History of Britain’s royal mourning dress code

written by Jackie Palumbo, CNN

In honor of Queen Elizabeth II, members of the British royal family will follow a gloomy dress code for Monday’s state funeral.

King Charles will wear a full-day ceremonial uniform with medals, and will carry the red velvet and gold Field Marshals Baton, which the Queen presented him in 2012, when he earned that position. Prince Edward, Princess Anne and Prince William will all wear military uniforms and medals.

Meanwhile, Prince Andrew and Prince Harry are expected to wear civilian clothes despite being retired service members, as both no longer have official royal duties. (However, they were allowed To wear military attire at the respective checkpoints on weekends).

Women are expected to wear black robes and ceremonial hats, while men will wear black morning coats.

Prince William, Catherine, Princess of Wales, Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex leave after paying respects to Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Hall in London on Wednesday, September 14, 2022.

Prince William, Catherine, Princess of Wales, Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex leave after paying respects to Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Hall in London on Wednesday, September 14, 2022. Credit: Emilio Morenatti / AP

Even in times of grief, close attention is paid to how members of the royal family interpret the dress code, which dates back hundreds of years and has changed over time.

In 1982, widely viewed photos of Princess Diana at the actress’s funeral and the newly wedded royal at the show of Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco wore a hooded straw hat, collared long-sleeved black dress, and a heart necklace—a fitting choice. Still shows her inherent sense of style.

British fashion historian and curator Kate Strassdin said in a video interview in 2021, “(Princess Diana) had the spirit to keep track of public expectations and know how to strike the right note.”

Diana, Princess of Wales at the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco on September 18, 1982.

Diana, Princess of Wales at the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco on September 18, 1982. Credit: Anwar Hussain / Getty Images

Taken during the Princess of Wales’ funeral in 1997, the heart-wrenching image of Prince Philip, Prince William, Diana’s brother Charles Spencer, Prince Harry and Prince Charles walking behind the coffin in dark suits is one of the most in contemporary royal history. Referenced is one of the photos. and the epitome of modern royal funeral attire. Nicole Kidman and Elton John were among the celebrities who duly adhered to the all black and formal dress code to pay their respects during a funeral watched by millions around the world.

‘A visual symbol of grief’

Although black has long been the color of choice for mourning — it was popular among the rich During the Middle Ages – the 19th century it became ubiquitous with mourning.
According to Strassdin, mourning dress codes took hold during this period in Europe and America, particularly for women, fueled by the rise of women’s publications as well as more affordable clothing. (Harper’s Bazaar, for example, gave advice readers To aim for “nun-like simplicity” in 1868.)
The royal funeral dress code has long been a symbol of grief and propriety.  Elizabeth II wore a long veil after the death of her father, King George VI.

The royal funeral dress code has long been a symbol of grief and propriety. Elizabeth II wore a long veil after the death of her father, King George VI. Credit: Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Even the modern department store was born out of the nascent funeral industry. Around the 1840s, Strassdin said, “huge emporiums” that arose in London and Paris were meant to serve as a single stop for funeral needs.

“Under one roof, you could have everything from stationery to mourning jewelry,” she said.

A person’s mourning style “serves as a visual symbol of grief … as well as demonstrating the wearer’s status, taste, and level of propriety,” according to the 2014 exhibition “Death Beaks Her: A Century of Life”. Mentioned in the introductory text of “Morning Attire”. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Women wearing drape-vealers dress and half-mourning dress.  The modern department store was born out of the popularity of mourning styles.

Women wearing drape-vealers dress and half-mourning dress. The modern department store was born out of the popularity of mourning styles. Credit: D’Agostini Publications/Getty Images

Courtesy author DC Colesworthy had a cheekier take on the trend in his 1867 book “Hints of Common Polity,” cited at the Met exhibition. “When we see women persist in wearing sable, we are reminded of the reply a young widow made to her mother: ‘Don’t look,’ she said, ‘it would have saved me the cost of advertising for a husband. is,” he wrote.

Black was briefly retired in 1938, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother, the Countess of Strathmore. One photo shows the Queen Mother wearing a white dress designed by Norman Hartnell to honor her mother’s passing. The concept of “white mourning” followed the example of Mary of Scots, who was painted In a white mourning dress after the loss of several family members in the 16th century.
The Queen Mother broke tradition after her own mother died in 1938, wearing a mourning style called

The Queen Mother broke tradition after her mother passed away in 1938, wearing a mourning style called the “white wardrobe” designed for her by Norman Hartnell. Credit: Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

‘Forever Widow’

But none had more influence on the mourning dress than Queen Victoria. After the unexpected death of her husband, Prince Albert, in 1861, the monarch publicly expressed her grief by wearing black every day for four decades until his death. It was Victoria who helped codify the specifics of grief and maintain her identity as “the perpetual widow”, according to Strassdin.

A semi-mourning dress worn by Queen Victoria 33 years after Albert's death.

A semi-mourning dress worn by Queen Victoria 33 years after Albert’s death. Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In the Victorian era, “even the really small details of a dress indicating what stage of mourning you’re in became really important,” Strassdin explained. It showed wealth and status as being able to afford an entire mourning cupboard, as well as being able to understand all the rules of society.

According to Strasdin, for a year and a day, widows were expected to wear full mourning dress, known as “widow’s weeds”, consisting of matte black crepe fabric. As one’s grief faded, colors and other fabrics could slowly be reintroduced. Finally, for the last six months of a two-and-a-half-year period, “half mourning” robes could be worn in shades of white, brown, pale yellow, or lilac or lavender. Sometimes they were a vibrant purple – the exhibition “Death Becomes Her” displayed a gown of wool twill and silk velvet, with bold shoulders, black trim, and intricate white and gold detailing.

Although it was customary to return to the normal wardrobe after years of grief, Queen Victoria wore black mourning clothes for the rest of her life. As “Death Bex Her” showed, one of Victoria’s dresses from 1894—33 years after Albert’s death—was a sad black crepe gown with a simple trim.

The stages of grief were indicated by clothing choice, color, and ornamentation.  Queen Alexandra deliberately loosened the rigid code for mourning dress under Victoria.

The stages of grief were indicated by clothing choice, color, and ornamentation. Queen Alexandra deliberately loosened the rigid code for mourning dress under Victoria. Credit: Timothy A. CLARIE / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

Victoria’s Eternal Show of Sorrow was unpopular with her subjects because it encouraged a more rigid dress code, Strassdin notes. His daughter-in-law, Queen Alexandra, marked a change when restrictions were eased when Queen Victoria passed away and her own eldest son died. Alexandra opted for a gleaming semi-mourning gown of mauve silk chiffon and sequins, as well as pale yellow and brown gowns.

“She knew the public was really struggling with Victoria’s constant mourning,” Strassdin said. “So Queen Alexandra adopted half mourning for the rest of her life, because she knew that going into full mourning would not really be a popular public choice.”

Over the decades, wardrobe traditions that were impractical as long mourning went out of style, but Victoria’s influence is still present in the modern royal mourning period, from harsh colors to strict adherence to dress codes. “Despite the changes, I think the 19th century is still big,” Strassdin said.

Top Image Caption: The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince William, Earl Spencer, Prince Harry and Prince Charles walk outside Westminster Abbey during the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales on September 6, 1997.

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