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Regulations and Rebellions: the Meaning Behind Royal Fashion

Photo of a crown
Ella Pilson

There’s a reason why you don’t see the Duchess of Cambridge wearing long, fluorescent fake nails, streaking blue hair, or a dangerously low-cut top. Royal fashion makes a statement and even the tiniest details having a wider symbolic message. Their outfits reflect their status as leaders and ambassadors of our country, embodying our national values and influencing our international reputation. Unfortunately for them, it’s not simply enough to roll out of bed and throw on joggers and a hoodie. Ella Pilson discusses. 

As the old adage goes, ‘you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes.’ Fashion can be used to communicate our diverse personalities and identities. However, the royal family have to abide by strict guidelines. They’re only allowed to wear nude or baby pink nail varnish, and they can’t wear a hat after 6pm as this is replaced by formal attire for the evening meal. They can’t wear black during the day as this is reserved for grieving only. Open-toed shoes, fabrics that wrinkle and large handbags are all banned items in the royal household.

There are also specific customs about certain items that can be worn. Only a married member of the royal family is allowed to wear a tiara. Some of these traditions even date back to the 16th Century. Prince George’s common outfit of shorts and shirt reflects a custom known as ‘breeching’, where young members of the royal family would wear large gowns until they were eight.

There are also some darker guidelines. It is required for a royal member to always take black attire with them to any country they are visiting in case a family member dies while they are away. Any Crown fans know this began with the death of Elizabeth II’s father while she was visiting Kenya and didn’t have a black dress. One had to be brought onto the plane before she could disembark.

Although, it’s a misconception that royals are forbidden from wearing jeans, this is just limited to more informal environments like walking the corgis.

The royal wardrobe has a widespread impact in the public domain

The royal wardrobe has a widespread impact in the public domain. Selfridges reported a 46% increase in sales of pantyhose after Duchess Catherine was pictured wearing them. Topshop saw a 500% increase in their Duchess look-alike vintage tea dress. Queen Elizabeth even created her own ‘Balmoral lipstick’ in 1952 as part of coronation celebrations.

Though it is true that no expense is spared. In their budget there is a precedent dating back to 1337 where the Duchy of Cornwall pays for anything to do with public appearances. The amount is allocated by the eldest child of the reigning monarch. It was reported that this was 5 million pounds for the royal couples in 2018.

But what would the monarchy be like without a bit of dazzle, sparkle and that fairy-tale element every little child dreams of? Princess Diana is enshrined in her 1981 wedding dress with huge puffy sleeves, embroidered pearls and a twenty-five-foot train.

Thus, within these guidelines royals have still been able to create their own personal stamps. Queen Elizabeth is infamous for her brightly coloured outfits, so she could be seen from long distances in huge crowds.

It was also common for her to use her outfits to send secretive messages to her guards. For example, when greeting people, if she changed her hand-bag from one hand to the other it signalled she wanted to leave and felt uncomfortable.

It is characteristic for their clothing is to pay homage to the country they are visiting

It is characteristic for their clothing is to pay homage to the country they are visiting. The Duchess of Cambridge’s maple leaf broach upon her visit to Canada in 2016. There is also a lot of hidden symbolic meaning to the jewellery, colours and badges worn by members of the family.

Most recently, Queen Elizabeth’s choice of tiara when meeting Donald Trump, holding 96 rubies and given to her by the House of Garrard, represented protection against illness and evil. Just a coincidence? The shawl Archie is photographed in after his birth was made with Nottingham lace– the same fabric being used for King Charles’ baby shawl in 1948 as well as William and Harry.

This idea isn’t new to the Windors. Tudor Queen Elizabeth I’s chequers ring contained two hidden portraits of herself and her mother Anne Boleyn. Her fashion was used as a tool to connote her supremacy in the 1588 Armada Portrait.

Unsurprisingly, these strict royal guidelines have often been broken. In recent adaptions of the royal family in the series ‘The Crown’ lots of attention has been drawn to Princess Diana’s iconic fashion choices.  From her 1989 “Elvis dress” to the infamous black ‘revenge dress’ worn to the Serpentine Gallery in 1994 after reports that Charles had cheated on her the same afternoon. This open rebellion and expressing of her identity no matter what added to her image as the ‘People’s Princess’; from her cowboy boots, slightly revealing one-shoulder dresses to her oversized Harvard jumper and biker shorts.

Thus, royal fashion is important in its symbolism, exciting in its extravagance, but also a source of great anxiety and scrutiny in the press. Particularly for female members of the royal family, like Princess Diana, Meghan Markle is frequently attacked by the media, from how her hair is styled to the colour of her dress. Therefore, whilst these fashion statements should not go unnoticed perhaps, at times, it is taken too far.

Ella Pilson

Featured image courtesy of Amy-Leigh Barnard via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

In-article image 1 courtesy of Best of Diana via No changes were made to this image.

In-article image 2 courtesy of POPSUGAR via No changes were made to this image.

In-article image 3 courtesy of Couture and Royals via No changes were made to this image.

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