Royal Family Dress Code Rules Didn’t Always Mean Black for Funerals

The royal family observed dress code rules at Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, and many dressed in head-to-toe black. But that wasn’t always the proper way to symbolize one’s mourning. Read on to learn more about the history of royal family dress code rules for indicating grief after a death.

The royal family followed dress code rules and dressed in black for Queen Elizabeth's funeral.
(front row, left to right) Lena Tindall, Zara Tindall, Mia Tindall, the Duchess of Sussex, the Duke of Sussex, Princess Charlotte, the Princess of Wales, Prince George, and the Prince of Wales, stand for the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II | Victoria Jones/PA Wire

The royal family wore mostly black to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral because of dress code rules

As is dictated by tradition, women in the royal family wore black to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. And the dress code rules required them to accessorize with hats and optional veils.

So, Queen Consort Camilla and Kate Middleton, Princess of Wales, opted for latticed veils on their hats. This is opposed to wearing them long and opaque, as Queen Elizabeth wore hers at her father’s funeral in 1952 (Harper’s Bazaar).

(L) Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Eric Hamilton, Dean of Windsor (1890 - 1962, left) at the funeral of her father King George VI (R) : Prince George of Wales, Catherine, Princess of Wales and Princess Charlotte of Wales during the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II
(L) Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, and the Duke of Windsor | Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix/Getty Images (R) Prince George of Wales, Catherine, Princess of Wales, and Princess Charlotte of Wales | Karwai Tang/WireImage

Meanwhile, Princess Charlotte and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, wore black hats without facial covers. And members of the royal family with military titles, like King Charles and Prince William, wore dark ceremonial attire.

Some observers noticed that Prince George was in a dark blue suit, and that might have been so that he matched his father’s military uniform (per People).

Prince Harry lost his military titles when he stepped back from his role as a senior royal. Therefore, royal etiquette disallowed him from wearing his full uniform to funeral events for his grandmother. Instead, he wore a black coat adorned with his military medals.

The royal family previously observed a dress code rule of ‘white mourning’

Mary, Queen of Scots (In white mourning) by Unknown after Francois Clouet, 1561. Oil on panel.
Mary, Queen of Scots (In white mourning) | National Galleries Of Scotland/Getty Images

While the color black is generally associated with mourning, the tradition of wearing white survived for centuries before that one came along.

In the 16th century, Mary, Queen of Scots, lost three family members in rapid succession. Her father-in-law, mother, and 16-year-old husband died between the summer of 1559 and December 1560, leaving her a widow at 19 (The Guardian).

A painting of her thought to be from 1561 illustrates her in white mourning cloth. And Harper’s Bazaar noted that Queen Elizabeth II’s mother, also Elizabeth, observed the tradition of wearing white at her mother’s funeral in 1938.

On the other hand, Queen Victoria wore black from when her husband, Prince Albert, died in 1861 until she died in 1901. She became known as “the perpetual widow” and established more than a few of the currently observed royal standards for mourning in those four decades.

For instance, she also started the tradition of wearing pearls, symbolic of tears and grief (Harper’s Bazaar). They were supposedly the only jewelry she would wear after Albert’s death. Notably, some of Queen Elizabeth’s family, like Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, wore pearls she either gifted or once owned to her funeral.

How Queen Elizabeth’s funeral broke royal tradition

Queen Elizabeth’s funeral did break with tradition in at least one way. That’s because her state funeral was at Westminster Abbey before the royal family’s private burial service.

The venue hasn’t hosted a monarch’s funeral service since the 18th century (Wall Street Journal). It’s been the scene of countless coronations and weddings, but monarch funerals usually occur at Windsor Castle.

The former monastery was remarkable to Queen Elizabeth as the place she was both coronated and married. So, she waved off tradition and made it her wish that the royal family would hold her funeral at the Abbey.

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