The royal family are renowned for their fashion, from Queen Elizabeth II’s colourful suits to Kate Middleton’s ability to sell out items after wearing them just once.
However, like most aspects of royal life, etiquette dictates the dress code and members of the family are expected to follow a number of rules.
According to fashion etiquette expert Lucy Hume from Debrett’s – who appeared on The Royal Family Channel on YouTube in November 2021 – these different dress codes also extend to guests, who are expected to abide by these rules when introduced to a member of the royal family such as King Charles III.
The first and most formal dress code is a white tie, which Hume notes would be appropriate and expected for state banquets or a royal event. For a white tie event, the etiquette expert explained that the dress code would be similar to black tie, “which we would see on the red carpet,” but that there are certain key differences. One difference is the requirement of a white bowtie with a wing collar for men, while Hume notes that “women would be expected usually to wear a long formal evening gown”.
The next royal dress code pertains to black tie events, which Hume revealed consists of a “shorter dinner jacket for men and a black bowtie”. According to Hume, for these same events, women have a little more freedom when it comes to their outfit choices, as they can wear a trouser suit or a cocktail dress.
The formality of the outfits required for events with members of the royal family lessens when it comes to the third tier of the royal dress code, which Hume said incorporates “lounge suits,” or what people typically wear to go into an office.
“And then smart casual,” Hume concluded, with the video showing a clip of the Prince of Wales dressed in a collared shirt and a sweater.
The royal family also has specific dress codes for events such as a garden party, according to Hume, with the etiquette expert explaining that “typically, for a garden party, the expectation is formal day wear,” which she said is similar to the types of outfits that would be worn to a wedding but “perhaps not quite as formal”.
“So, you could wear a hat but it wouldn’t be 100 per cent expected,” she said, adding that the outfit expectation for women would usually be a dress, a skirt or a trouser suit and heels, but “not necessarily stilettos” because you wouldn’t want to sink into the grass. Hume also noted that “smart flat shoes would be absolutely fine,” while trainers or sneakers would be a “no-no”.
For men, the etiquette expert said that a garden party would typically dictate they wear a suit, while a morning suit – which consists of a tailcoat in either black or grey – would be appropriate for a day wedding. For decisions regarding belt colour, Hume said that men should match the accessory to their shoes when in the presence of royals.
When meeting a member of the royal family, an individual must also consider sartorial factors such as the length of the garment, which can dictate appropriateness, according to Hume. As an example, Hume referenced the annual Royal Ascot, during which the dress code in the main royal enclosure dictates that women’s dresses for royals and guests should “come below the knee” and that shoulders are covered.
According to Hume, the late Queen Elizabeth II – who typically opted for clothing on the more formal side – should act as a “benchmark of what’s expected for guests,” as she noted that nobody will be “offended” if you’ve made too much effort. However, that doesn’t mean it is time to experiment either, as she acknowledged that the most important factor, typically, is sticking to tradition. “A royal event is not necessarily a time to go too unconventional or too alternative,” she said. “It’s just one of those occasions where it makes sense to stick with tradition.”
While individuals should strive to follow the royal dress codes, Hume also revealed that she believes the most important factor is “comfort”.
“I really think comfort is the most important consideration,” she said, adding that she doesn’t necessarily mean shoes, but rather wearing “what makes you feel confident”. According to the fashion expert, this is relevant now more than ever, as she acknowledged that the pandemic has granted opportunities to “develop new rules around how we do things”.
While there are no “obligatory codes of behaviour when meeting the Queen or a member of the royal family,” according to the official royal family website, it does note that many people “wish to observe the traditional forms”.
For women, this means doing a small curtsy, while men can perform a neck bow from the head only.