These Royal Family “Rules” Are Complete Myths
Are royals really forbidden to shut car doors on their own? And does the Queen consider wedge heels an unforgivable fashion faux pas? Find out the truth behind these supposedly scandalous breaches of royal etiquette.
When it comes to the royal family, there is one rule that must never be broken: no matter how close they are in line to the throne, each member of the family must always bow or curtsy to the Queen. But beyond that, there’s surprisingly little royal etiquette for the Windsor clan to follow. In fact, most of the rules you’ve probably heard of—likely reported as scandals in which Kate or Meghan allegedly broke “royal protocol”—are myths, manufactured by the media for the sake of a sensational headline. So let’s get to the truth behind these royal rules that apparently govern everything from their décolleté down to their toenails (literally).
Dark nail polish is frowned upon
Need proof that the British tabloids are hungry for royal gossip? If their headlines are anything to go by, the Duchess of Cambridge has sparked multiple royal scandals with her pedicures. On glam nights out, you will often spot Catherine with burgundy polish peeking out from her Jimmy Choos. While the Queen prefers to sport a pale shade of pink on her nails (Essie’s Ballet Slippers, if you’re wondering), Kate is not breaking any rules (or creating friction with Her Majesty) by opting for dark polish. “There is no actual protocol about dark nail polish,” says royal commentator Omid Scobie in Harper’s Bazaar.
Off-the-shoulder dresses are a no-no
Many of Princess Diana’s dresses made magazine covers back in the day, but there’s one in particular that achieved legendary status. In June 1994, on the same night Prince Charles’s tell-all interview confirming his affair with Camilla aired, Diana arrived at London’s Serpentine Gallery in what was hailed as “the Revenge Dress.” But did she actually flout protocol by wearing an off-she-shoulder number that showed a hint of cleavage? No way, says royal commentator Victoria Arbiter. “There are no set rules, other than being dressed appropriately for the occasion,” Arbiter explains, noting that when Meghan set the world aflutter by wearing an off-the-shoulder outfit to Trooping the Colour in 2018 (above), it was similarly a non-issue.
You must never close your own car door
A royal life comes with a lot of help, but sometimes you have to take things into your own hands, like Meghan did in September 2018, when she—gasp!—closed her own car door. Normally, a protection officer does this for the royals, but Meghan performed the simple act herself, causing the internet to combust in peak outrage at this perceived breach of protocol. In response, Arbiter tweeted:
Current state: Poking my own eyes out after reading Meghan “broke protocol” by shutting her car door. Car door shutting does not fall under protocol!
— Victoria Arbiter (@victoriaarbiter) September 25, 2018
Royals, they’re just like us—even when it comes to getting in and out of cars.
Never wear wedges in the Queen’s presence
The day after Kate got married, she left Buckingham Palace in a pair of wedge heels, to the alleged horror of the Queen. See, there’s rumoured to be an unspoken rule in the royal family that no one wears wedges around Her Majesty because she detests the style. Kate herself proved this to be false, however unwittingly. In 2019, while showing the Queen the garden she designed for the RHS Chelsea Garden Show, the Duchess wore a pair of her beloved wedges. By all accounts, Her Majesty was far more interested in the blooms than any bit of fashion Catherine was wearing. Long live the wedge!
Pantyhose are a necessity
When Meghan arrived at her engagement photocall with Prince Harry back on November 27, 2017, there was one accessory missing—pantyhose. Cue the media slating Meghan for disregarding royal protocol. “There are no rules for royal women regarding pantyhose,” notes royal expert Marlene Koenig in Harper’s Bazaar. “It is not required by any decree from the Queen.” The Duchess of Sussex tends to wear pantyhose around the Queen as a sign of respect, but otherwise she rocks bare legs.
Physical contact is to be limited
How does one interact with a member of the royal family? Well, there is supposedly a rule that you should never touch a royal, say with a handshake or hug, unless they initiate it. Except in 2009, when the Queen posed for photos with Barack and Michelle Obama, the First Lady snuck an arm around Her Majesty—and the Queen reciprocated! Did the Queen disobey her own rule? Her senior dresser (and close friend), Angela Kelly, says absolutely not. “It was a natural instinct for the Queen to show affection and respect for another great woman and really there is no protocol that must be adhered to,” Kelly explains in her book, The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, The Dresser and The Wardrobe. In fact, you’ll notice William, Kate, Harry and Meghan are an affectionate bunch, freely reciprocating hugs from well-wishers. So if you meet a royal, go in for that hug!
Next, find out 40 little-known facts about Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding.