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16 Fashion Rules the Royal Family Lives By

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The British royal family abides by a very specific—and strict—style guide. And though it must be tough to appear prim and proper all the time, the queen's handful of sartorial rules have kept the family looking posh and avoiding potentially embarrassing faux pas for 60-plus years. When should one wear their military garb? What else might clutches be good for, beyond carrying breath mints and lipstick? It's all in the (figurative) handbook! Below are 16 royal fashion do's and definite don'ts.

1. BRIGHT COLORS ARE A NECESSITY FOR THE QUEEN.

Queen Elizabeth II in a variety of colorful coats and hats.
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After all, she wants to be noticed. Throughout her 66-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II has sported monochromatic fuchsia, lime green, and canary yellow outfits from her wardrobe, which boasts every (yes, every!) color of the rainbow. The uniform is quite sensible, though: She wants to guarantee the public can see her through the crowd.

"She needs to stand out for people to be able to say, 'I saw the Queen,'" her daughter-in-law, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, explained in the 2016 documentary The Queen at 90. "Don't forget that when she turns up somewhere, crowds are two-, three-, four-, 10-, 15-deep, and someone wants to be able to say they saw a bit of the queen's hat as she went past."

2. HATS FOR WOMEN ARE A MUST.

Portrait of then-Princess Elizabeth holding her daughter, Princess Anne, with the grandmothers Queen Mary (left) and Queen Elizabeth, following the christening in October 1950.
Portrait of then-Princess Elizabeth holding her daughter, Princess Anne, with the grandmothers Queen Mary (left) and Queen Elizabeth, following the christening in October 1950.
Central Press, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Royal etiquette requires one be worn by women to all official events. It's a stipulation that dates back to the 1950s, a time when women were starting to ditch their hats when going out in public. Though further modernization has eased up on the rule—Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton's perfect blowout is proof enough—the Queen insists the tradition be kept alive, especially at formal engagements like weddings and christenings. In fact, she rarely forgoes a headpiece, often trading a hat for a crown or headscarf.

The most important rule: Hats are discarded after 6 p.m., when it's time to break out the tiaras!

3. TIARAS ARE LIKE WEDDING RINGS.

Queen Elizabeth, Princess Anne, Princess Diana, and Duchess Catherine all wearing tiaras at various events.
Queen Elizabeth, Princess Anne, Princess Diana, and Duchess Catherine all wearing tiaras at various events.
Queen Elizabeth: Chris Jackson, WPA Pool/Getty Images. Princess Anne: Jeff Spicer, Getty Images. Princess Diana: Lionel Cherruault Royal Picture Library, Alamy Stock Photo. Duchess Catherine: Paul Hackett, WPA Pool/Getty Images.

Yes, only married women of the family get to don the jewels. That's because tiaras signify relationship status—and let curious bachelors know if a woman is off limits.

"It signals the crowning of love and the loss of innocence to marriage," Geoffrey Munn, the author of Tiaras: A History of Splendour, explained to Forbes. "The family tiara was worn by the bride and from that moment onwards it was the groom's jewelry she was expected to wear. It was a subliminal message that she had moved from her own family to another."

According to Munn, Princess Diana was the last royal to strictly adhere to the family jewels portion of the tradition—she came from the aristocracy and wore her family's Spencer tiara at her 1981 wedding to Prince Charles. Kate Middleton donned her first tiara, a Cartier halo piece borrowed from the Queen's collection, on her 2011 wedding day. And though it has yet to be confirmed, it is rumored that Meghan Markle will likely pay tribute to Prince Harry's mother by wearing one of the late Princess Diana's tiaras at her May 19 vows. As an American, odds of Markle having a "family tiara" are pretty low.

4. YOUNG PRINCES NEVER WEAR PANTS.

Prince Charles, Prince William, and Prince George all wearing proper shorts as children.
Prince Charles, Prince William, and Prince George all wearing proper shorts as children.
Prince Charles: STF, AFP/Getty Images. Prince William: PA Images, Alamy Stock Photo. Prince George: Richard Pohle, WPA Pool/Getty Images.

There are no dinosaur sweatpants in Prince George's closet. Like his father, Prince William, and his Uncle Harry, the 4-year-old heir—he's third in line to the throne—will only attend public events wearing smart shorts and never pants.

"Trousers are for older boys and men, whereas shorts on young boys is one of those silent markers that we have in England," British etiquette expert William Hanson told Harper's Bazaar. "A pair of trousers on a young boy is considered quite middle class—quite suburban. And no self-respecting aristo or royal would want to be considered suburban."

