advertised as containing real fur. Kensington Palace issued a statement saying that her version was made with faux fur, but animal rights organization PETA wasn’t buying it. Kate’s also been seen wearing hats made from fur which has naturally fallen from creatures.

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17. Clutch bags have a purpose

Female royals usually carry clutch bags with them. But they’re not just used to store items inside. Princess Diana popularized the idea of using a strategically placed clutch to stop the paparazzi taking shots of her cleavage. When she got out of a car she’d position her bag right over her chest, blocking everyone’s view.

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Kate also uses her clutch for practical purposes. According to etiquette expert Myka Meier, who spoke to Good Housekeeping US magazine in 2017, “When the Duchess is at an event, she holds her bag in front of her in both hands when shaking hands might be awkward.” So if Kate’s holding her clutch tightly, it means she doesn’t want to take your hand.

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16. Hair and makeup should be subtle

A royal woman ought to keep makeup to a minimum – and definitely not try out any outlandish hairstyles. A lot of ladies would have to give up favorite things upon joining the royal family. No black lipstick, no blue hair dye; the list goes on. Even a dressed-down royal would still be expected to look neat.

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Meghan Markle’s gained a lot of attention for her “no makeup” look. This does, of course, require makeup, but very subtle shades. Apparently, she uses Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk foundation, Yves Saint Laurent Touche Eclat Concealer, Becca’s Shimmering Skin Perfector highlighter, eyeliner and a nude lipstick. Whatever she’s doing, it’s working.

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15. Royals should be in uniform when appropriate

If you watched the weddings of Prince William and Prince Harry, you’ll notice that each groom wore a military uniform. Both of the princes have served in the army, and it’s tradition for them to wear their uniforms on special occasions like Trooping the Color and weddings. And this goes for women too – Princess Anne is an honorary admiral and wears the uniform.

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Alas, Prince Harry might have lost the right to wear military uniform when he stepped down from royal duties in 2020. Speaking in the wake of the news, the Lord West of Spithead told the Telegraph newspaper, “The next time [Prince Harry] is at a military event he should be in civilian clothes because he is no longer involved with any military units.”

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14. Honor your hosts

When traveling to another country, royals like to ensure that they wear the colors and fashions of their hosts. They are diplomats after all, so it helps to build bridges. For example, when Kate and Prince William visited Ireland for the first time in March 2020, Kate made sure to wear Ireland’s national color of green.

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Royals have to be very careful to get the fashion of their host country right, or risk insult. In September 2012 Kate and William accidentally wore the wrong place’s traditional outfits – they had on the clothes of the Cook Islands while visiting the Solomon Islands. It drew comment in the media, but luckily no offense was taken.

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13. Always carry a black outfit

All royals should have a black outfit with them while traveling. This dates back to 1952 and the death of King George VI, the Queen’s father. Elizabeth was away when she got the news of his passing, and it would have been highly inappropriate for her to return to Britain wearing anything other than mourning clothes. She couldn’t see the public until someone had fetched her a black dress.

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To avoid a situation like that ever happening again, all royals must bring a black outfit with them while they travel, no matter how sobering it must be for them to consider that they’re doing so in anticipation of a family member passing. Generally speaking, though, they’re not supposed to wear all-black ensembles during the day. The exception, of course, is a solemn event of remembrance, like a funeral or a memorial.

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12. Young boys must always wear shorts

Prince George, the oldest son of Prince William and Kate Middleton, is pretty much never photographed without a pair of shorts on. Doesn’t he ever wear pants? Well… no. Having a young boy wear only shorts until he reaches a certain age is a long-standing tradition among the British upper classes.

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In 2018 Harper’s Bazaar magazine asked etiquette expert William Hanson about it. He said, “Trousers 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.”

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11. Avoid bright nail polish

Royal women can, of course, wear colorful outfits – and they do. But they’re not really supposed to match, say, a bright green dress with bright green nail varnish. The Queen reportedly dislikes how colored nail polish looks. She herself is said to wear only one form of it – a neutral shade known as “Essie’s Ballet Slippers.”

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That being said, this rule seems have been phased out a bit in more recent years. Princess Diana was once spotted with a bright red manicure, Kate has worn non-neutral shades on her toes, and Meghan has been seen with colored nails at a couple of public events. You probably won’t ever see the Queen doing the same thing, though.

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10. Coats should always be kept on

No matter the weather or the temperature, a royal must always smile and carry on no matter what they’re wearing. If you’re a duchess who happens to have on a heavy coat and then you enter a building, there’s to be no removing it until you’re completely out of view. It would be considered unbefitting to take a coat off in public.

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So, you’re unlikely to ever see Kate or Meghan – let alone the Queen – snapped in the act of taking a coat off in front of people. Even if your hosts have removed their own coats. Or if you’re with other royals, or the weather has suddenly switched from freezing cold to roasting hot. No matter what, the coat stays on.

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9. The Queen has final say on wedding dresses

Here’s one thing it might be useful to know if you’re planning on marrying into the royal family. The Queen has to give the green light on all wedding dresses. Kate and Meghan would’ve had to show her the gown designs before their marriages. Even Princess Eugenie – who was born into the family rather than married in – would’ve had to run everything by her gran.

