This is an excerpt from The Royal Tea, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about the British royal family, featuring royal news and analysis, served piping hot. You can sign up here.
Welcome, dear readers, to the first regularly scheduled edition of The Royal Tea.
This is where, once a month, I’ll be taking a closer look at the British royal family and writing on more than just the latest royal news. This will be the place for analysis, history, interviews, deep dives, and much more.
And with that, let us begin on a colorful (and, with luck, noncontroversial) note.
With the exception of Her Majesty the Queen, the stars of the Platinum Jubilee Central Weekend were undoubtedly the Cambridge children. Prince George, 8, Princess Charlotte, 7, and Prince Louis, 4, were in attendance at almost every big event, and the two oldest kids even accompanied their parents to Wales for an official engagement.
Whenever the Cambridge children appear in public, one topic inevitably is brought up for debate on social media — their wardrobes, which many have found to be overly formal and too old fashioned. This has been the case since George’s very first appearances on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. One of the most viral tweets from Trooping the Colour 2015 was the observation that the little prince was “still being dressed like the ghost of a boy who died in the Blitz.” In some cases, this old-fashionedness has been explicit; for example, on many important royal occasions George and Louis have worn their father’s old clothing — or outfits remarkably similar to something William or his brother Prince Harry wore as children.
But why? I decided to go back through the royal photographic archives and attempt to find an answer to that question. (I didn’t want to overwhelm this newsletter with images, so I made a companion photo post.)
Before we get started, I want to note that, despite the occasional outfit repeat, formal/old-fashioned clothing isn’t simply a “royal thing.” It’s a deliberate decision by the Cambridge parents. Young princes William and Harry were often photographed in more casual, so-called normal clothing, the likes of which we’ve never seen publicly on George, Charlotte, or Louis.
If you look at the photos of the Cambridge children dating back to George’s birth in 2013, a “royal uniform” of sorts begins to emerge.
When the Cambridge kids are seen by the public, they’re almost always dressed in blue.
For the boys, it’s collared, mostly patterned shirts, sweaters, shorts, and knee socks.
You’ll see all of the Cambridge kids in polo shirts way more than t-shirts.
Outfits from the past — or near-perfect replicas — are seen.
The boys repeat outfits worn by their father, and even at times, replicate their Uncle Harry's looks.
For Charlotte? Well, although you do see the odd set of pants or overalls, for the most part it’s dresses.
For a while there, it almost looked like she was wearing the same dress at every public appearance.
As a longtime royal reporter, I can think of one obvious reason for old-fashioned, color-coordinated, and repeated clothing: security.
Think about it. What image do you see in your head when you think about the Cambridge children? Old-fashioned shoes and knee socks, floral dresses, polo shirts, and now, for George, suits. Not exactly the sort of thing a child would wear on a playground or a trip to the grocery store with their parents. The Cambridges have been ferocious in guarding their children’s privacy. But, every so often, paparazzi photos emerge online that were clearly taken in what the Cambridge family believed was a private moment. In these images, the little princes and princess are dressed “normally,” in casual t-shirts, shorts, and, in one case, a soccer/football uniform.
But beyond practical reasons, there appears to be a deliberate sartorial strategy at work here. What might it be? To answer this, I talked to Susan Kelley, the royal fashion chronicler behind the websites What Kate Wore and What Kate’s Kids Wore. These websites have been cited in news outlets around the world for their ability to identify royal clothing quickly.
One of the first things Kelley noted in the interview was the Cambridges’ preference for the color blue. “It’s the color that reads easiest for people,” she said. “It’s the most favorable to the eye. I learned that working on television sets and with graphic designers.” (Note: Kelley is correct; you can read more about the use of blue in television here and here.)
“Both Kate and William are savvy and sensitive to the media,” she said. “It’s very smart to have [the children] repeat outfits and wear the same things [and focus on] simple, solid-color basics. ... You don’t want what they’re wearing to be distracting from the moment, but what they wear is going to be important — and it needs to be appropriate.”
Kelley noted the importance of the traditional shots of the royal family on the Buckingham Palace balcony and how those occasions are when you tend to see old outfits again. “I think part of the rationale behind that is the continuity of the monarchy and the future kings,” she said. “It speaks to tradition, it speaks to frugality, and it speaks to the sentimental love from people who have been fond of William and Harry since they were children and watched them grow up.”
As for the clothing itself, Kelley said that, based on her longtime observations, “Kate tries to keep things ‘noncommercial,’ understated, and traditional.” She noted the many hand-me-downs in the family, such as a blue sweater that was seen first on George, and then twice on Charlotte. “Lots of heritage brands, British brands, all-natural fibers... styles that are made by hand by small businesses or independent seamstresses.”
“[A royal uniform] makes life simpler,” she said, noting that “a fundamental set of guidelines” makes it easier and less time-consuming to pick outfits to be worn at high-profile public events.
Kelley also noted that having a specific style of outfit helps impress upon the children the realities of being a member of the royal family. “It [creates] that early understanding, if you will, that there will be certain times when you dress up,” she said. “This is not playtime. You’re in a family that has obligations to the public; when we meet those obligations, out of respect, we dress up. It’s the laying of the groundwork.”
“I think the Cambridges fully understand the power of the photograph, the capturing of a moment in time,” she said. “It’s not just for today’s taxpayers in the UK, it’s for the future. It’s the responsibilities that lay ahead of them. Knowing that these photographs will presumably be looked at for generations to come.”
What do you think, dear readers? How do you feel about the Cambridge children’s old-fashioned style? Do you think that there’s meaning to be found in what we see them wearing? Do you find George and Louis wearing William and Harry’s old outfits to be endearing, or a little too cutesy? Let me know, and your response could be featured in the next edition of The Royal Tea.
On that note, if there’s interest, I’d like for these monthly newsletters to have a section where readers can respond or ask questions. You can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And with that, we’ve reached the end of this inaugural royal dispatch. I hope you enjoyed it and I’m eager for your feedback.
I remain, as always, your faithful royal correspondent,