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Why do royals always carry a black outfit?

Royals carrying a black outfit has been a long-standing tradition dating back centuries. Though the reasons have evolved over time, the practice continues today for members of royal families around the world.

The History Behind the Tradition

In the past, royals and aristocrats always traveled with a black ensemble in case of a sudden death in the family or court. Black clothing was a requirement for proper mourning etiquette. Royals needed to have the appropriate attire on hand in order to show respect for the deceased.

Queen Victoria instituted strict rules for mourning attire in the 1800s. When her beloved husband Prince Albert died suddenly in 1861 at age 42, Queen Victoria mourned his death for the next 40 years. She wore black clothing every day and expected her court to do the same.

Wearing black was a display of respect and status. Wealthy individuals could afford to have entirely separate mourning wardrobes. Dying fabrics and clothing black was expensive. Wearing black signified you had the means to honor the prescribed mourning rituals.

Modern Reasons for Carrying a Black Outfit

Today, members of royal families still pack a black ensemble when traveling or attending events, but the reasons have shifted. Some of the motivations behind this tradition include:

  • Being prepared for unforeseen deaths or funerals
  • Showing respect for host countries mourning leaders
  • Honoring solemn events or memorial services while traveling
  • Maintaining a dignified appearance
  • Upholding tradition

Royal family members never want to be caught off guard and forced to attend a funeral or memorial service wearing bright, festive colors. Having a black outfit available ensures they will be dressed appropriately.

When meeting leaders in other nations, royals want to adhere to local customs. If the country happens to be in a designated mourning period, royals need to dress accordingly out of diplomacy and respect.

Royal trips often involve attending somber events or memorials. Carrying black clothing guarantees the men and women of the royal family will look dignified and not detract from the solemnity.

In general, black clothing projects poise and self-control – traits expected of royalty representing their nation.

Finally, royals continue bringing black ensembles when traveling simply because it is tradition. Following protocol and preserving custom remains important in the royal families of Europe.

Notable Examples

We can see this tradition in action through photos of royal family members over the past decades.

In 1952, then Princess Elizabeth was traveling in Kenya when she learned her father King George VI had passed away. For her trip back, she carried a black mourning ensemble that would be appropriate as she took the throne as Queen.

During a 1985 tour of Italy, Princess Diana made sure she had black attire for visiting a war cemetery. She arrived dressed elegantly in black with a matching hat.

Queen Elizabeth kept a black bag and coat ready for Nelson Mandela’s funeral in 2013. She also brought black to memorial services held for victims of the 9/11 attacks while visiting the United States in 2010.

The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, has been photographed arriving in black ensembles. This includes flying to Denmark in 2011 after Prince Phillip was hospitalized.

Meghan Markle wore black during her first overseas tour with Prince Harry in 2018, keeping a dark formal dress handy for any occasions that called for it.

What’s in a Royal’s Black Travel Ensemble?

The specific contents of a working royal’s black travel ensemble depend on the individual’s taste. However, the outfits tend to include:

  • A black dress or formal coat dress for women
  • An elegant black cocktail hat or fascinator
  • Black pumps and nylons
  • Simple black purse
  • Pearl or diamond jewelry
  • A black suit for men
  • Black dress shoes for men
  • White dress shirt for men
  • Black tie

Royals aim for versatile pieces in high-quality fabrics like wool crepe that will transition well from day to night. The ensembles are simple, somber, and evoke timeless elegance.

Where Does the Black Ensemble Stay?

According to royal insiders, the black outfits aren’t actually packed in suitcases. To avoid wrinkles, the ensembles travel separately and are ironed upon arrival. The clothing may be stored in the plane or driven ahead to the destination.

Some royals do pack a small black leather clutch or handbag they can pair with the mourning attire if needed. But the majority of the black ensemble arrives fresh and ready for use.