The tradition actually dates back to the 16th century and the practice of breeching, or when a tot grew out of gowns and moved on to, well, breeches. Adds Hanson, "The usual custom is that a boy graduated to trousers around 8 years old."

5. GLOVES ARE FOR PROTECTION.

Queen Elizabeth II meets trainee firefighters as she tours the new London Fire Brigade Headquarters at Southwark in February 2008.
Queen Elizabeth II meets trainee firefighters as she tours the new London Fire Brigade Headquarters at Southwark in February 2008.
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Sure, they're fashionable. But gloves are also a safety measure favored by the Queen when attending an official engagement that requires her to shake hands with a lot of people. The accessory—which the royal glove maker says are almost always either black or white and made out of cotton and nylon—prevents the spread of germs.

One notable exception to the rule was Princess Diana, who preferred to actually hold the hands of those she met during public visits. She wasn't dubbed the people's princess for nothing!

6. ALWAYS HAVE A BLACK ENSEMBLE ON-HAND.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, leaving their airplane as they return from Kenya following the death of King George VI in February 1952.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, leaving their airplane as they return from Kenya following the death of King George VI in February 1952.
Keystone, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You'll rarely see a royal wearing black, but while traveling outside the country, they are required to pack a full black outfit in case of emergency. This is so that, if a family member dies, they'll arrive back in England dressed appropriately, since they will certainly be photographed when departing the plane.

Queen Elizabeth learned this lesson from experience. In 1952, then just a princess, she and her husband, then the Duke of Edinburgh, were in Kenya when she learned her father had passed. When she arrived back in Britain without appropriate clothing, she was forced to stay on the plane until a black outfit was delivered to her.

Still, outside of mourning, black is considered a major faux pas. You'll only see the hue worn on Remembrance Day, a memorial observed for those who have died in battle.

7. COATS MUST STAY ON.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge keeps her coat on while visiting Waikato Hospice Rainbow Place in Cambridge, New Zealand in 2014.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge keeps her coat on while visiting Waikato Hospice Rainbow Place in Cambridge, New Zealand in 2014.
Peter Drury, Getty Images

Etiquette bars female members of the family from removing their outermost layer in public, viewing it as an "unladylike action." So, unfortunately, if the temperature suddenly spikes, Duchess Kate just has to sweat it out.

8. NAILS ARE TO BE KEPT SUBTLE.

A close-up of Kate Middleton's manicure.
A close-up of Kate Middleton's manicure.
Andrew Chin, Getty Images

Bright colors are saved only for the Queen's wardrobe. The rules state that fingernails must be a practical and natural shade, meaning the royal manicurists favor pale pinks and clear polishes. In fact, since 1989, the Queen has been faithfully using the Essie shade Ballet Slippers.

Kate Middleton, however, has found a loophole: The Duchess dares to wear red on her toes.

9. HANDBAGS AREN'T JUST FOR BELONGINGS.

Queen Elizabeth II holds her black Launer handbag during a reception in 2017.
Queen Elizabeth II holds her black Launer handbag during a reception in 2017.
Hannah McKay, WPA Pool/Getty Images

It's not like she needs house keys! While the Queen is known to pack lipstick and reading glasses in her purse, she also uses her iconic Launer bags to send signals to her staff. For example, when she wants to leave a dinner, she sets the purse on top of the table, letting her aides know to wrap up in five minutes. Or, if she's in the middle of a dull conversation, she'll place her bag on the floor, giving a cue to her lady-in-waiting that she'd like to be rescued.

10. CLUTCHES ARE GOOD IN A BIND.

Princess Diana stepping out of a car.
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images

To avoid an embarrassing slip up, Princess Diana relied on her custom clutches to shield her chest while stepping out of cars, thus keeping paparazzi from getting their money shot.

"We used to laugh when we designed what she called her 'cleavage bags,'" Anya Hindmarch told The Telegraph of when Diana would buy her clutches. "[They were] little satin clutches which she would cover her cleavage with when she stepped out of cars."

Duchess Kate uses hers as a safety net. If she does not want to shake hands while on a visit, she will hold her bag in front of her with both hands, appearing too occupied to reach out. (The public is not allowed to touch a royal family member unless they make the first move.)

