Royal beauty etiquette is a major part of life as a Mountbatten-Windsor, with women in the fold adhering to a strict rule book to ensure a classic and timeless appearance.
The most documented guideline relates to nails, and while the rule isn't technically protocol, it is widely followed as a matter of being appropriate.
Royal nails are expected to be kept short and clean, with the fold favouring a squoval shape in a sheer, neutral shade—particularly pinks, whites and peaches.
The late Queen Elizabeth was known to favour the pale pink shade Ballet Slippers by Essie, a royal nail varnish preference most family members are said to have adopted, with many (including Kate Middleton) also relying on the brand's Allure and Limo Scene hues.
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While neutral shades are considered the norm, we have seen the Mountbatten Windsor women—particularly the younger generation—rip up the rule book on several occasions, and we are totally here for it.
And while much less frequently, even Kate, Princess of Wales and Princess Eugenie have been known to break from tradition on occasion, opting for bright red or in some cases a jet black manicure - something that never fails to make a statement.
Here are 10 times royal women have broken nail varnish etiquette—and for all the right reasons.
1. Kate Middleton at the Easter Matins service
The Princess of Wales caused a frenzy at this year's traditional Easter Sunday Matins Service at St. George's Chapel for her nail colour. Kate teamed her electric blue Catherine Walker coat-dress with a deep red manicure—a rare break from tradition for the Princess of Wales, but well worth it for the end result.
2. Meghan Markle at the British Fashion Awards
Meghan Markle made a surprise appearance at the British Fashion Awards in 2018 to present an award to her wedding dress designer, Givenchy's Clare Waight Keller. Wearing a one-shoulder, black Givenchy gown herself, Meghan opted for a dark plum manicure—thought to be CND Shellac Dark Dahlia, and we certainly approve.
3. Princess Diana at the Bridgewater House Gala evening
One of Princess Diana's most iconic looks is her black Jacques Azagury gown, often mistaken for her 'revenge dress'—with both teamed with a statement deep red manicure in a break from royal tradition. The late Princess of Wales attended the 1995 Gala evening at Bridgewater House, London, accessorising with the bold manicure for maximum impact.
4. Princess Eugenie at the Diamond Jubilee
Princess Eugenie was photographed at the Epsom Derby for the 2012 Diamond Jubilee sporting some seriously patriotic nail art. Breaking from royal tradition, the princess honoured the 60th anniversary of her grandmother's ascension to the throne in the most millennial way, with specially painted Union Jack nail art. If there was ever an opportunity to bend royal rules, this was definitely the one.
5. Princess Beatrice at the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty launch
Princess Beatrice rarely breaks royal beauty etiquette, but even she strayed from her signature nude nails at the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition launch at the Victoria & Albert Museum back in 2015. In honour of the designer of the evening, Princess Beatrice wore a black McQueen tuxedo dress, teaming the look with an inky black manicure—a rare move for the royal but worth it for the overall effect.
6. Sarah Ferguson at the Olympic Games
Sarah, the Duchess of York tends to favour a natural nail palette, sometimes even forgoing a nude hue for a simple clear gloss. There are a few exceptions however, with Fergie famously sporting a bright purple manicure back in 2012 in honour of the Olympic Games. The Duchess was seen showcasing her patriotic nails from the stands with Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie—and unsurprisingly, the photographs went viral.
7. Sophie Wessex at the Sir Ken Dodd Happiness Hall opening
Sophie, Countess of Wessex, is known to break from royal nail tradition more than most. And while she abides the neutral nail colour palette on all state occasions, she tends to favour a few classic darker shades when out and about. Her go-to appears to be a deep plum manicure, showcased last year as she visited the Sir Ken Dodd Happiness Hall in Liverpool. And in the season for autumn nail trends, we're all over it.
8. Princess Diana at the Palace of Versailles
The late Princess Diana favoured a deep red manicure, particularly in her later years of being a royal and when wanting to make a statement. One of her most iconic manicure moments took place at the Palace of Versailles in November 1994, when she was photographed dining at La Deuxieme Nuit International. The royal wore a statement black halter-neck gown with bugle beads designed by Catherine Walker, teaming it with her signature deep red nails—and the public (unsurprisingly) went wild for it.
9. Zara Tindall at Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee Derby
Zara Tindall stays loyal to the neutral colour palette, but on very rare occasions she too has been known to break from tradition. One such moment was at Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee in 2022. Zara marked the occasion with a bright lilac manicure, showcasing her summer nails as she watched the racing from the Epsom Derby royal box with her husband Mike Tindall.
10. Princess Eugenie at the Buckingham Palace Christmas Lunch
Ever the royal nail experimenter, Princess Eugenie was spotted arriving at Buckingham Palace for The Queen's Christmas Lunch back in 2015, sporting a festive manicure. The nail art - thought to be the royal's own work, featured traditional greens, reds and browns, with the designs depicting festive characters including Rudolph and Father Christmas.
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Jenny Proudfoot is an award-winning journalist, specialising in lifestyle, culture, entertainment, international development and politics. She has worked at Marie Claire UK for seven years, rising from intern to Features Editor and is now the most published Marie Claire writer of all time. She was made a 30 under 30 award-winner last year and named a rising star in journalism by the Professional Publishers Association.
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