When it comes to royal style, everything is intentional — and we mean . What the royal family wears isn’t simply determined by what’s sophisticated. Like many facets of their public lives, their wardrobe is influenced by tradition and practicality — and let’s be clear: it’s not easy balancing a pretty strict royal dress code and with your own look. Nevertheless, Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and Lady Diana all managed to start their own style trends, becoming memorable fashion icons in their own right.
The royal family plays most of these fashion secrets and stories close to the vest (no pun intended), so you probably wouldn’t have noticed these tricks and traditions unless they were pointed out to you. While you may never need to worry about entertaining foreign heads of state or televised weddings, these are the outfits you would need to wear, just in case. To see if you have the wardrobe it takes to be a royal, here are all of the most iconic royal outfits and the secret stories behind them.
There’s actually a super sweet reason behind the Queen’s love of bright, cheerful colors. The documentary explains her wardrobe is colorful to help her subjects catch a glimpse at her. “She needs to stand out for people to be able to say ‘I saw the Queen’,” Sophie, Countess of Wessex, said in the film.“Don’t forget that when she turns up somewhere, the crowds are two, three, four, 10, 15 deep, and someone wants to be able to say they saw a bit of the queen’s hat as she went past.”
Prince Harry surprised even those in his own wedding party by showing up on the big day wearing his military uniform instead of a traditional tux. After getting the blessing of his grandmother, Harry wore ribbons, which are awarded for the work that he’s done, rather than an aiguillette, which is given out based on honor.
The royal family takes great pains to always stay politically neutral. However, some think that the queen’s choice of tiara when meeting President Trump was a n0t-so-subtle diss. The crown’s jeweler said that the 96 rubies in the tiara created by the House of Garrard were “originally given to the queen as a wedding gift from the people of Burma, intended as a symbol of protection against illness and evil.” Hmmm.
Unfortunately for Kate, royal etiquette deems removing the outermost layer of your clothes in public an “unladylike action.” Let’s hope there’s air conditioning!
Little Archie’s not the first royal baby to be seen in a royally-approved GH Hurt & Son’s shawl. The paper Nottingham Post explains that company made a shawl for Prince Charles when he was born in 1948, as well as for one Prince Will and all of his children. Aw!
Denim, as well as dark nail polish and black during the daytime, is a major royal family no-no. This was at the Invictus Games in 2007, before Meghan and Harry were married, so she didn’t have to give up this casual look just yet. However, now that Harry and Meghan have decided to step back as senior royals, it seems that Meghan will be able to fish these out of her closet and wear them again.
The British royal family like to use their outfits as a way to pay a subtle homage to the countries they’re visiting. Often times, Kate will dress in the national colors of whichever country she’s in. On a trip to Canada, the Duchess of Cambridge added a small maple leaf broach as a nod to the nation.
This rule has an odd origin. “The usual custom is that a boy graduates to trousers around eight years old,” explains etiquette expert William Hanson to Harper’s Bazaar. “This is, historically, perhaps due to the practice of ‘breeching’, which dates back to the sixteenth century. A newborn boy would be dressed in a gown for their first year or two (these gowns have survived as the modern Christening robe) and then he was ‘breeched’ and wore articles of clothing that more resembled shorts or trousers than dresses.” Besides, the well-to-do British find full length pants on young boys unbearably “suburban.”
Being constantly surrounded by a team of advisers and handlers, you may be wondering what use Queen Elizabeth could have for a purse? While she may not need it for holding her necessities, the Queen actually uses her handbag to send secret messages to her staff. According to royal experts, “If the Queen moves her classic handbag from its normal spot on her left arm to her right arm while she’s talking with someone, her handlers know that she wants to wrap it up. Putting her bag on the floor is a sign that she needs to be saved from an uncomfortable encounter ASAP. If she’s at dinner and places it on the table, that means she wants to end the event in the next five minutes.”
Kate’s shamrock pin isn’t just for a little extra luck! It’s actually not even Kate’s, the Irish Guards have a tradition of loaning it out to the royals associated with their regiment. Scholars believe the tradition either started with Queen Alexandra or Princess Mary.
When Elizabeth married in 1947, her wedding dress was designed to be a symbol of the nation, royal wedding gown curator Joanna Marschner told . With everything still rationed in post-WWII Britain, the idea was to send a message of national renewal and hope for the future. The dress was embroidered with garlands of spring flowers, inspired by the Botticelli painting “Allegory of Spring.” Interestingly, this piece of art from circa 1482 likely was painted for a wedding, too, and now hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
We’ve all seen , right? So, we know twice-divorced commoner Wallis did marry a royal. Or at least a former royal, then-King Edward. In fact, his love for her caused the King to abdicate his throne to marry her in 1937. When they wed, she wore a striking blue gown in pale blue silk. But did you know the color was coined “Wallis Blue”? The fabric was dyed to match Wally’s eyes. Awfully romantic, right? Even if their lives weren’t too storybook after that. Sigh.
When Fergie walked down the aisle, her gown held a great deal of significance, according to the . The gown itself was beaded with bees and thistles, representing the bride’s coat of arms. Anchors and waves were embroidered on her veil to signify hubby Andrew’s position as an officer in the Royal Navy, along with his monogram. Finally, four S’s for Sarah were beaded on the bodice.
