The royal traditions on mourning dress explained

·2-min read
Photo credit: GARETH CATTERMOLE - Getty Images
Photo credit: GARETH CATTERMOLE - Getty Images

Today, the world bid farewell to Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in British history. At Westminster Abbey, members of her family gathered to pay their last respects. As with any funeral, a black and sombre dress code was adhered to, though the royal family also has its own specific codes for moments of great solemnity.

Members of the royal family with military titles will be expected to wear ceremonial military attire. King Charles wore full day ceremonial uniform with medals, including the red velvet and gold Field Marshal Baton that the Queen presented to him in 2012, when he earned that designation. Prince Edward, Princess Anne and Prince William all wore military uniforms and medals. Prince Andrew and Harry, no longer official working royals, wore civilian attire – a black tie with black morning coat – though they did wear medals.

Photo credit: Chris Jackson - Getty Images
Photo credit: Chris Jackson - Getty Images

For female members of the royal family, tradition prescribes the wearing of black, with a black hat with a veil. Today, Camilla the Queen Consort; Catherine, the Princess of Wales; Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex; and Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, all committed to this code, as did Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie. Even the young Princess Charlotte wore a black hat.

Photo credit: GARETH CATTERMOLE - Getty Images
Photo credit: GARETH CATTERMOLE - Getty Images

The wearing of a veil is a singular royal mourning tradition. The latticed veils are a modern day interpretation of this code. When the Queen, her mother and sister attended her father's funeral in February 1952, the veils were long and opaque.

Photo credit: E. Round - Getty Images
Photo credit: E. Round - Getty Images

Though we steadfastly associate black with mourning, the wearing of black only became a standardised code of grief in the 19th century. Previously, a tradition of 'white mourning' had lingered among the royal family, established by Mary Queen of Scots who wore white to symbolise the loss of members of her family in the late 16th century. The Queen Mother herself adhered to this ancient uniform as late as 1938, at the funeral of her own mother, the Queen's grandmother.

Photo credit: TOLGA AKMEN/EPA-EFE - Shutterstock
Photo credit: TOLGA AKMEN/EPA-EFE - Shutterstock

Black mourning dress was formally established by Queen Victoria, often referred to as 'the perpetual widow' who famously remained dressed in black from the death of her cherished husband Prince Albert in 1861 until her own death in 1901. She also began a tradition of wearing pearls - the only jewellery she would permit herself to wear during this period- as they symbolise grief and tears.

The tradition has been continued to this day. To the funeral, several members of the Queen's family wore pearls, from Catherine, the Princess of Wales and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Zara Tindall, the Queen's granddaughter. Many of these were pieces given to them by the Queen herself. A public and yet intimate tribute.

Photo credit: Samir Hussein - Getty Images
Photo credit: Samir Hussein - Getty Images

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