Kate Middleton’s life sounds amazing, right? She has access to power and wealth the likes of which most people can only dream of. She has a healthy, growing family. And of course, when her husband Prince William is eventually crowned king, she’ll become his queen consort. But there are in fact some downsides to being a member of the royal family. And a strict set of rules – which Kate has to stick rigidly to – is one of them.
Marrying the heir to the throne is something that needs a lot of consideration. And Kate gave her relationship with William several years’ worth of that before she agreed to be his wife. The couple first began dating in 2003, but it wasn’t until 2010 that they got engaged. To commemorate the occasion, William presented Kate with a ring that had once belonged to his mother, Princess Diana.
The pair got married in April 2011 at Westminster Abbey in London. Their lavish wedding was the social event of the year and was watched by more than 300 million people worldwide. Moreover, Kate received her title on the morning of the ceremony, being made a duchess to William’s duke. That meant that she would be formally referred to as “Her Royal Highness” from then on.
Kate quickly became an icon for how royals should behave. She had three children with Prince William, and she handled her pregnancy complications amazingly well. She was also fashionable, friendly, and perhaps most importantly, scandal-free. And when it came to royal rules, she always seemed to follow them to the letter.
There’s a long list of protocols that every royal family member has to follow, and to the average person they might seem downright stifling. But to the royals, especially those who were born into the family and have never known anything else, they’re simply another part of life. The royal family is, in its own way, almost a business. And all businesses have codes of conduct for employees.
A lot of the rules are regarding appropriate dress. Royals need to dress modestly and be careful not to show too much skin, especially if the paparazzi are about. As a result, Kate’s skirts are always knee-length or longer. And if it ever looks like she has bare legs, she’s actually wearing nude pantyhose. Tights are an absolute must in front of the Queen.
The Queen also dictates a few more royal fashion rules, some of them harsher-sounding than others. None of the female royals (or the male ones for that matter) are ever likely to be snapped wearing colored nail polish, as the Queen reportedly considers it vulgar. She also hates wedge shoes, so Kate can’t wear them in front of her.
And then there’s the clutch! Kate always seems to be pictured with a clutch, and there are some very good reasons for this. Royals can only shake so many hands a day, and if they don’t want to shake any more they can simply hold their clutch with both hands, therefore rendering themselves unavailable to anyone approaching them.
What’s more, there’s another, naughtier reason why so many royal women carry clutches everywhere. And that is, if they do choose to wear a low-cut dress at any point, they can use the clutch to hide their cleavage if needs must. Princess Diana was famous for this. “We used to laugh when we designed what she called her ‘cleavage bags,’ little satin clutches which she would cover her cleavage with when she stepped out of cars,” her bag designer Anya Hindmarch told The Daily Telegraph in 2009.
Kate also usually wears a hat whenever she’s attending events, and the reason for that stretches back decades. Back in the 1950s it wasn’t thought seemly for upper-class ladies to display their hair in public. Of course, times have changed, but the hats remain. And Kate also needs to wear a tiara at royal dining events. In royal circles, you see, a tiara demonstrates that you are married.
Interestingly, there’s one particularly morbid rule concerning royal clothing that has been in place ever since the Queen took the throne. Whenever a royal goes aboard, they have to take an all-black outfit with them. Why? You guessed it: in case any other royal happens to die while they’re away! You see, if they have black clothes with them already, they’ll be appropriately dressed for their return to Britain.
It sounds almost ridiculous that someone needs to worry about what they’re wearing when a member of their family dies, but this was the problem that faced the Queen in 1952. While she was in Kenya her father passed away, making her the new monarch. But she felt she couldn’t face her public without wearing mourning clothes, and so had to wait for some to be delivered to her.
Having to adhere to such a dress code sounds difficult enough. But there are other rules which govern Kate’s life, too. For instance, she’s not supposed to show affection to her husband in public – even holding hands is more or less taboo. Why? Simply because the royal family consider themselves to be working when they’re out and about, and PDA isn’t very businesslike.
Selfies too are a long way from being businesslike, so you’re unlikely to catch Kate taking one. It does happen every now and again, but rather than her holding the camera, it’s usually an over-zealous fan. And autographed photos are most definitely out, for a more serious reason: the royals aren’t allowed to sign anything for fear someone could forge any of their signatures.
And even that’s not all! Royal family etiquette is vital. Kate is expected to curtsy to the Queen whenever the situation calls for it, and to Prince Charles and his wife as well. And officially, she also has to curtsy to the princesses who were born to that title, like Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, but only if William isn’t with her. If he is with her, they bow. Confusing? You bet.
Having a nice sit-down dinner with the family is also complicated. The royal family generally don’t eat shellfish, as there’s the possibility it could cause allergic reactions. The Queen hates garlic, so that’s out too. And drinking from a teacup ought to be done in a particular way – hold the top of the cup handle with your index finger and thumb, and put your middle finger on the bottom of it.
And finally there’s one of the most vital monarchical rules: royals don’t get involved in politics. They’re not allowed to state political opinions to the media; indeed, Kate may not even vote. According to Newsweek, although there are no strict rules governing whether a royal can vote, some or all choose not to.
Moreover, regardless of what Kate may think about a situation, she’s required to remain neutral. At no point was this clearer than when she attended the BAFTAs in February 2018. On the night, most actresses wore black in order to make a stand against sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry, which put Kate in a difficult position. She ended up wearing a green dress – but accessorized with a black ribbon belt and a black clutch. It was probably the best compromise she could have made.
And yet royal rules have actually been relaxed over the years. It used to be the case that fathers couldn’t be present in royal birthing rooms, but Prince William was present for the arrival of his children. Plus, Harry will be breaking royal tradition when he weds Meghan Markle. She’s divorced, and Harry’s ancestor King Edward had to give up the crown when he married a divorcee.
Kate will certainly be present for Harry and Meghan’s wedding. Rumor has it that she’ll wear something conservative for the service, in keeping with her position as a queen-consort-in-waiting. But she may not always stick with the same traditions. Who knows, when Kate actually becomes Queen, perhaps she’ll abolish some of the rules! We may see her with colored nail varnish yet.