Strict Dress Code Rules Guests Need To Follow At A Royal Wedding

Nobody values etiquette as much as the British royal family. With such public personas, it's no wonder that they live strictly regimented lives. After all, having a stern set of rules helps bolster tradition, and it's handy for helping the family control their royal image. Although it may seem quirky that little boys are forbidden from wearing trousers or that women must keep their coats on in public, dress code is a serious matter for British nobility (via Bustle). But fashion protocol isn't just for the royal family. Marriages are a crucial part of the monarchy, and those lucky enough to attend a royal wedding must follow a strict dress code.

Royal weddings are like real-life fairy tales, so when a monarch gets hitched, the whole world pays attention. According to CNBC, over 29 million people tuned in to watch Prince Harry and Meghan Markle say "I do" in 2018. With so many eyes on a royal wedding, guests are expected to bring their finest fashion game. In fact, Harry and Meghan reportedly sent their guests a seven-page etiquette guide to help them prepare for the big event (via The Cut). Although the pressures of royal dress code may be fierce, they're a small price to pay for passage into these glamorous events. Each royal wedding is history in the making, but it's also a chance for attendees to show their style to the world. Guests who obey the following rules are sure to sparkle in the international spotlight.

Only small handbags are allowed on the big day

Royal wedding guests had better pack light, because only small handbags are permitted at these illustrious affairs. While it may seem frivolous, this wedding guideline is actually quite practical. Seating tends to be tight at royal weddings, so there simply isn't enough space for cumbersome luggage, per the Associated Press.

Aside from the limited space at royal weddings, there are a few other reasons why the monarchy favors tiny handbags. The late Princess Diana was seldom seen without a dainty clutch, partly because they were handy for covering up her chest while bending down or leaning forward. With this clever handbag hack, the princess was able to block voracious paparazzi from catching her in a cleavage-bearing moment, per Good Housekeeping.

Queen Elizabeth II had some handbag tricks of her own. In a conversation with Newsweek, royal commentator Kristen Meinzer explained that the queen would use her handbags to convey secret messages to her staff. Meinzer referred to these subtle communications as "handbag code" and stated, "Supposedly if she's standing around at an event and mingling with people and talking, and she switches her handbag from one arm to the other, she's telling her staff she'd like someone to interrupt and end the conversation."

No swords allowed

There wasn't a sword in sight at the 2018 nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. While swords may seem like an unusual wedding accessory, they're actually quite common in British and U.S. military tradition. Rituals like sword cake-cutting and the arch of swords are beloved military wedding customs, per Dress Uniform Hire. And since military officials attend royal weddings in uniform, it's totally feasible that some might show up with their swords in tow — but Meghan and Harry requested that no one did. 

Swords were not the only accessories on the minds of Meghan and Harry as they planned their big day. They also requested that guests abstain from wearing medals to the ceremony (via The Sun). It seems that Harry and Meghan's choice to exclude medals and swords was a matter of personal preference rather than protocol. For the 2011 union of Prince William and Princess Catherine, medals were on full display. In fact, David Beckham made big news when he accidentally wore his Order of the British Empire medal on the wrong side of his lapel. The football star managed to correct the faux pas later in the day, but his mistake didn't go unnoticed by eagle-eyed reporters, per Business Insider.

Ladies should wear a hat or fascinator

Hats started appearing at royal weddings decades ago, when it was popular for British women to cover their hair during official events, per BBC. These days, hats are still one of the best-loved traditions of royal weddings. Over time, hats have become more elaborate, featuring bigger brims, funkier shapes, and interesting decorations. But even the most extravagant hats are outshined by another headwear trend: fascinators. These elaborate headpieces adorned with feathers, veils, and other embellishments are the peak of perfection when it comes to royal wedding attire, per Brides. However, the most astute hat-wearers know the golden rule of royal wedding attendance: Make sure that your headpiece doesn't obscure the view for others.

Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, the granddaughters of Queen Eliabeth II, are known for pushing the limits of royal fashion. Their claim to fame is wearing some of the wildest fascinators the monarchy has ever seen. In 2011, the sisters and their getups captured international attention at the wedding of Prince William and Princess Catherine. Eugenie wore a striking blue headpiece with jumbo flowers and a massive plume of feathers. Beatrice turned heads in a ring-shaped fascinator that was topped with a gigantic bow (via People). The infamous headwear inspired its own Facebook page, as well as countless memes.

Although Beatrice's hat received a lot of ridicule, the princess came out on top when she sold the hat at auction for an eye-popping $130,710 dollars. Funds from the sale were donated to UNICEF and Children in Crisis, per NPR.