Royal Family Mourning Rules

Beyond just having a black outfit on hand, royal families adhere to precise mourning protocols. While the traditions have relaxed over time, there are still expected procedures to follow after the death of a monarch or senior royal family member.

Here are some of the customary British royal mourning rules:

  • All family members wear black after the death of a senior royal, though the length varies.
  • Mourning bands are worn on the left arm. Mourning brooches for women feature black enamel.
  • No weddings or celebratory events are held during the mourning period.
  • British mourning protocol calls for no photographs or selfies at funerals.
  • Jewelry is kept simple while mourning, wearing mostly pearls and diamonds if anything.
  • Once the darkest mourning period ends, grey and lilac may be introduced.
  • Women wear black veils when in deepest mourning.
  • Floral wreaths are sent to memorial services and gravesites.
  • The British government observes an official period of mourning with flags at half-mast.

Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III, Camilla, and the rest of the British royal family adhered to a 10-day mourning period. They dressed somberly in all black as a sign of respect.

How Long is the Mourning Period?

The prescribed mourning period has shortened over the generations. Here is a look at expected British royal mourning timelines:

After a monarch’s death:

  • 10 days of official mourning
  • 30 days for family mourning

After the death of other senior royals like a spouse:

  • 8 days of official mourning
  • 30 days for family mourning

Periods of royal mourning used to last much longer. Mourning for Queen Victoria went on for over 3 years in keeping with her wishes. Queen Elizabeth II mourned her husband Prince Phillip for 8 days officially, but dressed in black for several more months.

Are There Other Color Options?

Over the last few decades, some modernization of royal mourning wear has crept in. The Queen sometimes chose tasteful shades like gray or lavender rather than solid black following the darkest periods of mourning.

At Prince Phillip’s funeral, Queen Elizabeth II strayed slightly from black by wearing a diamond brooch on her coat which had sentimental value from her wedding day.

The royal male dress code also allows more versatility. The Queen approved her grandson Prince Harry wearing a gray morning suit to Prince Phillip’s funeral instead of all black attire.

While the British royals aim for conservative, respectful mourning dress, they are beginning to grant small allowances in color and accessories.

Do Commoners Need to Wear Mourning Attire?

Average citizens are not required or expected to wear mourning dress after a royal death. However, many people choose to wear black or subdued colors when attending memorial services as a sign of devotion and honor.

The British government does not mandate clothing for the public during royal mourning. Wearing black is optional for those wishing to show their sentiments.

People attending events where they may encounter the royal family tend to dress conservatively out of esteem. But for most day-to-day activities, citizens can dress as normal while still demonstrating respect in other ways.

How Else is Mourning Demonstrated?

Aside from clothing, the British public and government commemorate deceased royalty through:

  • Flying flags at half-mast
  • Observing moments of silence
  • Closing businesses and institutions on funeral days
  • Holding memorial services
  • Leaving flowers and condolence messages
  • Wearing black armbands

Queen Elizabeth II declared several official national days of mourning where people could pay respect without formal black attire expected.

Do All Royal Families Follow This Custom?

Most royal families around the world pack black attire when traveling and adhere to mourning protocols. But some relaxation of rules has occurred over time.

In general, the mourning traditions surrounding the British royal family remain the strictest and most formal.

Other European monarchies like those in Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands have similar practices to the British royals but have moderately relaxed their official mourning periods.

Some royal families in the Middle East also pack black ensembles out of custom and respect. However, the mourning rituals around attire vary across cultures.


Carrying black attire allows royals to properly honor solemn occasions and mourn losses. Though the old Victorian traditions have eased, packing a black ensemble remains an ingrained habit for royals when traveling.

Having the appropriate mourning wear on hand enables royal families to show dignity and preserve their legacy of protocol. While citizens are not required to wear black, following royal mourning customs allows the public to tangibly demonstrate their care and esteem.

In our age of constant change, this small act of perpetuating tradition keeps royals connected to heritage – and to the people they represent.