The Truth About The Royal Family Dress Code

Whether you were born and raised in the United States or hail from across the pond, your fascination with the royal family surely remains alive and well. According to BBC News, less than a fifth of residents in the United Kingdom would choose to do away with the monarchy, as of 2012. Yes, they're quite happy with the arrangement. And in the US? "I think it's fair to say that the American people are quite fond of the royal family," former President Barack Obama once admitted to Prince Charles. Later, he added, "They like them much better than they like their own politicians." Why? Well, according to what Tom Sykes, writer for The Daily Beast, told The New York Times, the royals are the "ultimate celebrities." Not only are they the cream of the crop when it comes to famous people, they also follow many traditions that are, quite frankly, bizarre and therefore interesting to us common folk — especially when it comes to their clothing. Here are some of the most interesting dress code rules followed by the royal family.

Hats off to the Queen

Throughout the years, Queen Elizabeth has been photographed in some pretty epic hats. She seems to have an affinity for the head coverings, but, as with most royal family traditions, there's more to it than that. Diana Mather, senior tutor for The English Manner etiquette consultancy, explained to BBC News, "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." Okay, but it's not exactly the '50s anymore. Believe it or not, Queen Elizabeth has changed with the times — to a degree. "[H]ats are now reserved for more formal occasions," Mather explained.

Yet, if the Queen is caught wearing a hat — even during formal occasions —after 6 p.m., she turns into a pumpkin. Okay, that's not at all true. Nevertheless, the hats-off policy stands. "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," Grant Harrold, etiquette expert, told BBC News. That's when you change into your evening dress too, right?

Tiaras come with stipulations

So, how do you go about scoring one of those evening tiaras? You're going to need a wedding ring. According to BBC News, tiaras are reserved for women who are either married or part of the royal family. While Queen Elizabeth may be comfortable wearing wildly colorful hats, her tiaras have never seen daylight. "Flashy diamonds and tiaras are not worn during the day," said Mather. Harrold further explained, "For married ladies it was a sign of status and would show you were taken and not looking for a husband. For the gentleman it was a clear sign not to make advances toward the lady in question." Even Kate Middleton had to wait until she married Prince William and became Duchess Catherine before she was privy to don a tiara, wearing her first tiara on her wedding day (via Glamour).

Since we are in the US, feel free to let your freak flag fly and wear your tiara whenever and however you see fit. That is, if you own a tiara, of course.

Causing a wedge

According to Vanity Fair, Duchess Catherine has never worn wedges in the presence of Queen Elizabeth, at least according to the photographic evidence. What's Grandma have against the comfortable footwear? "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," a source explained. Well, we all have things we just don't like, right? 

Still, the duchess seems to enjoy a variety of wedges and pairs them with more casual outfits, like when on vacation with Prince William (AKA when Queen Elizabeth is not around). You do you, Kate. You do you.

All about the trousers

One of the funniest differences in American and British nomenclature: what we call "pants" in the US are called "trousers" in the UK, whereas "pants" in the UK means "underwear" in the US — it's all very confusing, hilarious, and maybe slightly embarrassing. Nevertheless, trousers are pretty much standard for casual wear. According to BBC News, the royal women are likely to wear a "smart day dress" or pants — er, trousers — along with a cardigan or blazer. The royal men, on the other hand, wear polos, blazers, and khakis or chinos. With the Queen being opposed to semi-casual footwear, one can only imagine her take on jeans. Yet and still, donning trousers is more about others' dress codes than the royal family's. "Many places will not allow jeans as they are still seen as very casual wear," Mather said, "so it is better to play safe for both sexes."

So, do members of the royal family always play it safe? Mather explained, "[I]f the duchess is outside walking the dogs for example, then jeans are fine." Though, there are occasions beyond dog-walking that are fit for denim.

No, denim is not forbidden

While you're not very likely to see any member of the royal family rocking denim-on-denim, you will see them sporting jeans from time to time — and not solely when they're walking their dog(s). Duchess Catherine has been photographed in dark jeans — quite affordable ones at that — and slightly more expensive bright-colored jeans with sneakers, as shocking as that sounds. Even Prince William occasionally wears jeans and was even pictured doing some yoga in white jeans. Oh, boy.

Prince Harry, too, wears denim at times. Although his wife, Meghan Markle, was heavily criticized for wearing ripped jeans to the Invictus Games in Toronto, denim obviously isn't forbidden by the royal family. Prince William and Duchess Catherine proved the occasional acceptableness of jeans while attending a rodeo show in Calgary.

There's no such thing as too colorful in the royal family

You could make the assumption that the Queen is all about dressing conservatively. In many ways, that is true. However, she's not afraid of being unconventional when it comes to color choices. In fact, she's been spotted in some really, really bold colors. From peach to royal blue to canary yellow, she's worn practically every color that exists. The reason? The Queen's biographer, Robert Hardman, told The Telegraph that although Queen Elizabeth is "engagingly modest," she once remarked, "I can never wear beige because nobody will know who I am." Queen Elizabeth's daughter-in-law Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, echoed this statement in The Queen at 90 documentary, saying, "Don't forget that when she turns up somewhere, the crowds are two, three, four, ten, fifteen deep, and somebody wants to be able to say they saw a bit of the Queen's hat as she went past." She continued, "She needs to stand out for people to be able to say 'I saw the Queen." And stand out, she does. Princess Eugenie also said in the documentary, "The style is something that is very unique to her — elegant, classic, she's got a wonderful happy color to her, at all times."

