Weird Rules Royals Have To Follow In Garden Parties

The tradition of garden parties at Buckingham Palace began in 1868 with Queen Victoria. The practice has since been a fixture on the royal calendar (via Royal Collections Trust). By the 1940s, two garden parties were held annually at Buckingham Palace and a third at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Scotland. The events are held to recognize and celebrate public service. During the festivities, the queen and senior members of the royal family engage with a wide variety of people from all walks of life who have positively impacted their communities (via Royal.uk).

"In Her Majesty's Platinum Jubilee year, The Royal Household is looking forward to welcoming guests back to Buckingham Palace for the first Garden Parties since 2019, in recognition of their positive contributions to communities across the United Kingdom," Buckingham Palace noted in a statement announcing the annual events (via Town & Country). Unfortunately, Queen Elizabeth could not attend the first two post-pandemic garden parties due to health setbacks. However, the royal family has represented the queen at the events. Like any other event in which the royals take part, there are rules of etiquette they must follow, even if they aren't set in stone. Here is a look at the regulations royals must follow during garden parties.

All royals are required to follow a specific dress code

Members of the royal family are expected to dress modestly and never too casually — and the garden parties are no exception. All men in the royal family must wear suits, and not just any suit: Their suits must be navy or black and must include a tie, waistcoat, black shoes and socks, and a top hat (via Marie Claire). 

Royal women are encouraged to wear skirts and dresses that must be at least knee-length and paired with pantyhose. Tall heels are frowned upon, and removing a coat in public is considered unladylike — so if a royal family member wears one to an engagement, she must keep it on the entire time (via Woman's World). All royal women must also don a hat. "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," Diana Mather, a tutor for The English Manner etiquette consultancy, told the BBC. "But all that has changed, and hats are now reserved for more formal occasions."

Royals must follow these rules when walking down the stairs

Women in the royal family are taught how to walk down the stairs in the most polite fashion, and at the garden party, they must make a graceful entry. Royal men are supposed to give their wives a helping hand as they make their way down a staircase. Female royals are not permitted to bow their heads and must keep their chins parallel to the ground while ensuring that their toes are pointed toward the railing as they walk. Are you wondering what they do with their hands? If there is a railing or banister, they can rest their hands on it, but when there isn't one, they are to keep them down at their sides  (via Reader's Digest).

According to royal etiquette expert Myka Meier, royal women are not allowed to lower their chins. "When your chin points down or up, it gives the impression that you're not paying attention or not interested in what's happening," she told The Sun.

Royals must properly shake hands

Yes, there are also rules for shaking hands. According to Insider, Grant Harrold, royal expert and director of the Royal School of Etiquette, states, "A royal handshake should consist of two-to-three pumps, with your palms open and thumbs down." This way, royals avoid touching the public too long or appearing to be giving preferential treatment to one person over another. Harrold adds, "If you are a member of the public meeting, a member of the royal family, you should never offer your hand to shake — wait for them to initiate the handshake." According to The Sun, Princess Anne doesn't shake hands with the public and will only shake hands with someone in an official capacity. During the 1970s, the queen decided to ease up on the rules of most formal greetings, which is said to have become when handshakes became a more customary salutation and widely accepted in most capacities.

Royals must properly hold their teacups

Unsurprisingly, there is an endless supply of tea at the queen's garden parties. At least 27,000 cups of tea are consumed at the lavish events (via Parade). Since incorrectly holding teacups is a sign of poor etiquette, it's a must that royals properly hold the cup while drinking their tea. Protocols dictate that all senior royals must hold the top of the tea handle by using their thumb and index finger. In addition, royal women must sip their tea from the same spot to avoid leaving lipstick around the entire teacup rim (via Delish).

Jo Bryant, an etiquette tutor for The English Manner, says royals must also avoid leaning forward while having tea. They are required to bring the cup to their mouths, and they are never permitted to raise their pinky finger while drinking (via HuffPost). While talking about the royals and tea etiquette with People, Beaumont Etiquette founder Myka Meier adds that at all times, "the handle of the cup should always be kept at 3 o'clock."

Royals must accept gifts from attendees

The royal family must generally accept gifts when out and about with fans (via Royal.uk). However, it seems that garden parties are the one place where the queen will not take gifts — particularly flowers. Laura-Ann Barr, a blogger living in Belfast, reported that she attended the coveted event in 2019 and told People that she brought flowers in hopes of giving them to the queen. However, Barr was initially told that the queen would not accept the flowers as it would break protocol. What ended up happening is that the queen herself broke protocol and thanked Barr, taking the flowers herself. The queen then passed the bouquet off to her lady-in-waiting, who stated, "The queen can have them when we're indoors." Barr also shared that she was elated and didn't think that would ever happen, but she wanted to meet the queen, knew that flowers would grab her attention, and chalked it up to being at the right place at the right time.

Royals are not allowed to sign autographs or take selfies with guests

While the royal family can shake hands, take photos, and even converse with garden party guests, they are not permitted to sign autographs. The long-standing rule remains in place due to the risk of their signature being forged (via Harper's Bazaar). However, in 2010, Prince Charles broke that protocol. He had met a couple who was affected by damaging floods, and when he asked if there was anything he could do for them, the wife, Meg Hendy, asked for an autograph for their son and stated, "I'm not sure if you do autographs, but it would make his day." So, according to the Telegraph, Prince Charles found a piece of paper and wrote "Charles 2010." The prince even apologized for the sloppy handwriting and told them the lousy penmanship was due to never writing while standing up.

Though a few royals have broken this rule occasionally, they are not supposed to take selfies. Greg Agnew, an attendee at the queen's Buckingham Palace garden party in 2017, told Insider that attendees were asked not to take selfies. Agnew explained that the very modern role was created so the public wouldn't be encouraged to turn their back on royals, especially the queen.

All royal women are encouraged to carry a clutch

At every event where a lot of meeting and greeting takes place, the royal women are encouraged to carry one accessory: a clutch. Carrying a bag with a strap that can go over their shoulders for ease could break royal protocol in inviting the possibility of contact with the public. While the public is allowed to shake hands with the royals, the royals themselves can only initiate it. As a result, royals sometimes carry clutches so they don't have to shake hands with every person they meet (via the Daily Mail). According to Cosmopolitan, royal expert Myka Meier notes that royal women should always hold their clutches in their left hands to wave with their right hands and shake if necessary. Meier also says that proper clutch etiquette dictates that one should never put their handbag on the floor or under their armpits (via Twitter).

Only certain foods can be eaten at garden parties

The menu at the royal garden parties consists of tea sandwiches, various cakes, and scones, as well as other sweet and savory finger foods (via What's Cooking America). However, there are some foods that guests will never find at these events. No alcohol, for example, is served at the queen's garden parties (via Surrey Live). Further, attendees won't ever come across shellfish or any other seafood because royals are banned from eating it, especially when traveling, due to the risk of food poisoning (via Woman & Home). None of the foods at the garden parties contain any garlic and most likely do not heavily feature onions. According to The Sun, the queen's former chef Darren McGrady disclosed, "We can never serve anything with garlic or too much onions."

Once when Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was asked what food she would not like to see passed around a royal reception, she reportedly noted, "I hate to say this, but garlic," and went on to add that garlic is a hard no at events. The interviewer agreed, sharing that nobody would want to hold a conversation with someone after eating anything with garlic.