When Sarah Ferguson headed down the aisle on the arm of her father in 1986, she wore a gorgeous flower headdress. After she signed her marriage certificate, she removed it and revealed the stunning brand-new York tiara, especially commissioned for the wedding and gifted by the Queen, according to . The ceremonial removal of the flowers symbolized Fergie’s official entrance into the royal family.
The Spencer family had some pretty good bling of its own, as evidenced by the fact that Diana wore her own family’s iconic headpiece on her wedding day in 1981. The tiara was originally given to her grandmother in 1919, with additional pieces added in the 1930s, according to . Both of Diana’s sisters (and her sister-in-law) wore the tiara at their own weddings, making it a tradition to wear this family heirloom on one’s wedding day.
Has anyone ever rocked a LBD better than Diana? We think not. On the day that Charles admitted his infidelity in a televised interview, Diana wore this fabulous black dress by Christina Stambolian. Enough said.
What to do with a gorgeous emerald and diamond choker loaned from the Queen? Wear it as a headband. Perhaps not what the Queen had in mind, but it worked — and showed Diana’s individual sense of style to perfection. Not to mention, maybe it demonstrated a teeny bit of royal rebellion, too?
The Queen’s gloves have two hidden purposes, Genevieve James, creative director of Cornelia James, told . The company has supplied the Queen’s pairs for more than 70 years. First, white gloves have simply always been a part of the Queen’s signature style; would it really seem like the Queen if you didn’t see that white-gloved wave? Reason number two is simple: protecting her hands. After all, you shake a lot of hands when you’re the Queen!
As one of the most photographed women in the world, Diana learned how to shield herself from manipulative press photos. Every time she exited a vehicle in a dress that could possibly reveal too much, she strategically placed her clutch over her chest. Brilliant!
Kate’s blue polka-dot dress, worn when introducing baby George to the world, paid sweet homage to her late mother-in-law, Diana. As points out, the billowy dress was very similar to the one Diana wore when leaving the hospital with Prince William 30 years earlier. Aww!
Here’s another example of the Royals paying tribute to a host country their visiting — just like the royal family’s ensembles when they touched down in Poland, wearing red and white, the colors of the country’s flag. says the same goes for the striking eagles in flight dress that Kate wore her last night in Germany in 2017, where eagles are the national bird. The dress also was created by a German designer.
Kate chose a green tea-length Prada dress with poppy print for a visit to Diana’s memorial garden on the 20th anniversary of her death in 2017. It’s a subtle but lovely tribute to Diana, according to , as poppies signify remembrance in the UK. The dress also featured a bow neckline, a style Diana often wore herself.
Déjà vu in red! Kate’s cheerful red dress with white details was reminiscent of Diana’s dress when introducing baby Prince Harry. Time said Twitter users also commented that the colors may be in honor of England’s patron saint, St. George, whose holiday happens to fall on the same day as the prince’s birth.
The Queen never shies from bright colors (see above), and this lime green silk tweed with dress in lime, lemon, purple and gray floral print was a real showstopper. But it may also have been a message for the happy couple: Purple may be a nod to the Queen’s approval of the marriage, while green is a color of growth, rebirth, respect and intention for the future, color consultant June McLeod previously explained to .
Looking like springtime herself in an adorable flowered dress for the Chelsea Flower Show in 2018, Bea carried a teeny structured handbag. What you might not have noticed was the subtle message, “Be cool Be nice” was embellished on the side of the bag, notes . It’s a slogan associated with an anti-bullying campaign. Or perhaps a nod to the bullying the princess received after daring to wear her fascinating “octopus” fascinator to William and Kate’s wedding?
Eugenie knows how to garner attention with her fashion choices. But in 2018, she went for classic ladylike details with a silk floral dress that pays subtle homage to her grandmother, Queen Elizabeth. Apparently, the designer’s inspiration was the Queen’s own 1950’s high necklines, button details, and flounced hem.
Nothing says “princess” like a ruby-and-diamond-encrusted tiara, especially one that dates back two centuries. According to royal gem-watching blog, The Court Jeweller, the gems were first worn by a royal lady close to Napoleon. The jewels made several passes through a few different countries via royal weddings, eventually ending up in Denmark. Wearing the tiara is a nod to the long tradition that connects generations of European royalty.
Charlotte always wears floaty floral or pastel dresses when in public with her parents. In fact, most little princesses from Anne forward have worn such frocks as children. As royal expert Marlene Koenig explained to Bazaar.com, it’s not a rule that she can’t wear pants, but the darling dresses do represent a classic and timeless look for a family that thrives on tradition.
Meghan’s simple-but-elegant wedding gown was offset by a spectacular veil, embellished with delicate embroidery along the edges. A tweet from Kensington Palace proclaimed that Meghan had asked that all 53 countries of the Commonwealth be part of her journey throughout the ceremony. So, the designer Waight Keller created the impressive veil that showcases the distinctive flora of each Commonwealth country.
In a thoughtful tribute to Diana, Meghan’s bouquet was filled with spring flowers full of personal meaning to the couple. According to a palace statement, Prince Harry handpicked several flowers from their private garden at Kensington Palace. The most notable were Forget-Me-Nots, which were Diana’s favorite flower. What a tender gesture!