Royal Fashion Etiquette Guide: These royal fashion rules are actually a thing

That explains a LOT

royal fashion rules
(Image credit: Rex Features (Shutterstock))

The Royal etiquette is a fascinating thing, in particular royal fashion etiquette.

Most of us don't think twice about what clothes we throw on in the morning, it's usually whatever is closest, or clean usually. 

However, what the Royal family wears is dictated by a strict protocol, which explains why Kate Middleton always carries a clutch bag, and why Princess Diana never wore gloves for example.

We'll admit we were a bit curious to find out what other rules The Queen et al need to abide by, so we quizzed the etiquette experts at Debrett's. The following fashion rules will blow your mind (ok, slightly dramatic perhaps).

What are the dress codes for royals?

There are a number of fashion rules, and a strict fashion etiquette for royals to follow. 

Generally, the royals main dress code is to dress formally for royal engagements, which can include wearing a smart day dress, suit, trousers and skirt with a matching jacket, or cardigan. 

For men the royal fashion etiquette can include wearing smart trousers, or a suit, collared shirt and blazer. 

However, sometimes the royal fashion fashion rules are challenged, but more for low key events, which has seen Kate Middleton wear jeans and a long sleeve top and blazer for some dos. 

Can royals show cleavage?

The royals channel a demure style, which means dressing modestly.

Skirts and shorts are often avoided, while skirts and dresses typically fall below the knee. 

When it comes to cleavage, we think it's a no no. 

Jewellerybox spokesperson, Daena Borrowman told the Express: "There are dozens of protocols in place that stylists and dressers of the royals have to familiarise themselves with to prevent working royals from landing into embarrassing fashion faux pas.

"It is customary for senior royals to dress modestly during public appearances, in order to preserve the sanctity of the Royal Family.

"Royal women are discouraged from showing off their cleavage".

Are royals allowed to wear jeans?

In previous years members of the royal family have rarely been spotted at royal engagements, or out in general, in jeans. 

However, the late Princess Diana may have been the first royal to buck the trend, as she was often pictured running errands wearing high waisted baggy jeans, which are still a trend today. 

Fast forward a few years, and Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle have followed suit and sported jeans for more casual engagements, and while out and about. 

Why Prince William and Prince Harry sometimes wear uniforms

The Royal Family follows the usual dress codes when it comes to formal events, and often adhere to these even more rigidly because they are in the public eye. Royal Family members who have served in the Armed Forces or hold honorary military appointments such as Princes William and Harry, and Princess Anne, may also wear dress uniform for certain military events such as the Trooping of the Colour or Remembrance Day.

Why the Queen wears white gloves

The Queen can often be seen wearing gloves, which may be crisp and white or dark-toned leather to match her handbag. These are worn for practical reasons during the daytime as she is frequently required to shake hands at official engagements. Long opera gloves are worn for formal evening events such as state banquets.

When Kate Middleton and the Queen must wear a hat

Hats are customary for formal daytime events such as weddings and christenings or Season events, including Royal Ascot and Henley Royal Regatta. They may also be worn for official visits and engagements – such as the maple leaf hat worn by the Duchess of Cambridge on a visit to Canada in 2011. Tiaras are worn as part of a white tie dress code, which is the most formal dress code, often stipulated at royal and state events such as the state banquet or Buckingham Palace reception.

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Why Kate Middleton never wears short skirts

Full-length skirts or dresses are customary for white tie or formal evening dress. Elsewhere, the choice of skirt length may vary according to the nature of the event and dress code. It may also depend on the culture of a country they are visiting.

Why the Queen and Kate only wear certain outfit colours

Members of the Royal Family may choose a colour befitting the occasion or to honour the nation they are visiting – the Queen wore a jade green outfit on a 2011 state visit to Ireland, for example, while the Duchess of Cambridge wore red on a recent visit to Canada. Black is customary on Remembrance Day and other sombre commemorative events.

