The Queen’s Funeral: Demystifying the Dress Code

Seventy years have passed since the last time a monarch was buried in the United Kingdom. And while the pomp and ceremony of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral may have many similarities to the 1952 memorial for her father, King George VI, it will also likely include several modern updates.

Queen Elizabeth is undoubtedly the monarch that brought Britain into the modern age over the course of her record-breaking reign, but she was also a staunch loyalist to royal tradition. The ceremony, which she herself had input in planning before her death, will likely reflect that ethos.

Over 2,000 guests are expected to attend the Queen’s funeral at Westminster Abbey, including a long list of foreign royals, politicians and other dignitaries, as well as every adult member of the extended royal family. The event will be the first state funeral held in the United Kingdom since Winston Churchill’s, who died in 1965.

When it comes to protocol around attire for the funeral, the same approach is expected. The service does bring an opportunity for royal fashion traditions, such as veils, that haven’t been seen in the decades since George VI’s funeral. The expectations around attire at the funeral have also led to heated discussions over who will be able to attend wearing military uniform.

“This is pretty formal,” Marlene Koenig, royal historian and author of the website Royal Musings, said. “This is the highest of the highest for a funeral.”

What to Wear

Much of the attire at the funeral will be just as you’d expect: Sombre, black dresses for women and men in suits. Of course, hats will be de rigueur for women. But the sort of eye-catching (even headline-making) fascinators that are standard at more celebratory events like royal weddings will be kept at home in favour of more subdued styles.

After Her Majesty’s death, British atelier and milliners prepared for the onsalught of orders. “We changed our shop over to only black hats in anticipation of the needs of our customers,” said Stephen Jones, a London-based milliner. “What I feel is most suitable is simplicity both in silhouette and in texture. Naturally a veil, also is part of mourning so many of our simple black hats were re-trimmed with short veils. I feel this is little to do with fashion and more about being respectful and appropriately dressed.”

Prominent royal women like Catherine, the Princess of Wales and Queen Consort Camilla have likely had their ensembles for this occasion prepared and sitting in their closets for months, if not years now. For Kate, as well as Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, whose clothes are the subject of endless chatter, they may choose to rewear a previously-worn outfit.

“They are fairly cognizant that their fashion is discussed and debated widely,” said royal historian Jessica Storoschuk of An Historian About Town. “We see them wearing repeats at events where they don’t want to draw attention from whatever is happening.”

Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret wear veils at the funeral of King George VI.

One of the biggest questions surrounding attire at the funeral is whether the senior female members of the royal family, such as the Queen Consort, the Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Sussex will wear full veils for the occasion.

Such headwear was a staple of royal funerals for decades, and Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, the Queen Mother and Queen Mary all wore them to King George VI’s funeral. However, when the Queen Mother died in 2002, veils were absent from her funeral. (A state funeral for a reigning monarch, however, is a more formal and significant occasion.)

It remains to be seen whether they’ll make a reappearance at Queen Elizabeth’s. While many royal fans hope so, as a sign of the opulence of the monarchy, King Charles may advise against the more antiquated accessory, particularly as he prepares to usher in an era of a “slimmed down” monarchy in order to justify the institution’s existence in today’s world.

“It’s such a unique opportunity to be reminded of the position that these people hold, because no one else is going around wearing a long formal black coat, diamond jewellery and this elaborate mourning veil,” said royal fashion expert Christine Ross. “We only see it once every few decades for the death of a monarch.”

The Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Sussex managed to find a middle ground during the service for the reception of the Queen’s coffin at Westminster Hall on Wednesday, where they wore less dramatic birdcage veils, a thin, transparent net veil that drapes over part of the face — a more contemporary, less dramatic take on the accessory. We may see a similar approach at the funeral.

“I would be very surprised in 2022 that these women will be veiled,” said Koenig. “I think we’ve moved beyond that.”

It’s near certain that attendees, particularly royal women, will honour the Queen in other ways through their accessory choices. Already, the Princess of Wales and Duchess of Sussex have worn pieces from the Queen’s jewellery collection during the mourning period.

Other guests without direct access to the Queen’s jewels may find their own ways to pay homage to Her Majesty.

“We’ll see a lot of pearls throughout the congregation at the funeral because the Queen was so fond of them,” said Ross, referencing the Queen’s signature three-strand pearl necklace, which it is speculated that the Princess of Wales wore on Tuesday to greet her coffin as it arrived at Buckingham Palace. “They’ve almost become synonymous with Queen Elizabeth.”

In Uniform

A point of contention that has emerged around the Queen’s funeral is which members of the royal family will be allowed to wear military uniform for the service.

Members of the royal family wear military uniform at the 2002 funeral of the Queen Mother.

In the UK, only active service members are permitted to wear their military uniforms. While royals like King Charles, the Prince of Wales, the Princess Royal and even lesser royals such as the Dukes of Kent and Gloucester are not active service members, they do hold honourary military titles, which grants them the same privilege.

The controversy that has emerged primarily surrounds whether Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, will be allowed to do the same. Harry served in the British army for a decade, even undertaking two tours in Afghanistan, one of the only living royals to face combat. (Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, also saw active combat in the Falkland Islands in the ‘80s, but will also wear a suit to the funeral as he stepped back from royal duties at the end of 2019 following the fallout over his links to Jeffrey Epstein and allegations of sexual misconduct).

A spokesperson for the Duke of Sussex put out a statement confirming that Prince Harry would wear a suit at the funeral, putting a stop to speculation. “His decade of military service is not determined by the uniform he wears, and we respectfully ask that focus remain on the life and legacy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,” the spokesperson said.

However, it was later revealed that Prince Harry would wear his military uniform for a vigil at Westminster Hall on Sunday that all eight of the Queen’s grandchildren would hold. At a vigil held by the Queen’s four children on Friday, Prince Andrew was also allowed to wear his uniform. Permission to do so would have been granted to both by King Charles.

“Formally, if you’re no longer in the military, you’re not allowed to wear a uniform anymore,” said Koenig. “It’s up to the King.”

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