11. WEDGES ARE LOOKED DOWN ON.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge wears wedges while on a tour in Singapore in 2012.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge wears wedges while on a tour in Singapore in 2012.
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

At least, in the Queen's mind. They're not completely banned, but one palace insider told Vanity Fair wedged heels are not favored by the Queen and that "it's well known among the women in the family." Kate would often wear her beloved Stuart Weitzmans when her grandmother-in-law wasn't present, but it's been a few years since she's been out in a pair.

12. DON'T FORGET PANTYHOSE.

Sophie Rhys-Jones, Countess of Wessex, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall watch the Order of the Garter procession at Windsor Castle in June 2011.
Sophie Rhys-Jones, Countess of Wessex, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall watch the Order of the Garter procession at Windsor Castle in June 2011.
Paul Edwards, WPA Pool/Getty Images

No bylaw explicitly states pantyhose are a must. But, it's an unspoken rule that the Queen expects—and enforces—female family members and their guests to wear tights to all public outings.

That being said, newcomer and resident rule breaker Meghan Markle skipped nude stockings during her November engagement photo call. She quickly learned her lesson, though. At Commonwealth Day at Westminster Abbey in March, the Suits actress slipped on a pair.

13. WEIGH DOWN HEMLINES.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge speaks to soldiers as she arrives at Calgary Airport on July 7, 2011 in Calgary, Canada.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, speaks to soldiers in 2011 in Calgary, Canada.
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Otherwise suffer a Marilyn moment. In her custom dresses, the Queen has small, lead curtain weights sewn inside her hemlines. Though they weigh less than an ounce each, they keep her skirts from flying up if there were to be a sudden gust of wind.

As a fan of billowy dresses, Kate Middleton has taken note of this tailored trick after several stiff breezes have threatened to show London (and likely France) a glimpse of her underpants.

14. MILITARY UNIFORMS ARE TO BE WORN AT THE MOST FORMAL EVENTS.

Princess Anne, Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry, and Prince Philip all wear their military uniforms during 2015's Trooping the Colour.
Princess Anne, Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry, and Prince Philip all wear their military uniforms during 2015's Trooping the Colour.
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

Since the 19th century, it has been customary for royals who have served in the armed forces or hold honorary military titles to wear their ceremonial uniforms at special, formal events, such as Remembrance Day, the Trooping the Colour, or any service honoring the British troops. The Queen's daughter, Princess Anne, who has 24 honorary military appointments, has been notable in wearing a military uniform to these formal events. According to Slate, it's thought that she may be the first royal woman to dress in military attire publicly since Elizabeth I in 1588.

At his 2011 vows, Prince William donned his red Colonel, Irish Guards uniform because he had recently been appointed to the position. After the ceremony, however, he changed into a double-breasted tuxedo for the reception.

Will Harry follow suit on his big day? Because he is no longer a serving officer, it's not required for him to wear his uniform. So he can choose between that or the slightly less formal morning dress, much like his father did—Prince Charles wore his naval commander uniform for his 1981 wedding at St. Paul's Cathedral, but chose morning dress for his 2005 civic ceremony with Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall.

15. USE FASHION TO COMPLIMENT HOSTS WHILE TRAVELING ABROAD.

The Duchess of Cambridge wore a maple leaf brooch and her hat featured a maple leaf design while on a trip to Canada in September 2016.
The Duchess of Cambridge wore a maple leaf brooch and her hat featured a maple leaf design while on a trip to Canada in September 2016.
Dominic Lipinski-Pool, Getty Images

While traveling, the family will pay tribute to a country they are visiting by sporting the national color or by incorporating a meaningful emblem into their outfits. For example, the Queen has worn jade green while visiting Ireland, while Kate has worn a maple leaf brooch and hat on trips to Canada. During a trip to India, Kate sported a piece by a local designer, bringing them so much attention their website crashed hours later.

16. DENIM ISN'T FORBIDDEN, BUT IT'S NOT PREFERRED.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry attend a Wheelchair Tennis match during the Invictus Games 2017 in Toronto, Canada.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry attend a Wheelchair Tennis match during the Invictus Games 2017 in Toronto, Canada.
Vaughn Ridley, Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation

It's certainly not a go-to item in any royal closet. For more casual outings, women in the family tend to favor trousers, cardigans, and blazers, while men take to polo or button-down shirts and khaki pants. But the BBC interviewed an etiquette expert who explained that most of the time jeans are a no-go, "but if the duchess is outside walking the dogs for example, then jeans are fine."

Essentially, it's better to be overdressed than underdressed, so denim tends to be for private life only.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats 'Blep'?
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As pet owners are well aware, cats are inscrutable creatures. They hiss at bare walls. They invite petting and then answer with scratching ingratitude. Their eyes are wandering globes of murky motivations.

