How the royals do gala style now – from Sophie Wessex to Queen Letizia

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royal ball - Getty Images
royal ball - Getty Images

Party season is officially underway and the world’s royals have wasted no time in showing us what black tie dressing looks like in 2021. On Wednesday evening Queen Letizia of Spain attended a State dinner in Stockholm. Meanwhile in London, the Duchess of Cornwall and Countess of Wessex were at the Rifles Awards.

It was the Duchess of Cambridge who really got the ball rolling last week though, when she arrived for the Royal Variety Performance at the Royal Albert Hall, dripping in emerald green Jenny Packham sequins - a re-wear, naturally, for bonus sustainability points. That appearance was swiftly followed by the Monegasque royals, who were out in Chanel-clad force for Monaco’s National Day.

These queens, princesses and duchesses, who attend countless formal events in any given year, have an innate understanding of what is required when dressing for a black tie affair - and as most of us haven’t had a chance to don our finery in at least two years, we could use their help more than ever.

Here are the tips to try, if you’re off to a formal event this festive season...

Shop on the high street

For a state dinner with the Swedish royal family on Wednesday night, Queen Letizia of Spain wore a £229 navy ballgown made from tulle and recycled polyester by H&M. Her choice proves that it’s not only possible to find desirable formalwear on the high street, it’s a savvy diplomatic move too: in wearing H&M she is presenting herself as accessible, a woman of the people who shops at H&M like you and I. She is also paying homage to her hosts by wearing a Swedish brand.

It helps if you have access to a vault’s worth of diamonds to amp up a high street look, which of course, Letizia does. She teamed the dress with Queen Ena’s Fleur de Lys Tiara, diamond earrings and two diamond cuffs, as well as a clutch by Magrit, a gold Karen Hallam ring and The Order of the Seraphim sash.

For anyone at home without a tiara to dust off, though, bringing your own statement jewellery pieces out of the box would have a similarly elevating effect.

Wear something old

The Countess of Wessex on Wednesday and the Duchess of Cambridge last week, both wearing wardrobe repeats - Getty Images
The Countess of Wessex on Wednesday and the Duchess of Cambridge last week, both wearing wardrobe repeats - Getty Images

From the Queen to Princess Anne, the British royals have always been good at wearing and re-wearing much-loved pieces from their wardrobes. Now though, the general shift towards sustainability in fashion means it’s never been more au courant to say, ‘this old thing’.

Take the Countess of Wessex on Wednesday night: she wore a turquoise blue Emilia Wickstead gown for the Rifles Awards dinner, which we last saw her wear in October 2018 for the Dutch State visit to the UK. She teamed it with an unlikely accessory, too: a sequinned make-up bag that came with the Nars cosmetics Studio 54-themed holiday collection in 2019.

The Duchess of Cambridge is a keen re-wearer too. On Thursday last week, she attended the Royal Variety Performance in a green sequinned Jenny Packham gown last seen on her tour of Pakistan in 2019. She championed a high-low mix as well, teaming it with a pair of £115 Missoma earrings.

Embrace your natural hair

 Kate with her hair styled in curls at the Royal Variety Performance last week - Getty Images Europe
Kate with her hair styled in curls at the Royal Variety Performance last week - Getty Images Europe

On the subject of Kate… For decades, royal women have styled their hair in either a sleek up-do or in loose, bouncy waves for gala occasions. Kate broke free from those templates at the Royal Variety Performance last week when she stepped out with her hair styled in its natural curls, swept over one shoulder. It wasn’t a huge departure from the way she usually wears her hair, but it was an update that made her whole formal outfit look more modern - no new purchases required.

Consider winter white

Camilla and Queen Rania pictured in Jordan last week - Getty Images
Camilla and Queen Rania pictured in Jordan last week - Getty Images

No, it’s not the easiest hue to wear, but a white gown always makes an impact - just ask Queen Rania of Jordan, who wore a white and gold gown for a State dinner in honour of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall’s visit last week. The previous evening, Camilla had worn white too, a floaty creation by one of her favourite designers, Anna Valentine.

Of course a Jordanian winter is going to be far more mild than the temperatures we’re used to in the UK, but if you needed evidence that white can work in cooler climes, look to Princess Sofia of Sweden, who wore a white gown by Safiyaa in Stockholm on Wednesday. The tailored shape and long sleeves made it more seasonally appropriate, while the shoulder ruffle kept it from looking bridal.

Florals are not just for spring

It’s hard not to think of Meryl Streep as magazine editor Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada on this subject, and her withering delivery of the like: ‘Florals for spring? Groundbreaking.’

Florals for winter, on the other hand, look fresh and interesting. To get it right in this context, the dress should be unquestionable evening attire, like Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden’s Frida Jonsvens couture gown on Wednesday, which featured colourful blooms embroidered onto layers of delicate blush tulle. This is no repurposed summer frock (although it is a repeat outing): the full skirt, deep V-neckline and sheer sleeves all contributed to making it a black tie showstopper.

When it comes to accessories, more is more

We don’t all have a royal jewellery collection at our disposal, but that doesn’t mean we can’t borrow from the royals’ more-is-more attitude when dressing up. Their diamonds can be traded for shimmering crystal drop earrings and their tiaras for bead-embellished silk or velvet headbands. It’s an easy way to take your festive party look into black tie territory.

You can’t go wrong with a classic black dress

Princess Caroline and her daughter Charlotte Casiraghi in Chanel last Friday - Corbis Entertainment
Princess Caroline and her daughter Charlotte Casiraghi in Chanel last Friday - Corbis Entertainment

If in doubt, wear a black dress for your black tie bash. It always looks smart and occasion appropriate, plus it’s easy to transform for different events by varying your accessories. Camilla proved this in a black gown with emerald and diamond jewellery at the Rifles Awards dinner, while Princess Caroline and her daughter Charlotte Casiraghi both looked effortlessly elegant in Chanel at the weekend.

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