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Before Meghan got married, there were rumors that the Queen didn’t want her to wear white, since she had been married and divorced already. Yet the future duchess did, of course, wear white in the end. Apparently, the Queen has never actually said no to a royal wedding gown yet.

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8. Keep skirts long

You’re not likely to see a royal meeting crowds clad in a miniskirt. While they’re free to wear whatever they want at home, of course, dresses worn in public should be down to the knee or longer. Yet this rule has been broken a couple of times by the younger, highly fashionable Kate and Meghan.

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Princess Diana, though, might have been the one who broke the rule most memorably. In June 1994 – on the same night Prince Charles was due to confess his infidelity in a television interview – Diana showed up at the Serpentine Gallery wearing a very daring black number. It went down in fashion history as a “revenge dress.”

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7. Jeans are only acceptable sometimes

Royals can only wear jeans when it’s appropriate to do so, like, for instance, in their downtime. One place royals definitely can’t wear them is in the Royal Box at Wimbledon. When Meghan attended Wimbledon in 2019 the media suggested she’d been told not to enter the box due to her denim trousers, but chances are she wasn’t planning to anyway – she sat with some pals.

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According to etiquette consultant Diana Mather, who spoke to the BBC News website in 2017, “Many places will not allow jeans as they are still seen as very casual wear. So it is better to play safe for both sexes.” She added, “But if the duchess is outside walking the dogs for example, then jeans are fine.”

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6. No wedge heels around the Queen

Kate has been seen in wedge heels often, but never when the Queen is around. And there’s a good reason for that. According to an anonymous source who spoke to Vanity Fair magazine in 2015, “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.”

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However, Kate does seem to like wedges a lot. She’s reportedly worn her Stuart Weitzman Corkswoon wedges on at least 15 different occasions, and the day after she married Prince William – becoming an official royal in the process – she wore a pair of L.K. Bennett Greta Wedges. Let’s hope the Queen didn’t see them.

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5. The Queen almost always wears gloves and a hat

There’s a very sensible reason why the Queen wears gloves all the time. It’s not just for fashion – although she does often choose ones which match her handbag. In fact, it’s because they help to prevent the spread of germs. The Queen shakes hands with multiple people all the time, so gloves are a good safety precaution.

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As for the hats, it’s simply tradition for the Queen to have her head covered. Diana Mather told the BBC News website in 2017, “Up until the 1950s ladies were very seldom seen without a hat as it was not considered ‘the thing’ for ladies to show their hair in public.” If the Queen isn’t wearing a hat she’ll probably have a scarf on – or a crown.

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4. Dresses should be weighted down

Kate’s had a couple of accidents where her skirt blew up in the wind. In 2012 Jenny Packham, one of Kate’s designers, told the Evening Standard, “I had a little handwritten letter from a lady in Wisconsin passionately criticizing me for the primrose yellow shift dress I made for the duchess. She said didn’t I know about putting weights around the bottom of a hem, so it can’t blow up?”

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The Queen’s dressmaker Stuart Parvin incorporates weights into her dresses. In November 2013 he told the Daily Mail, “I just pop a couple into the hemline of her dresses and coats and it makes them hang beautifully. If there is a flap in the coat then I will sew in one on each side of the split to even it up.”

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3. Tights are important

Royal ladies are never supposed to have bare legs, and it drew no small amount of comment when Meghan Markle appeared to be going without tights in her engagement pictures. According to royalty expert Victoria Arbiter, speaking to the website Insider in 2017, “You never see a royal without their nude stockings… I would say that’s really the only hard, steadfast rule in terms of what the Queen requires.”

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However, a royal doesn’t have to stick with nude. In 2018 etiquette expert Alexandra Messervy told Insider, “They are at liberty to choose whatever color tights they wish. And, indeed, often opaque colors work well with outfits. I think the only reason they have chosen ‘nude’ in recent years is because they have become so much more fashionable, and the ‘bare legs’ look became the craze.”

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2. Don’t wear things which wrinkle easily

Royals are very aware of what it will look like if their clothes are wrinkled. Royal dressmaker Angela Kelly revealed in her 2012 book Dressing the Queen: The Jubilee Wardrobe that the Queen had a life hack for picking the right dress materials. That is, she would test the fabric first by squeezing it in her hand.

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Princess Diana and her wedding dress designers arguably learned this rule this hard way. Her gown had a train measuring 25 foot. And on the day of the wedding fitting it neatly into the carriage proved impossible. When Diana arrived at the church, the dress was creased. It still went on to be one of the most popular royal wedding gowns ever, though.

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1. The Queen always wears bright colors

In many photographs of the Queen, she’s wearing something very bright. There’s a good reason for this. She’s going to be the most important person at any event she attends, and therefore she needs to stand out. So, she wears colors that no-one else at a royal occasion would be wearing – bright turquoise, deep purples and the like.

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In the 2017 documentary Our Queen at Ninety, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, explained it. She said her mother-in-law, “needs to stand out for people to be able to say ‘I saw the Queen.’ Don’t forget that when she turns up somewhere, the crowds are two, three, four, ten, 15 deep, and someone wants to be able to say they saw a bit of the Queen’s hat as she went past.”

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