It’s no secret that being a member of the British Royal Family requires following a lot of rules, many of which are set by the Queen herself — and Meghan Markle has had to learn all of them since her engagement and marriage to Prince Harry. It turns out, though, that there’s one rule of the Queen’s Meghan Markle can break when she’s traveling abroad. I don’t know about you, but I’d find that to be quite a relief; there are only so many rules my brain can retain at any given time. And with Meghan and Harry’s upcoming tour to Australia, Fiji, the Kingdom of Tonga, and New Zealand fast approaching, anything that will make the whole process easier is undoubtedly welcome.
Cosmopolitan recently spoke to Myka Meier, an expert with Beaumont Etiquette who received training from a former member not just of the Royal Household, but of the Queen’s Household — and according to Meier, Markle has a lot on her plate to learn protocol-wise as she prepares for this fall’s royal tour. She will, however, probably have a little more leeway with her wardrobe.
British Royals follow a strict dress code, particularly with regards to public appearances and formal events. Some of the rules are historical in nature, like those surrounding hats and military dress, while others are due to Queen Elizabeth’s own preferences. (She’s apparently not a fan of wedges, for example.) Hemlines usually have to be a certain length; sleeveless tops are a no-no; pantyhose should be worn whenever possible; and nail polish must remain sedate and neutral.
However, as Meier noted to Cosmo, the Royals adapt their wardrobe choices when traveling to reflect the place they’re visiting. Said Meier, “When traveling, we often see the Royals adopt the customs and culture of the country they are in. For instance, if in a country they visit it’s a sign of respect to dress in a certain way, they will do so. Often we see Royals wearing outfits from local designers, too, to show respect and support for the country they are visiting."
To be clear, traveling abroad doesn’t mean that the Royals can wear whatever they want; it just means they’ve got a little more freedom when it comes to their wardrobe choices than they typically have when they’re on their home turf. You might, for example, see them wear certain colors, as when the Queen donned green for a historic visit to Ireland in 2011; their accessories might nod to the symbols of the country they’re in, as when Kate Middleton wore a maple leaf fascinator and brooch during her and Prince William’s trip to Canada in 2011; and when it comes to designers and labels they wear, they might choose their picks from the locals instead of from their usual British standbys.
It’s not known to be a hard-and-fast rule, per se, but experts have observed that the Royal Family tends to favor British designers when they’re at home. “I think they all try to use British designers wherever possible, which is great,” said Alexandra Messervy off The English Manner to InStyle in May. Kate Middleton, for example, wears a lot of pieces from fashion houses and designers like Alexander McQueen, Jenny Packham, Temperley London, and Emilia Wickstead. Markle, meanwhile, has been spotted since joining the Royal Family in pieces by Stella McCartney and Givenchy. I know, I know — isn’t Givenchy a French fashion house? You’re right; it is. Its current artistic director, however, is British: Clare Waight Keller took the helm in 2017, and it was she who designed Markle’s wedding dress. Said Messervy to InStyle, “The Royal Family are one of our greatest exports/tourist attractions, and their patronages (and Royal Warrants) are worth so much to British designers and industry.”
When they’re abroad, however, the Royals might choose designers and labels from the countries they’re visiting, rather than those from their homeland — a trend we can see in action if we look to Kate Middleton. During the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s 2017 India trip, for example, Kate was photographed at the Taj Mahal in a dress by Indian-American designer Naeem Khan. Back in 2012, when the couple were traveling in Singapore, one of the Duchess’ wardrobe choices included a dress by Singaporean designer Raoul. And when Kate and William visited Australia and New Zealand in 2014, she donned a blue skirt suit from New Zealand designer Rebecca Taylor on the last stop of the New Zealand leg of the trip.
We don’t know yet what Meghan Markle’s wardrobe will look like on her and Harry’s tour — but we can probably expect to see some of these little adjustments as the photos of the trip emerge (and besides, Meghan has already veered off from the standard fashion protocol a few times already). And although I would imagine that Royals don’t get to break the rules very often… well, there’s a time and a place for everything, right?