Black tie attire for the gentlemen

When it comes to royal weddings, women aren't the only ones subject to a strict dress code. Men have their own fashion protocols, which help to ensure that every fellow looks crisp and clean for the big occasion. Military members are expected to show up in their finest service uniforms, because "in terms of formality and respect, it's the top of the top," according to etiquette expert Myka Meier (via Town and Country). For non-military men, a dark suit and tie will do the trick. Since royal weddings are daytime events, men can also wear morning dress, which consists of a waistcoat and a fitted jacket with long tails (via Esquire). Lastly, hats are off limits for the gents.

Brothers Harry and William are pros at following etiquette while looking absolutely dapper at a royal wedding. On his special day, Prince William rocked a set of spurs, per The Black Tux. Then there was prince Harry, who looked debonair in a merino wool coat during his own nuptials. You might expect menswear to look a bit drab next to the standout ladies' fashions of royal weddings. However, well-dressed guests like David Beckham and Idris Elba definitely know how to turn heads at the big event (via GQ).

Women must cover their shoulders

As archaic as it may seem, royal wedding guests are expected to obey the standards of British etiquette and the Church of England. And these institutions have very clear rules: no visible cleavage, shoulders, or back. Showing an excessive amount of skin is an absolute no-no when it comes to royal weddings. Etiquette expert Myka Meier summed up the dress code to the Columbus Dispatch, stating, "You won't see cleavage. You won't see a lot of skin. At least you shouldn't. It would be seen as disrespectful."

Fortunately, there are endless ways to play up the haute couture without breaking the royal dress code. Many guests have covered up with fashionable jackets, like the gorgeous lilac piece worn by Priyanka Chopra at Harry and Meghan's 2018 wedding. Serena Williams, who also attended the soiree, looked both modest and fresh in a blush pink dress with an asymmetrical neckline, per Cosmopolitan. Then there was Amal Clooney, who stunned in a bold yellow dress that featured a square neckline. Other royal wedding attendees, like actress Jacinda Barrett, added a touch of sizzle to their ensembles with keyhole cutouts just below the neckline.

No wedges allowed

While many of the royal dress code rules are born out of tradition, others are more personal. For example, Queen Elizabeth II was known to loathe shoes with wedge heels. This must have been bad news for Princess Catherine, who reportedly loves to wear this style of shoe (via Marie Claire). From casual slip-ons to elegant strappy designs, the princess looks great in any style of wedge. But despite her penchant for wedges, she never wore them in the presence of her mother-in-law. In 2015, a source allegedly told Vanity Fair, "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."

The queen's disdain for wedges must have been well known to wedding attendees too, because no high-profile guests dared to wear wedges at recent weddings. However, some royal wedding guests have donned shoes that remind us of Catherine's wedges — particularly ones with ankle straps. Now that the queen has passed, perhaps we will see the return of the wedge at future royal weddings. Thanks to Princess Catherine's trend-setting power, which fans refer to as the "Kate effect," wedges definitely won't be going out of style anytime soon (via Hello! Magazine).

Royal wedding guests are not permitted to wear short dresses

The royal family is known for being prim, polished, and polite, so you can expect the same from their attire. Noblewomen go to great lengths to preserve their modesty in public. In fact, the royal ladies reportedly have tiny weights sewn into the hems of their skirts to keep them in place on gusty days (via the Daily Mail). Naturally, the kingdom's emphasis on modesty also extends to royal wedding protocol.

For weddings and other daytime affairs, tea dresses are preferred. This dress style comes with a full skirt and a hemline that falls right around the knee. Complete with a high neckline and sleeves, the tea dress checks off all the boxes of a modest, laid-back wedding look. Critically, the hemline of the dress should never rise above the knee. Royal wedding guests would be wise to adhere to this rule or else they'll really stand out in the crowd — and not in a positive way. Princess Eugenie learned this lesson the hard way at the 2018 union of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The royal was criticized by some media outlets because the hemline of her dress was scandalously hiked up above her knees (via Vogue Australia). If you ask us, the backlash seems trivial, because Eugenie looked radiant in the baby blue ensemble.

Tights are a must

With a history that can be traced back to the days of Henry VIII, hosiery is a time-honored piece of the royal wardrobe (via Vogue). These days, it's unusual to see a royal lady without a pair of glossy nylon tights. The family's matriarch, Queen Elizabeth II, had staunch rules about wearing these garments. As royal expert Kelly Lynch explained to Yahoo! Lifestyle, "​​Generally speaking, the queen is pretty progressive, but she does require all women in the family to wear pantyhοse if they choose to wear dresses or skirts. The simple reason is, Her Majesty considers it ladylike, proper, and appropriate, and it's the one rule she won't budge on, regardless of temperature."

This is one royal guideline that will keep even the most high-profile wedding guests on their toes. In 2011, some critics shamed the wife of Britain's prime minister for attending the royal wedding with bare legs (via Mercury News). Although plenty of guests have strayed away from the stockings requirement, you'll still notice a sea of nude hosiery at any given royal wedding.

