Royal fashion through the ages

Amy Donohoe

Amy Donohoe shares the history of royal style, from Diana to now.

In the two decades since her death, Diana, Princess of Wales, has ascended to the pantheon of the best-dressed women in history with Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and Princess Eugenie all following in her footsteps.

Princess Diana started the royal style evolution. She was the fiancé of Prince Charles in flowery blouses and pastel ruffles whom the press nicknamed “Shy Di.” Over time she became the sleek and confident woman who strode in embellished gowns and bodycon velvet which made her one of the most photographed women in the world.

“She didn’t wear gloves because she liked to hold people’s hands. She would sometimes wear chunky jewellery so that children could play with it, and she never wore hats to children’s hospitals after a while, because she said you couldn’t cuddle a child in a hat.” Eleri Lynn, Fashion Gallery manager told Vanity Fair.

“Even textiles were an opportunity for Diana to convey empathy: “if she was visiting hospitals for the blind, she would often wear velvet so that she would feel sort of warm and tactile.” she continued.

One of her most famous outfits was the black Christina Stambolian dress which the media referred to as the ‘revenge dress’ she wore to the Serpentine Gallery summer party in 1994, the same night Prince Charles admitted to having an affair with Camilla. Many would have hidden away from the limelight, but she emerged as happy and free as ever.

Diana’s sartorial influence inspired Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle and both often pay tribute to her in subtle ways. Meghan Markle wore Diana’s ring on the evening of her wedding night, and just like Kate, she had Diana’s blue ribbon sewn in her wedding dress. In 2013, Kate’s maternity dress was a touching tribute to Diana.

Even though Diana started a fashion revolution, female members of the Royal Family still have to adhere to royal protocol at public engagements in terms of fashion.

Meghan and Kate have been seen wearing nude tights with certain dresses and skirts. It’s understood the Queen prefers female members of the Royal Family to keep their legs covered. Stewart Parvin, one of the Queens couturiers, told the Daily Mail he sews weights into the hem of the royals clothes, which prevents them from blowing up in the wind.

Colourful nail polish is also avoided, instead royals must opt for nude, pale pinks or clear polishes on their nails. The Queen has worn the same nail polish shade since 1989 – Essie’s Ballet Slippers.

Royals must always have an all-black outfit on hand in case of an unexpected death within the family.  This way, when they arrive back in the U.K., they are dressed appropriately for the occasion. This became a rule after King George IV died unexpectedly and then Princess-Elizabeth was in Kenya and had to wait inside her plane when she landed home for an outfit to be delivered before stepping out.

Tiaras are worn only to the fanciest of royal events, and typically, they’re worn for the first time by brides. This is a privilege reserved for married women only—single women and children never wear them. “It signals the crowning of love and the loss of innocence to marriage,” Geoffrey Munn, author of Tiaras – A History of Splendour, said in an interview with Forbes.

Kate Middleton borrowed Queen Elizabeth’s Cartier Halo tiara for her wedding to Prince William in 2011, and she’s even worn Princess Diana’s tiara on several occasions. Meghan and Kate also wear hats for formal events, but no headwear is to be worn after 6pm other than a tiara.

Diana had a tendency to go for large, wide-brim iterations hats which always covered her face from the sun. Kate, although she’s been spotted in a diverse range, tends to wear smaller, more delicate toppers, which is not only trendier these days but way more practical when you want to look around. Meanwhile, nobody will ever forget about Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie’s iconic hats at the royal wedding back in 2011.

It’s a tradition that the Queen needs to approve the final version of a royal wedding dress. Apparently, Queen Elizabeth had to approve of Kate Middleton’s Alexander McQueen gown in 2011, and she did the same with Meghan Markle’s dress for her wedding to Prince Harry.

The Queen is never without a handbag, and that’s because she uses it to send signals. For example, when she wants to leave dinner, simply setting her bag on top of the table lets her staff know that the party is ending shortly and that she wants to leave. When she’s in conversation and switches her purse to her other hand, it means that she would like to politely wrap it up.

Princess Diana’s handbag designer Anya Hindmarch famously called her clutches “cleavage bags.” In photos every time Princess Diana got out of a car, her clutch was right there to shield her chest from prying photographers.

Clutches are also used to avoid handshakes. Kate Middleton often holds her bags in front of her with both hands when shaking hands might be awkward. This is why Meghan Markle’s bags, which usually have a shoulder strap or top handle, seem out of the ordinary when it comes to protocol.

Meghan Markle has been seen wearing a lot of neutral shades for many functions she has been attending, choosing blush shades, ivories and cream instead of the rich shades like forest green, stripes, midnight blue which she was seen in before the wedding.

This could be a mark of respect to the queen, who is often in bright colours, and Meghan is simply choosing a palette which sits well at events where the monarch is present. The Queen’s trademark is wearing bright colours as it’s easier for her security to find her in crowds in time of emergency.

She also needs to stand out for people to be able to say ‘I saw the Queen.’ If she’s wearing one of her bright outfits, the public can easily catch a glimpse of her in a large crowd. The Queen once said, “I can never wear beige because nobody will know who I am.”


Amy Donohoe

Image Credit: Eonline