Royal Family Beauty Moments That Broke The Rules

Belonging to the royal family is a demanding commitment. It involves not only a busy schedule filled with numerous social engagements and having to adhere to strict etiquette, but also navigating unwritten standards concerning your appearance and what is deemed appropriate or inappropriate for a member of the royal family.

Take the royal family's dress code, for example. From stipulations regarding headwear to rules about when they can wear the color black, members of the House of Windsor are expected to adhere to a certain set of guidelines when putting together an outfit. And some of those guidelines are stricter than others. "You never see a royal without their nude stockings," expert Victoria Arbiter explained to Insider. "I would say that's really the only hard, steadfast rule in terms of what the queen requires."

Which brings us to beauty rules, guidelines, recommendations, and traditions. When it comes to makeup, members of the British royal family tend to stick to a script. The general aesthetic: clean, demure, and classic. Of course, there have been some royals who have bent the beauty "rules" a bit — and we cannot get enough.

Princess Diana's electric blue eyeliner shocked the royals' refined palate

It's true that '80s fashion has made a comeback. Think blazers, mom jeans, and sequins. And let us not forget about bold and bright eyeliner and eyeshadow. Just look at Eric's neon makeup in the final season of "Sex Education."

What's that got to do with the royals? First off, they cannot follow beauty trends on a whim. But that didn't stop Princess Diana from embracing blue pencil — even if it was very out of place among the rest of the royal family. This may come as a total shock, but royal eye makeup is to be understated and simple. You would far sooner expect to see blue eyeliner on a Londoner going to the pub than on someone who was married to the man who would one day become king, but as Lady Di famously told Martin Bashir, she was a "free spirit."

As far as cosmetics in the monarchy are concerned, eye makeup is to be neutral in tone. However, it was not pressure from the top that made Princess Di change her mind and give a new makeup style a shot. In 1990, on their first shoot together, makeup artist Mary Greenwall suggested the princess ditch the cyan eyeliner. "Blue eyes should never wear blue pencil or shadow — it dulls your eyes!" Greenwall said in Stylist (via Woman and Home). "From that moment on, she was open-minded about trying new looks and colors."

Red lips are for the runways, not the royals

Even though red lipstick is a timeless beauty staple, it's not really part of the royal fashion stable. Just ask Princess Anne, who has pushed against tradition by wearing red lippie from time to time. As Saffron Hughes of dished (via Express), "It's rumoured that bright lip colours are frowned upon under royal protocol to which Princess Anne turns a blind eye."

Meghan Markle went out on a bit of a limb when she wore a glossy, cherry hue to a Cirque Du Soleil charity performance with Prince Harry in 2019. Six months pregnant, the Duchess of Sussex attended the event wearing a sparkling, floor-length gown and her hair pulled back in an elegant updo. But it was her red lips that were the ultimate showstopper. For the first time since becoming a member of the royal family, Meghan Markle opted not to wear a customary neutral lip color.

Royal etiquette expert Myka Meier believes that Markle wore neutral-toned lipsticks at the beginning of her reign so as not to make a loud splash right out the gate. In an interview with Elle, she explained, "She doesn't want to stand out. She wants to come across respectful and relatable and transition into this role as smoothly as possible." Perhaps the bold lips on the red carpet were the former "Suits" star drawing a line in the sand. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come.

The pop of color on Princess Catherine's nails that got tongues wagging

The royal standard when it comes to nails is that they're to be kept short, kempt, and painted with a neutral or sheer polish. You've certainly never seen a member of the royal family wearing a neon shade of nail varnish, glitter nails, or even nail extensions. It's just not done. Fortunately, beauty houses have an array of muted color tones for the royals to choose from. It's said that Queen Elizabeth II's favorite shade was Ballet Slippers by Essie. According to the company's website, back in the late '80s, the queen's hairdresser reached out to Essie's founder directly for a bottle of the pale pink polish. And she stuck with it from that moment on.

