A white tie dress code doesn’t mandate that women wear alabaster gowns, but at Monday night’s state banquet, the Queen, the First Lady, Princess Anne, and the Duchesses of Cornwall and Cambridge were all outfitted in shades of cream.
Their color coordination was striking, but was it intentional?
It hardly seems like a coincidence, but given that neither the royal family nor the White House has officially commented on how these specific dresses were selected, it’s difficult to say for certain why everyone was wearing white.
What we do know is that the sartorial choice was not a requirement.
At a state occasion such as a banquet, “there are no colour requirements for women, and ladies have indeed worn all sorts of bright and muted colours,” writes Isabella Coraça, an assistant curator at Historic Royal Palaces of the royals’ ensembles, in an email to Town Country.
“Her Majesty the Queen usually favours white, but not as a rule. Similarly, there are no requirements for attendees to coordinate their outfits.
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“The Queen and the Duchess of Cornwall more often than not wear white for a state banquet, which works best with sashes and jewels,” observed Joe Little, the managing editor of Majesty Magazine, on Twitter.
“There are no hard and fast rules.
— Majesty/Joe Little (@MajestyMagazine) June 3, 2019
It makes sense that the Duchess of Cambridge would want to show off her new order against a blank canvas, but even when considering the sash, wearing white is not compulsory. For example, Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, paired the symbol of the Royal Victorian Order with a pale blue gown on Monday night.
From the shirtdress printed with British landmarks, including Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, that Melania wore to depart for Britain, to the careful parade of well-tailored silhouettes and hats in a mix of British, American, and European designers, her choices have been a scrupulous example of sartorial diplomacy.
In the past, Mrs.
Trump’s clothing choices have caused controversy, a pattern she did not seem to want to repeat this time around. She would likely have consulted with the State Department’s Office of Protocol before selecting her clothes for the trip.
“The office carefully..
. prepare our President and first lady (and delegation) [for] what is expected all before the moment the door of Air Force One opens in England,” Pamela Eyring, the president of the Protocol School of Washington, shared in a recent interview with CNN.
“This will include cultural customs and courtesies of the UK, arrival, motorcade route, security, media, weather, which could affect dress and attire at different events.”
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That preparation would surely have turned up the fact that the Queen frequently wears white to State Banquets and that first ladies have done so as well (Michelle Obama wore white in 2011, as did the Queen). Melania Trump would have known it was a safe—and respectful—option, one not likely to earn criticism.
In addition to making blue sashes and red rubies pop, white dresses at formal events have deep historical roots in the United Kingdom as a potent sign of status.
“Historically, courtiers would use dress as a means to show their social status and wealth.
White clothes, especially when made of fine materials such as silk and heavily decorated, were particularly useful for these means. White is not a very practical colour—it stains easily and shows even the smallest imperfections,” explains Coraça.
“That meant, its wearer did not have to carry manual labour and could afford to have different clothes for different activities. We have to remember that before the industrial revolutions, textiles were extremely expensive.
So much so that in the 18th century, there were no invitation system at court; as long as you were dressed accordingly, you were let in.”