Although no one can pull off bright colors quite like the Queen, Duchess Catherine is closely following in her footsteps by frequently wearing "happy color[s]." 

Going nude? That's okay

Her Majesty may love a colorful dress but have you ever noticed her nails? According to the nail polish company Essie, Queen Elizabeth's hairdresser sent the company a letter back in 1989 requesting the color "Ballet Slippers," a nude shade, as it was the only color the Queen would wear. As photographs taken after 1989 prove, the Queen continues to rock a colorless manicure.

She's not the only one foregoing creative and colorful nail art, however. Both Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle have been spotted with the barely there nail color. Whether the Queen has decreed an official nude nail polish rule or simply offered a suggestion is not known. Nevertheless, the ladies abide.

Who wears short shorts?

While the band The Royal Teens may have popularized "Short Shorts," it's actually the British royal boys who wear them. To Americans, it does look a bit odd to see a young child like Prince George sporting shorts, a pullover, and high socks. Be that as it may, the royal family considers that type of clothing formal wear and royal children are apparently supposed to always be seen in formal attire while out in public. If you think that's weird, it used to be even weirder. Harrold explained to BBC News that the tradition began in the 16th century when "young boys [wore] gowns or dresses until the age of 8, if not before." He added, "Thankfully in late 19th Century and early 20th Century this developed into shorts. This tradition is carried on by the Royal Family to this very day." Long live the shorts? Sure, why not.

The pantyhose policy

How long has it been since you put on a pair of pantyhose? If you're a member of the royal family, it's probably been a matter of days. According to Women's Wear Daily, British stores that carry pantyhose saw a significant increase in sales after pictures surfaced of Duchess Catherine wearing them. Selfridges experienced a 46 percent increase after the royal wedding, Wolford's went up by 130 percent, Falke's by 250 percent, and Asda by 500 percent.

According to Harper's Bazaar, the Queen requires both guests and family members to wear pantyhose or tights to royal events. If that's true, Meghan Markle committed an incredible faux pas when announcing her engagement to Prince Harry as her legs were bare. Gasp! Jo Bryant, an etiquette adviser, explained to WWD why it's such a big deal, saying, "[O]ne should wear tights for formal occasions; bare legs are often too casual, especially with smart outfits." It's yet to be seen if Markle's bare-leggedness was just a one time thing or if she'll continually commit to bucking the royal dress code.

The clutch: a multipurpose handbag

Many royal women — from Princess Eugenie all the way to Her Majesty herself — have been spotted clutching clutches. A purse without a strap may not be the most functional bag for everyday Brits and Americans. Nonetheless, a clutch actually serves a variety of purposes for the royals. Anya Hindmarch of her self-titled luxury handbag company spoke to The Telegraph (via Good Housekeeping) about Princess Diana's choice of handbag and its function, explaining, "[W]e designed what she called her 'cleavage bags', little satin clutches which she would cover her cleavage with when she stepped out of cars."

Clutches also prevent other awkward moments. Etiquette expert Myka Meier explained to Good Housekeeping how Duchess Catherine uses hers. For starters, she holds her handbag in front of her using both hands to avoid shaking hands with someone. She can hold her bag in one hand when she wants but she should never place it under her arm, on the ground, or on top of a table. What if there's no where to put it? She should place it between her back and the back of a chair — because that's less ridiculous than just setting it down, right? Queen Elizabeth even uses her clutch as a signal. Royal historian Hugo Vickers explained to People, saying, "It would be very worrying if you were talking to the Queen and saw the handbag move from one hand to the other" because this is how the Queen signals that she wants to be ushered away. That's so clutch.

Coats must stay on (even indoors)

Kate Middleton and Prince William took a four-day Scandinavian tour in February 2018, and, while her fashion choices were deemed on-point by much of the media, there was one small detail that threw everyone for a loop. 

Glamour reported that when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge met with Norway's Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit for lunch, Kate never so much as unbuttoned her plum-colored Dolce & Gabbana coat. While we could hypothesize that the Duchess was simply cold, William and the Norwegian royals were all dressed in comfortable, indoor attire (not even a thick sweater or a scarf in sight), hinting that temperature was not the issue.

Harper's Bazaar reported back in October 2017 in a since-removed article that when Kate arrives at an event in a coat, she won't ever take it off while she's there. This is supposedly another etiquette rule for royal women because removing any clothing in public (even outerwear) isn't considered "ladylike." What's worrying about the tradition is the fact that Kate was six-months pregnant. Healthline reports that it's common to feel warmer than usual while pregnant — add a coat indoors, and they're just asking for a sweaty and uncomfortable pregnant lady. It may be time to revise those royal rules — especially when there's a bun in the oven.

A royal's hair should be simple and neat, according to the royal family dress code

As much as you might want to see the Duchess of Cambridge rocking pink hair one day, members of the royal family have to stick with a natural-looking hair color, according to Australian Vogue. When it comes to styling, royal women have the option of wearing their hair up or down (or in a combination of the two), but it's to be kept neat and, well, basic.

Although unkempt hair is most definitely out, Meghan Markle's classic messy bun was A-okay. Part of what made her hairstyle so refreshing (and headline-worthy) was that it was unique from other royal 'dos — but not so much so that it would anger the queen.

"The messy bun purely came off the back of making the hair both appropriate and adhering to royal protocol, and modern at the same time," Meghan's hairstylist, George Northwood, said of the royal's wedding reception hairdo when speaking to British Vogue. He continued, saying, "We always wanted it to be refined imperfection — that's what sums her up." Although Meghan was known for this look, Kate Middleton has also been known to sport the style from time to time.