When a member of the royal family steps out in public, their fashion choices are guaranteed to make headlines...but sometimes for the wrong reasons. (Even the Queen has experienced the occasional sartorial misstep!) From revealing necklines to accidental faux pas, we rounded up the most controversial royal fashion moments in history, ahead.
Princess Diana's "Revenge Dress," 1994
The recently-separated princess attended the Serpentine Gallery's Gala in London on the same night Prince Charles addressed the nation about his affair with Camilla. So she wore an off-the-shoulder little black dress, of course. Her look has gone down in history as one of her most blatant sartorial choices and is known as the "revenge dress."
Meghan Markle's Short Hemline, 2018
Meghan Markle shattered the unspoken above-the-knee hemline rule not long after becoming a royal. The tuxedo minidress she wore to a performance of Hamilton stirred up controversy, as people debated whether or not it was a breach of protocol.
Princess Diana's "Travolta" Dress, 1985
The velvet off-the-shoulder gown Princess Diana wore to a White House State Dinner in 1985 is one of the most iconic gowns worn by the royal. It was dubbed the "Travolta Dress" due to the heavily-circulated photo of Diana dancing with the movie star in it.
Kate Middleton's Breezy Skirt, 2011
The newlywed suffered a wardrobe malfunction during a breezy visit to the Calgary Airport. The skirt on her yellow Jenny Packham sundress kept blowing up, and the Queen was reportedly displeased with the incident, urging the Duchess to have curtain weights sewn into the seams of her dresses in the future.
Princess Diana's Headband, 1985
Princess Diana was a fashion risktaker. When she was loaned a diamond and emerald Garrard choker by the Queen (originally commissioned by Queen Mary in the 1920s), she turned it into a headband. The royal wowed fans at the gala she was attending in Melbourne, Australia, but we have to wonder what the Queen thought...
Meghan Markle's Wedding Tiara, 2018
Fans loved Meghan Markle's wedding look—from her Clare Waight Keller boatneck gown to her 16-foot-long veil with floral embroidery from all 53 commonwealth countries—but there was one point of contention leading up to her big day. Rumors circulated that Meghan was refused her first choice of wedding tiara. However, according to Finding Freedom, there wasn't a disagreement over the tiara. Instead, it was about the time it took to decide on the piece.
Princess Diana's Translucent Skirt, 1980
The then-girlfriend of Prince Charles, Lady Diana Spencer wore a modest mid-calf skirt when she was photographed at the preschool she taught at in 1980. Unfortunately, the sun made it appear translucent. Critics were quick to point out that it was inappropriate to show the outline of her legs and the photograph has now become iconic.
Queen Elizabeth's Expensive Wedding Dress, 1947
When Queen Elizabeth married Prince Philip in 1947, it was only two years after World War II and the country was still on war rations. The extravagant fabric for her dress was paid for with ration coupons the princess saved up herself, plus an additional 200 rations she was granted. Some citizens tried to contribute to the gown by sending in their own rations, but it was illegal to transfer coupons, so they were returned to the senders.
Kate Middleton's Black Dress, 2017
Kate Middleton looked chic at the British Embassy in Paris in a black tweed dress, but some thought it was odd the Duchess wore black. Royals typically reserve the color for periods of mourning and somber occasions, such as Remembrance Day.
Princess Diana's Black Sheep Sweater, 1983
People think the princess's black sheep sweater was a signal that she felt like she didn't fit in with the royal family. "I don't think many people would want me to be queen, and when I say many people, I mean the establishment that I'm married into," Princess Diana said in a 1995 interview.
Meghan Markle's Commonwealth Dress, 2020
Meghan Markle looked flawless at the Commonwealth Day service in an emerald cape dress by Emilia Wickstead. However, the look was seen as a bittersweet parting gift from the Duchess who, alongside her husband Prince Harry, was carrying out one of her final duties as a working royal.
Princess Diana's Casual Polo Outfit, 1988
Princess Diana turned heads when she wore jeans, cowboy boots, a sweatshirt, and a blazer to the Guards Polo Club. The look has since been heralded as iconic, but at the time it was so casual it was scandalous.
Kate Middleton's Wedges, 2011
The Queen is known to detest wedges, which is why Kate Middleton only wears them when she isn't going to see the monarch. "The Queen isn't a fan of wedged shoes," a royal source told Vanity Fair. "She really doesn't like them and it's well known among the women in the family." Whenever the Duchess wears them, there is often a host of comments about royal protocol.
Princess Diana's Met Gala Dress, 1996
Princess Diana's fashion choices became bolder after she divorced Prince Charles. Case in point: The satin and lace Dior slip dress she wore to the 1996 Met Gala. Diana reportedly almost didn't wear the design so she wouldn't offend her son, Prince William. Thankfully for us, and the rest of the fashion world, she did.
Kate Middleton's Bare Midriff, 2013
Kate Middleton proved that even a potential royal faux pas won't get in the way of her competitive side, when she inadvertently flashed the cameras her bare midriff while spiking a volleyball during a royal engagement. The incident sparked worldwide news coverage when the Duchess, and new mom to three-month-old Prince George, revealed her rock-hard abs.
Princess Diana's Wrinkled Wedding Dress, 1981
Princess Diana's wedding dress was the epitome of '80s bridal fashion. But the David and Elizabeth Emanuel dress wasn't without criticism. Some believed the lengthy 25-foot-long train was a tad over the top. Others pointed out the wrinkles on the taffeta gown caused by the carriage ride to St. Paul's Cathedral.
Kate Middleton's BAFTA Dress, 2018
When a pregnant Kate Middleton attended the BAFTAs in 2018, it was what she wasn't wearing that caused a stir. The event was part of Hollywood's #MeToo blackout awards season, where celebrities wore all black in support of the social movement. Since royals aren't supposed to express their political opinions, Kate was put in a difficult position. She wore a dark green Jenny Packham gown with a black sash in solidarity.
Kate Middleton's Fur-Lined Gloves, 2016
It was all fun and games on the Cambridge's winter vacation until Kate Middleton was called out by PETA UK for wearing fur-lined ski gloves. The animal rights group made a statement saying, "If the gloves are indeed made of real fur, we'll be contacting Kate, who we imagine is unaware that possums killed for their fur are often caught in bone-crushing steel-jaw traps." Yikes.
Princess Diana's Engagement Ring, 1981
Even though it's one of the most iconic engagement rings of all time (and now worn by Kate Middleton), Princess Diana's choice of the Ceylon sapphire sparkler was frowned upon by the palace at the time of her engagement. They felt that the ring was too accessible, as Diana selected it from a Garrards catalogue.
Kate Middleton's Designer Choice, 2019
The women of the royal family know what they wear has major influence over shoppers. That's why people were upset when Kate Middleton rocked a Dolce & Gabbana dress at Wimbledon in 2019. Sure, the dress was fitting for the occasion, but many criticized her for supporting a designer who was involved in a major scandal.
Princess Anne's Bold Pantsuit, 1973
Princess Anne is no stranger to taking fashion risks, but in the '70s it was unusual seeing a royal in such a daring ensemble like the light blue linen pantsuit she wore to the theater in 1973. Plus, Princess Anne paired the look with blue eyeshadow even though the palace has a natural makeup rule.
Meghan Markle's Short Hemline, 2019
Meghan Markle looked polished at a panel for International Women's Day in 2019 in a black and white patterned shift dress and a simple black blazer. Still, the public was upset over how high the hem came up on her knee and that she didn't wear tights to the event.
Kate Middleton's Postpartum Curls, 2015
When Kate Middleton and Prince William posed outside of the hospital with newborn daughter, Princess Charlotte, the Duchess looked flawless in a Jenny Packham white and yellow floral print shift dress and wedges. However, her perfectly-styled curls and full face of makeup was met with criticism, as people felt like it was an unrealistic look at postpartum life.
Meghan Markle's Bare Shoulders, 2018
When the Duchess of Sussex joined the royal family for the first time on the balcony of Buckingham Palace for the annual Trooping of the Colour, not everyone was thrilled with her blush Carolina Herrera ensemble. Many etiquette experts thought the royal should have chosen a more modest neckline for the traditional ceremony.
Princess Margaret's Penchant for Christian Dior, 1951
Princess Margaret made no secret of her love for Christian Dior's designs and the royal often attended his presentations in Paris. However, at the time, royals were expected to support British designers by wearing them exclusively—the princess, however, did not care.
Harry and Meghan's Barefoot Beach Walk, 2018
The pair made headlines when they appeared extra casual on Bondi Beach during their oceanic visit. They were compared to previous royals, who kept their sandy shoes on during beach visits, in an internet debate over royal protocol.
Kate Middleton's Regatta Shorts, 2019
Kate Middleton arrived at the King's Cup Regatta in 2019 ready to compete. The Duchess's short-shorts grabbed the attention of everyone—and we mean, everyone.