How the Queen and Kate choose their jewellery

The choice of jewellery may vary according to the event – very fine, striking jewellery and tiaras can be worn for white tie and very formal evening dress. Simple jewellery or pearls are appropriate for daytime events.

royal fashion rules

(Image credit: Rex Features (Shutterstock))

What the Royals need to wear for a black tie event

Black tie is formal evening wear, worn for dinners (both public and private), parties and balls, as well as some Season events such as Glyndebourne.

Men wear a black dinner jacket, and trousers are black with a natural taper and a single row of braid down each outside leg. They also wear a white evening shirt, with a turn-down collar (not a wing-collar), worn with cufflinks and studs. A plain silk shirt with buttons may be worn but any kind of ruffles or frills should be avoided. Bow ties should be black and hand-tied, and shoes are black and highly polished or patent. Cummerbunds are not considered essential but may be worn, as may waistcoats, although they are not seen very often. A waistcoat and cummerbund are never worn together. A white handkerchief in the left breast pocket is a classic detail.

Women should wear an evening dress or skirt. This can be long, or a cocktail dress – a fitted dress to very slightly below the knee. The fabric should be suited to evening such as silk, crepe or chiffon. Evening trousers are an option, but it is better to go for a palazzo cut, rather than tight-fitting. Although the dress code is ‘black tie’, dresses need not be black. Fine or costume jewellery is appropriate (but not tiaras), plus an elegant evening bag.

How the Royals do smart casual

‘Smart casual’ can be the hardest dress code to interpret and a great deal depends on the invitation and the type of event. Smart, dark jeans are usually fine and for men, trousers are better than shorts and polo shirts better than collarless t-shirts. Just because an event is informal doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort.

If you are unsure, find out as much as possible about what other people are intending to wear and if that isn’t possible, ask the host or hostess. It is always more polite to the host to dress up than down. Be prepared to adjust your outfit at the last minute. For women, this may mean swapping heels for flats, taking off dressy jewellery or removing a jacket and putting on a cardigan.

How the Royals do countryside chic

Dress codes in rural areas may be more traditional than in cities. Some guidelines on what to wear are based on practicality; clothes should be appropriate for the weather and outdoor activities. Traditionally black is still seen as a city colour, other than for funerals. Men wear brown rather than black shoes, and tweeds. Women might wear black for formal dinners or dances but not for daytime. Outdoors, weatherproof jackets are worn in preference to woollen overcoats. Colours are muted; greens and browns are more rural than black or anything hi-vis. Country sports, even if not practised, are the inspiration for the ‘correct style’, but dressing for an activity in which you are not taking part is unwise; for example a man who is not actually shooting should avoid plus fours.

Why the Queen always wears a head scarf at Balmoral

Scarves and woollen or fake fur hats are frequently worn by women, while flat caps may be worn by men. Trainers are not usually worn in the countryside – opt for walking boots or Wellingtons instead. As for other dress codes, err on the side of effort and do not be afraid to ask in advance what others are going to be wearing.

Debrett’s x Bicester Village are celebrating a yearlong partnership with the launch of a ‘Guide To British Style’, which is available at Bicester Village and provides insight into fashion etiquette.

Penny Goldstone

Penny Goldstone is the Digital Fashion Editor at Marie Claire, covering everything from catwalk trends to royal fashion and the latest high street and Instagram must-haves.

Penny grew up in France and studied languages and law at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris before moving to the UK for her MA in multimedia journalism at Bournemouth University. She moved to the UK permanently and has never looked back (though she does go back regularly to stock up on cheese and wine).

Although she's always loved fashion - she used to create scrapbooks of her favourite trends and looks, including Sienna Miller and Kate Moss' boho phase - her first job was at, sourcing the best deals for everything from restaurants to designer sales.

However she quit after two years to follow her true passion, fashion journalism, and after many years of internships and freelance stints at magazines including Red, Cosmopolitan, Stylist and Good Housekeeping, landed her dream job as the Digital Fashion Editor at Marie Claire UK.

Her favourite part of the job is discovering new brands and meeting designers, and travelling the world to attend events and fashion shows. Seeing her first Chanel runway IRL at Paris Fashion Week was a true pinch-me moment.