Needless to say, when Catherine, Princess of Wales, rocked red nails at an Easter Sunday service in April 2023. It wasn't just any Easter Sunday service, but the first of King Charles III's reign. For the special occasion, the Princess of Wales wore a marine blue Catherine Walker coat and matching pill-box hat by Lock & Co, but it wasn't her outfit that raised eyebrows; her short, deep red nail polish was a bold departure from the unofficial rule. We have to imagine Elizabeth wouldn't have been a fan.

Princess Catherine didn't touch up her grays

If anyone were to win the award for having the most fabulous hair days, on repeat, it would have to be Catherine, Princess of Wales. Her brunette hair is lustrous, glossy, and always beautifully presented. More often than not, the princess rocks a bouncy, big barrel blowout that appears to somehow never lose its shape or volume. However, on the odd occasion when Catherine's grays have made an appearance... and received a lot of attention online. While those grays didn't break a hard and fast royal rule, Elle Australia noted that there sure seems to be unwritten expectations regarding the state and color of a senior royal's locks. 

When the then-pregnant royal attended an engagement in the West Midlands in 2015, her half updo exposed two patches of gray underneath her ponytail. The tabloids went wild. Evidently, critics couldn't believe that she dared to let her hair be anything but her trademark chestnut brown color. Could it be that the duchess, who was pregnant with Princess Charlotte at the time, was trying a new product or skipping dyes to protect her baby? After all, when pregnant, the strong chemicals in hair dye can be harmful to the unborn child.

That wasn't the first time the world saw Catherine's grays. In 2013, shortly after giving birth to Prince George, she stepped out alongside William at the Royal British Legion poppy appeal. While she looked dashing in a bright red coat, her middle parting revealed regrowth in silver strands of gray. 

The queen touched up her makeup in public

Royals are required to attend various events and engagements, and they are expected to be well-groomed and poised at all times. If a member of the royal family needs to freshen up their makeup during an extended royal event, it is typically done discreetly. As Vogue India noted, the royals certainly aren't supposed to fix their makeup out for all the world to see. Rather, they might use a private room or a secluded area to do so. However, the late Queen Elizabeth II was caught reapplying her lipstick in public on a few occasions in the past.

Following the 2022 Royal Windsor Horse Show, Hello! magazine reported that the queen was spotted putting on her famous fuchsia pink lipstick in the stands. We don't blame her. After all, England was celebrating 70 years of her on the throne, and she likely wanted to look her best. But that wasn't the first time she'd snuck a quick makeup fix.

As British Vogue recounted, she was photographed reapplying lipstick while in Fiji in 1977. In 1985, she was captured on camera doing the same at a Windsor event. In 2014, she was snapped touching up her famous lippie at the Commonwealth Games, and it was worth it as the color popped with the white coat and hat she was wearing. If you're a royal, long-lasting, smudge-proof, transfer-resistant lipstick is your best friend (in a soft shade of course).

Catherine and Beatrice let their hair down on their wedding days

Wearing your hair in an updo on your wedding day is something of a royal tradition. Many royals have adhered to the rules, like Princess Charlene, Princess Eugenie, and Zara Tindall. The sophisticated look, of wearing your hair in a bun off your face, is preferred by the royals because it accentuates your features and brings attention to the dress you're wearing. In 2011, at the much-publicized wedding of Prince William and Princess Catherine, it was the bride's hair that received a lot of press. She wore her tresses half up, with the top pinned back and the rest of her locks flowing around her shoulders. 

In the documentary "William & Kate: The Journey," reporter Ashley Pearson said royals supposedly indicated very strongly to Catherine that they would prefer her to wear her hair up for her wedding to keep with tradition. "Kate had her heart set on wearing her hair down with long flowing curls, which is her favorite way to wear it, and actually William's favorite as well," she explained. 

Nine years later, when Princess Beatrice married in a secret wedding at Windsor, she broke the royal beauty tradition too, letting her long, strawberry hair hang loose. The daughter of Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew rocked a low-key boho look, with half of her hair pinned back and the rest cascading down her back. She also donned Queen Mary's fringe tiara.