Even the royal family have made a few slip-ups when it comes to this rule. When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their engagement in 2017, some royal experts were shocked that the future noblewoman did not wear stockings for their photoshoot. Some speculated that the move was to claim her independence, while others proclaimed that Markle was still learning the ropes of royal dress code (via Insider). Whatever the reason, the bride-to-be looked stunning, even without the elemental tights.

Black, white, and cream are off limits at royal weddings

At any royal wedding, you're bound to see a full spectrum of vibrantly-colored dresses. From pale, muted monochrome to the boldest hues, anything goes at these stylish affairs. That said, there are a few colors that you simply won't see. White and cream, for example, should be avoided by royal wedding guests because they're reserved for the bride and her bridal party. Oprah Winfrey almost broke this golden rule at the 2018 wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The superstar had originally planned to wear a cream dress, but she ended up ditching the color for a more appropriate (and absolutely gorgeous) pink design (via USA Today).

Black is another color that you won't see on display at a royal wedding, and that's because the color is associated with mourning. It is an honor to attend a royal wedding, so the last thing you'd want to do is show up looking like you got lost on your way to a funeral. And that goes for any shade that looks dark enough to resemble funerary attire. Former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham raised a few eyebrows when she attended the 2018 royal wedding in a dark navy dress from her own fashion label (via Marie Claire). Although some critics felt that the color was too somber for a wedding, the public didn't seem opposed. In fact, Beckham's dress was so popular that there was a waitlist to purchase it from her shop, per Vogue.

Close-toed shoes only

Guests had better put away those toes, because sandals are not permitted at a royal wedding. Close-toed shoes are an important element of royal etiquette. However, that's not the only footwear rule. According to Footwear News, guests should also leave their towering stilettos at home.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to obey the royal dress code while looking positively fierce. Oprah Winfrey and Serena Williams definitely got that memo at Prince Harry's 2018 wedding to Meghan Markle. Both ladies dazzled in outfits that they paired with the perfect subdued heels. Nude footwear is a popular choice for these royal affairs, as evidenced by stars like Princess Catherine and Pippa Middleton, who looked amazing in subtly-shaded shoes in 2018 (via Elle).

But for those bold enough, bright colors and metallics are also an option. Amal Clooney amped up her wedding glam with shimmering pumps at the 2018 royal ceremony. Victoria Beckham also slayed the footwear game in a pair of bright orange heels. Lady Kitty Spencer, the niece of Princess Diana, embraced the color craze with a pair of orange velvet heels that perfectly complimented her Dolce and Gabbana dress (via Forbes).

Floor-length gowns in the evening

While tea dresses are the look of the daytime, floor-length gowns rule the night. In line with royal tradition, 6pm marks the glamorous peak of royal wedding fashion. That's when guests are permitted to ditch their hats and slip into their most elegant evening wear. As is also tradition, the crown jewels are permitted to be worn during this part of the day, via BBC.

While royal wedding ceremonies are for the public, the receptions are much more intimate. In fact, Harry and Meghan's reception guests were forbidden from bringing their phones to the event. But thanks to some insider tea, we do know that it was an unforgettable evening, complete with drinking games, fireworks, and an impromptu performance by Elton John (via the Mirror). Meghan Markle set the tone for the evening in a glamorous custom gown that was designed by Stella McCartney. Her guests looked phenomenal, too. Priyanka Chopra, for example, was absolutely golden in a glistening gown with tulle details. Then there was Serena Williams, who looked breathtaking in a floral Valentino gown and a stunning Bulgari necklace (via PopSugar).

Some rebellious guests have defied the strict dress code

As the old saying goes, rules are meant to be broken — and some guests simply can't resist pushing the limits of royal wedding tradition. One of the worst offenders was British model Chloe Madeley, who wore spaghetti straps and a plunging neckline to the 2018 royal wedding. The outfit shocked some onlookers, who felt that the star showed way too much skin. Madeley later explained that she had lost her jacket on the way to the wedding, but admitted that she learned a valuable lesson from the fiasco (via The Sun). Then there was actress Sarah Rafferty, who missed the mark in a royal blue dress with billowing sleeves. Although the outfit looked gorgeous on her, some royal critics felt that it was too dark for a daytime event (via Marie Claire).

Some rule-breakers seemed to be more deliberate. One of the most daring dress code violations occurred at Princess Eugenie's wedding, where Cara Delevingne stepped out in a form-fitting tuxedo. The supermodel looked ravishing in her suit, which was paired with a top hat and black pumps. Her pizazz was off the charts, and she proved that suits aren't just for the guys. The monarchy seemed to approve of the star's getup, because she was enthusiastically welcomed into the event. Hats off to Delevingne for making such a bold statement, and for looking incredible while doing it (via Harper's Bazaar).