The personal message behind the Queen’s state banquet tiara

The King and Queen pose with the Emperor and Empress of Japan before Tuesday's state banquet
The King and Queen pose with the Emperor and Empress of Japan before Tuesday's state banquet - Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA

The King and Queen welcomed Japan’s Emperor Naruhito and his wife Empress Masako in style for a state banquet at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday night.

With the Palace decked in peonies and sweet peas, guests including Sir Keir Starmer, Lord Cameron, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak filed in. The night’s dress code blended white tie with summer colour – a mix of ballgowns and kimonos.

The Empress wore a white lace floor-length gown with cropped sleeves. Akshata Murty wore a lemon silk dress with a floral print. A micro-trend of the evening was capes: Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, and Lady Starmer wore black and white cloaked dresses, respectively. Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh, stood out in an emerald gown from British label Suzannah with a cape-like chiffon train.

Guests included Sir Keir Starmer and his wife Lady Starmer, who wore a white cloaked dress
Guests included Sir Keir Starmer and his wife Lady Starmer, who wore a white cloaked dress
kemi
Also adopting the cape trend was Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary - AFP
The Duchess of Edinburgh wore an emerald green dress by Suzannah
The Duchess of Edinburgh wore an emerald green dress by Suzannah

But it was Queen Camilla’s look that was perhaps the most loaded with meaning – she honoured a now decades-old tradition of diplomatically nodding to her guests via her sartorial choices. She wore a white embroidered silk crepe gown by Fiona Clare, one of her go-to British couturiers and carried a silver clutch bag. She also wore the Burmese Ruby Tiara – a piece she has worn once before, in November 2023. The tiara has a beautiful and personal story; it was one of just two tiaras that Queen Elizabeth II designed for herself. In 1973, the late Queen commissioned Garrard to dismantle two wedding gifts she had received asking that they be turned into the one magnificent piece.

The Queen wore the Burmese Ruby Tiara, which was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth II
The Queen wore the Burmese Ruby Tiara, which was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth II

Choosing a tiara that, firstly, matches the colours of the Japanese flag, and secondly, which was a favourite of the late Queen, will have surely pleased tonight’s guests.

The state banquet was set to be the jewel in a tour that has taken the Emperor and Empress sightseeing visiting the Thames Barrier, paying respects to the late Queen Elizabeth II in St George’s Chapel, and on a trip back to Oxford University, where both studied.

Ahead of his visit, the Emperor had shared fond memories of his visits to the UK in the 1980s, including how he once had a barbecue with Queen Elizabeth II. He described being “welcomed with warmth [by the Queen and Prince Philip] as if I were their family member.”

The Queen and the Empress arrived together
The Queen and the Empress arrived together

Relations between the UK and Japan have throughout history been routinely underscored by diplomatic and fun royal fashion choices. The late Queen impressed on her visit to Tokyo in 1975, when she wore a turquoise Norman Hartnell dress embellished with a cherry blossom applique, and also a coat which matched the colours of the Japanese flag.

The late Queen wore a coat that matched the colours of the Japanese flag on her visit to Tokyo in 1975
The late Queen wore a coat that matched the colours of the Japanese flag on her visit to Tokyo in 1975 - Nik Wheeler/Corbis Historical

Her decision to wear a lilac suit for her arrival in the Japanese capital was considered particularly respectful and newsworthy at the time. The suit’s designer, Hardy Amies, recalled in his autobiography, Still Here, how the apparent diplomatic dressing strategy had happened. “‘Imperial colours,’ said the Japanese,’” he recalled, ‘“How flattering to us!’... I had no idea that mauve was an imperial colour, but I shouldn’t be surprised if the Queen had known.”

Princess Diana, meanwhile, made her own mark in 1986. She too used fashion as a communication tool and wore a red polka-dot dress to represent the country’s rising sun motif to attend a traditional tea ceremony at Nijo Castle, Kyoto, and added a peach kimono – much to the delight of her hosts and the waiting photographers.

Both the Queen and Empress Masako had worn white earlier in the day, too, sharing a carriage ride for a welcoming procession along The Mall.

Queen Camilla and Empress Masako of Japan complemented each other in white
The Queen and Empress Masako of Japan complemented each other in white on a carriage ride along The Mall earlier in the day - Getty

As per tradition, the hosts and the visitors exchanged gifts – the Queen was given a handbag made from Saga Nishiki brocade fabric. Something to bring out on the next state visit, certainly.