Royal women may not have official job titles, but they work hard at being brand ambassadors for their family and for Great Britain in general. With all the world watching what a Royal lady wears, it’s very important that they get it right – but as many a Royal can attest, it is often a precarious balancing act between tradition and forward-thinking style.
Join us on a journey through the best and worst Royal fashion choices of the modern era. From Lady Diana’s unfortunate wedding dress to Meghan Markle’s bold pant suit, here are the highs and lows of Royal fashion.
At the end of her first year at St Andrew’s University, 19-year-old Kate Middleton wore a revealing sheer dress during a charity fashion show.
While this rather risque outfit may have raised a few eyebrows when the older Royals saw it for the first time, it was this dress which first attracted the attention of Prince William – who reportedly leaned over to his friend and said: “Wow, Fergus, Kate’s hot!”
The outfit itself might not make it into the Royal fashion hall of fame, but it could be the dress that changed Kate Middleton’s life forever.
The Princess of Wales would become a fashion icon in her later life, but she didn’t start out that way. When 20-year-old Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles in 1981, she wore a fairy-tale style wedding dress designed by David and Elizabeth Emmanual. Unfortunately, they had not anticipated how much her ivory taffeta gown would crease in the bride’s wedding carriage.
“She got out of the carriage and I remember thinking ‘unmade bed’ because that’s what it looked like,” says broadcaster and journalist Eve Pollard.
Diana’s wedding dress was certainly fit for a princess – complete with enormous puffy sleeves and a train so big it didn’t fit in the carriage – but sadly the end result was not a high point for the young bride. It’s easy to draw parallels between the fate of the dress and the bride’s doomed marriage – a beautiful idea but quickly ruined under pressure.
If Lady Diana’s wedding dress was a fashion low, then Kate Middleton’s gown was a definite high; the dress garnered so much attention it even got its own Wikipedia page.
Designed by Sarah Burton, it was elegant, flawless and regal. Unlike Diana, Kate was not born into aristocracy, so her wedding dress could be seen as her physical transformation from a commoner into the wife of the future King of England.
It may not have had puffy sleeves, but this shiny and lacy gown was polished to perfection and suited the Duchess perfectly.
As soon as she stepped onto the world stage, the ‘Kate effect’ was in full swing. Whether she’s pregnant, just had a baby, going abroad for Royal visits or skiing with her family, Kate is always dressed for the occasion and never looks inappropriate.
When Princess Diana first got engaged, she chose to wear a black gown with a low neckline. This dress caused a stir for all the wrong reasons because Royal women as a rule do not wear off-the-shoulder dresses -particularly not ones which show this much cleavage.
Royal ladies also tend to avoid black unless they are in mourning. Lady Diana was always beautiful, but this outfit was was thought by many to have been a misstep.
Lady Diana Spencer was just 19 when she got engaged and did not have a strong sense of style. Over time, she developed from confused teenager to a daring, confident woman – a transition that was reflected in her sense of style.
While there are many unspoken rules to follow when one marries into the Royal family, breaking the rules now and again can be refreshing.
When Meghan Markle arrived at an early Royal engagement, she chose to wear a beautifully tailored Alexander McQueen tuxedo.
Royal women do not tend to wear trousers and her choice certainly raised some eyebrows, but this was Meghan’s way of saying ‘I may be marrying into the Royal family, but I’m still me’ and she really pulled it off. As unexpected as it was, it proved to be a high point of Royal fashion.
Having your skirt blow up on a windy day is embarrassing at the best of times, but it’s even worse when you’re the Duchess of Cambridge and you’re being photographed by the international press.
Kate’s skirt has blown up several times during her Royal career, including during laying a wreath in India and at Princess Eugenie’s wedding, which is why the Duchess now allegedly loads her skirts with curtain weights to stop future embarrassment.
Wallis Simpson may not have been well-liked by the Royal family or the public during her day, but there is no denying her status as a fashion icon.
At the time, her trendy hair, eccentric shapes and art-deco style were considered a bad thing because Royal women at the time developed a signature style which they tended to maintain throughout their life.
Aside from Princess Margaret, it wasn’t until four decades later that a new Royal fashion icon would emerge: Lady Diana Spencer.
Sarah Ferguson’s infamous fashion decisions – from spaceship-style hats to ruffle duvet-looking shawls – have made her known as a bit of a fashion disaster. One of the Queen’s secretaries allegedly describes Fergie’s fashion as ‘vulgar, vulgar, vulgar’ and some of her choices made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
While it’s hard to deny that her outlandish and overly flamboyant style leaves a bit to be desired, no one can say that Fergie failed to inject her personality into her clothes.
“You might not have always liked Sarah’s choices, but I think they were very reflective of her character,” says Royal Correspondent Katie Nicholl, “it was a way for her to communicate who she was through her fashion. Little bit garish, a little bit loud, rather fun and not always getting it right.”
Lady Diana may have got off to a rocky start where Royal fashion is concerned, but she was a fast learner. During her sixteen years in the spotlight, she undeniably became a global fashion icon.
One of her most iconic outfits is the ‘Elvis’ dress. Designed by Catherine Walker, this regal dress was made up of 20,000 pearls and reflected the earlier styles of Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary while also bringing a modern twist to a classic theme.
Princesses Beatrice and Eugenine have made headlines with their own fashion lows: most famously with the hats, they chose to wear to William and Kate’s wedding. Beatrice’s hat, in particular, was compared to an octopus, a pretzel and even a linseed.
Despite this definite fashion low, those hats made headlines while other Royal outfits are long forgotten – so perhaps the young Princesses got it right after all?
Diana’s early attempts at the LBD may have been misguided, but she really pulled it off at the Serpentine Gallery summer party in 1994.
This was the same night that ex-husband Prince Charles admitted his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, so Princess Diana made sure to show the world just what Charles was missing. I think we can all agree she pulled it off with flying colours.
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