When Queen Elizabeth II passed away last Thursday, the United Kingdom immediately launched into an official mourning period that will last until one week following the monarch’s funeral on Monday, Sept. 19.
This is one of many traditions particular to the British nation which may seem excessive or odd to cavalier Americans, but which are deeply rooted in long-revered history. Another handful of these traditions concern appropriate mourning clothing worn by the rest of the royal family; these stringent protocols must be upheld, lest the queen’s offspring be accused of disrespecting the dead.
Like with many opaque royal edicts, rules concerning funerary dress aren’t necessarily written down anywhere; there’s no Intro to Royal Family Conduct handbook. Rather, these traditions have been established, reinforced and passed down over hundreds of years of hereditary succession, with notable episodes of breaking with the status quo: in 1938, the Queen Mother wore a resplendent white dress to her mother’s funeral to counter the ambient mood of impending war.
During the duration of the mourning period for Elizabeth II, during which multiple public events will be held in her honor, all working royals are required to wear military uniforms to these occasions, with a few exceptions. Princess Anne, who was with the queen as she died, has been looking notably resplendent in her military garb—in this case, a Royal Navy ceremonial uniform (she is an Admiral in the Navy)—and multiple medals.
Prince Andrew, the queen’s disgraced second son, will not wear a military uniform to all pre-funeral events except for one: the vigil at Westminster Hall. Andrew gets to do this, reportedly, to show special respect for his mother.
Andrew was stripped of all military titles in the wake of Jeffrey Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre’s allegations that the prince had sexually abused her when she was 17. The suit he will wear on Monday is also a symbol of shame.
Another royal family member who was stripped of all his military titles is Prince Harry, who was forced to part ways with them when he elected to step down from his role as a working member of the royal family in 2020.
Unlike Andrew, Harry has not been permitted to wear a military uniform to any ceremonial mourning events for Elizabeth II, Harper’s Bazaar reports. Prominent U.K. royal commentators have already jumped in to criticize the palace’s decision.
“It’s deplorable double standards here,” Shola Mos-Shogbamimu told Newsweek on Monday. “This is my point about the royal family being totally tone deaf and not reading the room as well as sending the wrong message. I’m thinking about Charles. Hasn’t he learned a thing or two about the backlash that the queen got about the way she protected Prince Andrew?”
Prince Harry, for his part, appears to be attempting to dispel the drama. “Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex will wear a morning suit throughout events honoring his grandmother,” his spokesperson said Tuesday. “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.”
New reports indicate that royal women will be wearing black hats with lace, net or tulle veils obscuring their faces, also in keeping with long-reinforced traditions, to the funeral on Monday. In terms of which designers Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, will call upon for dresses for the funeral, little is known.
As for the TV journalists tackling the queen’s death, mirroring anchors on the BBC and other British news outlets, American TV anchors like Norah O’Donnell of CBS and Savannah Guthrie of NBC have been wearing all black as well. The Daily Beast reached out to NBC and CBS for comment.
On Sunday, William, Catherine, Harry, and Meghan greeted mourning members of the public outside Windsor castle. The couples wore coordinating outfits: William and Harry both opted for dark navy blue suits, while Meghan and Catherine both wore black, fitted below-the-knee shift dresses with black stockings and black high heels. For the women, these outfits are in keeping with tenets of royal protocol: no revealing ensembles are allowed, and bare knees are strictly forbidden.
Sophie, Countess of Wessex, and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie were also spotted outside Balmoral in knee-length black ensembles.
Another rule, one that seems to have been cast aside, is that royal women were instructed never to wear black outside of funerals and mourning periods. Since Meghan, Catherine and indeed, Princess Diana have been photographed countless times wearing black evening dresses to non-funerary events, it’s likely this rule has informally expired.
The royal family’s strict adherence to appropriate funerary wear can also be prominently linked back to Queen Victoria, who wore black for the rest of her life, totaling 40 years, after husband Prince Albert died in 1861. That’s commitment to the bit.
As globally visible arbiters of appropriate conduct and decorum, it’s also long been mandated that members of the royal family must bring a black ensemble with them wherever they travel in the event of someone’s unexpected passing.
Lady Pamela Hicks, a lady-in-waiting to the late queen, recently revealed on a podcast that when Elizabeth’s father died suddenly while she was on a 1952 trip to Kenya, the future monarch had neglected to bring black clothing with her. As a result, Hicks said, Elizabeth II had to wait in her plane after it touched back down in the U.K. for a black outfit to be brought to her, so she wouldn’t be seen arriving in an inappropriate ensemble. “A black dress was quickly smuggled on board, because we didn’t have a black dress,” Hicks explained. “So she quickly had to change.”