Of Cashmere and Kings – Royal influence on fashion

Even in the early days of the 21st Century, the Royals have a considerable influence on the fashion world.  From state occasions to casual photoshoots, it’s hard to think of a group of individuals who have had such a profound influence on the way we dress.  Has it always been this way?


The influence of royalty on fashion is the stuff of tales and legends.


Hans Christian Anderson gently mocked the practice in his short story, The Emperor’s New Clothes, in which two cunning weavers convince the monarch that his new, and in reality non-existent, suit of clothes could only be seen by his smarter and more sophisticated subjects.

The Norman Conquest, for probably the first time but by no means the last, saw French fashion ideas become pre-eminent

Mantles and tunics, for both men and women became closer fitting with broader, long flowing cuffs.  Lower necklines and curvaceous silhouettes were suddenly in! 


Instead of woollen socks, popular with the Anglo Saxons, the Normans introduced a fashion for bound cotton leggings and leather shoes.

Ordinary citizens could never aspire to dress exactly like their noble masters, and indeed were discouraged from doing so since dress was an indication of “station”.


Nonetheless, fashion has a habit of “trickling down” from on high.

The Anglo-Saxon habit of wearing hair long became less common as the more severe, militaristic crew cut became more common – even among the peasantry.


While the nobility had fur trimming on outer garments, the lower classes created a similar effect by using animal hides with the hair facing outwards.

Sometimes, royal fashion influence has been exerted quite accidentally

A good example is the tradition, still observed, of leaving the lowest button of a man’s waistcoat unfastened, said to have arisen from King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, being too rotund to fasten his own waistcoat properly.

Queen Victoria was, in the earlier years of her reign, at least, something of a fashion icon.

The fashion for hooped dresses, with the hoop latterly moving rearwards, is largely associated with Queen Victoria – although in reality it was Empress Eugenie of France who was, if you’ll pardon the pun, behind this particular fashion move.

Even in the twentieth century, the Royals were seen as trendsetters.

The Duke of Windsor had his ties specially made of thicker cloth, leading to a wider than normal knot. 

The Windsor tie knot wasn’t actually used by the eponymous Duke, but developed to allow “ordinary” ties to display a wider knot too.

What influences fashion in the 21st century?

Fashion trends are set as much by what celebrities wear as by what is worn on the catwalk at fashion shows.



The Elizabethan Sumptuary Laws specified that some items, such as ermine fur, could only be worn by royalty.  The penalty for breaking the Sumptuary Law ranged from a fine, through imprisonment, to death.


Royalty and nobility have traditionally emphasised their wealth and privilege by wearing rare and expensive fabrics.  As even once highly prized items like pure cashmere socks and silk hosiery have become more readily available, this level of everyday luxury is now available to everyone.


The Queen’s racing colours are a purple body with gold edging, scarlet sleeves and a black cap.


Elizabeth I had the pale complexion of many red-heads.  Elizabethan women sought to copy the “pale and interesting look” using methods ranging from keeping out of the sun to using patent concoctions to try to bleach the skin.




We all have our favourite clothes, including socks, and the Royals are no exception it seems.

Images from http://www.corgihosiery.co.uk/