Sometimes, you may catch your cat staring off into the abyss with his or her tongue lolling out of their mouth. This cartoonish expression, which is atypical of a cat’s normally regal air, has been identified as a “blep” by internet cat photo connoisseurs. An example:

Cunning as they are, cats probably don’t have the self-awareness to realize how charming this is. So why do cats really blep?

In a piece for Inverse, cat consultant Amy Shojai expressed the belief that a blep could be associated with the Flehmen response, which describes the act of a cat “smelling” their environment with their tongue. As a cat pants with his or her mouth open, pheromones are collected and passed along to the vomeronasal organ on the roof of their mouth. This typically happens when cats want to learn more about other cats or intriguing scents, like your dirty socks.

While the Flehmen response might precede a blep, it is not precisely a blep. That involves the cat’s mouth being closed while the tongue hangs out listlessly.

Ingrid Johnson, a certified cat behavior consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the owner of Fundamentally Feline, tells Mental Floss that cat bleps may have several other plausible explanations. “It’s likely they don’t feel it or even realize they’re doing it,” she says. “One reason for that might be that they’re on medication that causes relaxation. Something for anxiety or stress or a muscle relaxer would do it.”

A photo of a cat sticking its tongue out
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If the cat isn’t sedated and unfurling their tongue because they’re high, then it’s possible that an anatomic cause is behind a blep: Johnson says she’s seen several cats display their tongues after having teeth extracted for health reasons. “Canine teeth help keep the tongue in place, so this would be a more common behavior for cats missing teeth, particularly on the bottom.”

A blep might even be breed-specific. Persians, which have been bred to have flat faces, might dangle their tongues because they lack the real estate to store it. “I see it a lot with Persians because there’s just no room to tuck it back in,” Johnson says. A cat may also simply have a Gene Simmons-sized tongue that gets caught on their incisors during a grooming session, leading to repeated bleps.

Whatever the origin, bleps are generally no cause for concern unless they’re doing it on a regular basis. That could be sign of an oral problem with their gums or teeth, prompting an evaluation by a veterinarian. Otherwise, a blep can either be admired—or retracted with a gentle prod of the tongue (provided your cat puts up with that kind of nonsense). “They might put up with touching their tongue, or they may bite or swipe at you,” Johnson says. “It depends on the temperament of the cat.” Considering the possible wrath involved, it may be best to let them blep in peace.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Afternoon Map
The Most Popular Infomercial Product in Each State

You don't have to pay $19.95 plus shipping and handling to discover the most popular infomercial product in each state: AT&T retailer All Home Connections is giving that information away for free via a handy map.

The map was compiled by cross-referencing the top-grossing infomercial products of all time with Google Trends search interest from the past calendar year. So, which crazy products do people order most from their TVs?

Folks in Arizona know that it's too hot there to wear layers; that's why they invest in the Cami Secret—a clip-on, mock top that gives them the look of a camisole without all the added fabric. No-nonsense New Yorkers are protecting themselves from identity theft with the RFID-blocking Aluma wallet. Delaware's priorities are all sorted out, because tons of its residents are still riding the Snuggie wave. Meanwhile, Vermont has figured out that Pajama Jeans are the way to go—because who needs real pants?

Unsurprisingly, the most popular product in many states has to do with fitness and weight loss, because when you're watching TV late enough to start seeing infomercials, you're probably also thinking to yourself: "I need to get my life together. I should get in shape." Seven states—Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, Utah, and Wisconsin—have invested in the P90X home fitness system, while West Virginia and Arkansas prefer the gentler workout provided by the Shake Weight. The ThighMaster is still a thing in Illinois and Washington, while Total Gym and Bowflex were favored by South Dakota and Wyoming, respectively. 

Kitchen items are clearly another category ripe for impulse-buying: Alabama and North Dakota are all over the George Forman Grill; Alaska and Rhode Island are mixing things up with the Magic Bullet; and Floridians must be using their Slice-o-matics to chop up limes for their poolside margaritas.

Cleaning products like OxiClean (D.C. and Hawaii), Sani Sticks (North Carolina), and the infamous ShamWow (which claims the loyalty of Mainers) are also popular, but it's Proactiv that turned out to be the big winner. The beloved skin care system claimed the top spot in eight states—California, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas—making it the most popular item on the map.

Peep the full map above, or check out the full study from All Home Connections here.

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