Eugenie and Catherine love the smoky eye trend

As previously mentioned, when it comes to makeup, British monarchy prefers fresh and natural. While not strictly prohibited, red lips, heavy eyeliner, smoky eyes, and contouring don't totally fit the bill. Soft blush, bright eyes, and natural lip color (bar the late queen's favorite fuchsia pink lipstick), on the other hand, are encouraged. It's the epitome of the English rose.

Now, about the smoky eye aesthetic. According to experts at, this "rule" is in place to prevent the need for touch-ups throughout the day. "Heavy eye makeup has a habit of straying underneath the eyes throughout the day, meaning wearing it at royal meetings wouldn't picture well," they said (via Express). Regardless, Sarah Ferguson's daughter Princess Eugenie often chooses to complement her green eyes with a smoky, dark wash of color. It's become such a classic look that her makeup artist, Hannah Martin, shared how to create the Eugenie smoky eye in a video on Instagram. The princess wore dark eye makeup to the 2019 Royal Ascot races, which was accentuated by her elegant white ensemble. In 2018, she went with similar makeup to Trooping the Color.

Princess Catherine has been known to wear darker eye makeup to evening events. The princess wore smoky eyes to the evening Christmas carol service at Westminster Abbey in December 2021. Back in 2013, she favored the dark look too and enhanced her eyes for a charity event at the National Portrait Gallery.

Prince Harry's casual approach to grooming ruffled feathers

It's customary for members of the British royal family to be clean-shaven when wearing military uniforms. And as Prince Harry detailed in "Spare" (via Cosmopolitan), Prince William apparently was adamant his little brother had to shave if he wanted to wear his army uniform on his big day back in 2018. Harry, however, didn't bend to his brother's request. His wedding day marked a departure from tradition and garnered significant media scrutiny.

The second instance occurred in 2022 when he appeared as the keynote speaker at the UN General Assembly in New York. Now, by that time, Harry's days of being a working royal were long behind him — but that doesn't mean expectations regarding his overall appearance and presentation have dwindled away. As the Daily Mail noted, some critics called his hair "messy," suggested his beard needed a trim, and recommended he give his outfit a good ironing. While Prince Harry's "casual" look might have reflected his personal style, it still drew mixed reactions from the public and royal enthusiasts.

In both cases, Prince Harry's decisions to appear less conventional in his grooming choices made headlines and underlined his desire to break free from some of the strict royal protocols that have historically governed the family's public appearances. Perhaps these instances reflect his determination to carve out a more independent identity, even at the cost of ruffling a few feathers.

Meghan and Catherine stepped it up with red toenails

When a senior member of the royal family gets a pedicure, they're encouraged to keep it neutral; no yellow, neon, or Barbiecore pink polishes here. A rich, dark lacquer also falls outside of the aesthetic — but contrary to popular belief, it's not totally forbidden. Rather, it's just not... preferred. "There's no actual protocol about dark nail polish, royal insider Omid Scobie told Harper's Bazaar. "It's simply about being appropriate." It's also rare to see the toes of the royals, as strange as that may sound. As expert William Hanson explained to Harper's Bazaar, "Open-toed shoes are considered informal footwear."

Meghan Markle's toes were accidentally on display on a royal tour of New Zealand in 2018. She had to take her shoes off for a traditional Māori welcoming ceremony and alas the Duchess of Sussex's toenails were painted a deep red.

On a few rare appearances, Princess Catherine has also had her toes out. And like Meghan, she's also donned a red polish. As Sarah Gibson Tuttle of Olive & June told Harper's Bazaar, "I've seen Kate step out in a darker-red pedi a few times, and Meghan has rocked a dark-plum mani—and I love it." In 2012, for example, Catherine was spotted at The Thirty Thirty Club with her toes out — and her nails were a dark red. The crimson toenails made another appearance when she and Prince William attended a concert at the Royal Albert Hall.