Princess Diana's Body Armor, 1997
It wasn't the outfit that caused controversy in Angola, but rather the body armor Princess Diana wore to demonstrate the dangerous landmines across the nation's countryside. Although the princess' work with The Halo Trust is now praised, at the time many criticized her for taking a political stance as a royal.
Kate Middleton's Duplicate Dress, 2019
When Kate Middleton stepped out at the Royal Portrait Gallery in 2019, the media praised her repeat ensemble, which she wore in a strapless style in 2017. But a few eagle-eyed fans pointed out the tailoring seemed different, and it was possible the Duchess had two of the same dresses in different styles. It was never confirmed, but it caused a flurry online.
Princess Eugenie and Beatrice's Wedding Outfits, 2011
Prince William's cousins were the breakout stars of his wedding, though they probably didn't want to be. The young royals were ruthlessly mocked by the internet for their over-the-top hats and were even a popular Halloween costume later that year.
Meghan Markle's Ripped Jeans, 2017
Before Meghan Markle was a royal, she wore ripped jeans and a Misha Nonoo "Husband" shirt to the Invictus Games with Prince Harry in 2017. The outing marked the couple's first public appearance together and showcased the power of "The Markle Sparkle," as the shirt promptly sold out.
Kate Middleton's Wedding Dress, 2011
No royal wedding wardrobe is scandal-free...even Kate Middleton's stunning Alexander McQueen dress by Sarah Burton. After the 2011 nuptials, a wedding dress designer claimed Burton knocked off their design and filed a lawsuit.
Princess Diana's Busty Ball Gown, 1981
During Princess Diana's first royal engagement with Prince Charles in 1981, the soon-to-be royal opted for a strapless black ruffled taffeta gown designed by her wedding dress designers, David and Elizabeth Emanuel. The media went crazy for the low-cut look and dubbed her "Daring Di."
Princess Michael of Kent's Racist Brooch, 2017
Rightfully so, Princess Michael of Kent received a lot of backlash for wearing a racist Blackamoor brooch to the palace's Christmas brunch in 2017. The piece of jewelry sparked controversy, especially since Prince Harry's biracial fiancée, Meghan Markle, attended the event.
Meghan Markle's Bare Legs, 2017
No one could deny the excitement between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle when they announced their engagement at Kensington Palace in 2017. You also can't deny that Meghan skipped the pantyhose protocol enforced by the palace.
Princess Diana's Deep V-Neck, 1995
Another post-separation look of Diana's was this Catherine Walker dress she wore to the Serpentine Gallery Gala in 1995. The daring dress—a combination of a short hem, deep v-neckline, and halter top—was certainly not palace-approved.
Stay In The Know
Marie Claire email subscribers get intel on fashion and beauty trends, hot-off-the-press celebrity news, and more. Sign up here.
17 Beauty Items French Women Always Use to Look Effortlessly Chic
Sponsor Content Created With Nordstrom
By Emma Walsh
Emily Ratajkowski Puts a—Dare I Say It?—Practical Spin on the Pantless Trend
It came down to her choice of comfortable footwear.
By Aaron Royce
Meet Sherri McMullen, the Oakland Boutique Owner Redefining Retail
From mentoring emerging brands to spotting the next big designer, we chat with the entrepreneur about everything from TikTok trends to the current state of the industry.
By Emma Childs
British Royal Lady Gabriella Windsor's Husband Has Died at 45
Lady Gabriella is King Charles' second cousin.
By Iris Goldsztajn
George, Charlotte and Louis Will Be Laden With Gifts as Prince William Returns From New York
He was handed so many souvenirs for the little ones.
By Iris Goldsztajn
Prince William Makes Sure to "Treat George and Charlotte as Equals," Body Language Expert Says
I should hope so!
By Iris Goldsztajn
Prince William Isn't "A Workaholic Like His Father," Royal Expert Claims
He's got more of a work-life balance.
By Iris Goldsztajn
Princess Kate's New "Signature" Gesture? The Stealthy "Bum Pat" to Prince William
Love this for her.
By Iris Goldsztajn
Prince Harry Says His "Spirit Is Renewed" as He Attends the Warrior Games for Wounded Service Members in San Diego
The Games inspired his Invictus concept.
By Iris Goldsztajn
Prince William Not Expected to Invite Prince Harry to His Coronation, Friend Claims
That doesn't sound good.
By Iris Goldsztajn
We Finally Know Where the Earthshot Prize 2023 Will Take Place
By Iris Goldsztajn