The practice of the levée was considered to be both sacred and powerful. This daily routine, which originated in France and was later adopted by King Charles II of England in 1672, started as the holy dressing of the monarch. Individuals who the King wanted to speak with or address were invited to be a part of the process which involved carefully and slowly dressing the King. This time allowed those individuals great, unadulterated access to the monarch – a time when the King wasn’t being distracted by anyone or anything.
What might seem odd to us as mere commoners who dress ourselves, being invited to take part in the levée was considered a high honor. Disputes would be resolved. Requests would be granted. Not only that, but as part of the levée you would witness the monarch in his most bare state and, as we know, monarchs were considered to be God-ordained. In essence, you were able to witness God on earth behind all of the regalia and layers of power and wealth shown in the monarch’s clothing.
And while we may think of this as an ancient practice, consider this: Queen Elizabeth II has had Angela Kelly as her Senior Dresser since 2002, just short of 20 years. Consider the incredible access that Ms. Kelly has to the Queen during this time. The conversations that they must have, the friendship that has been born, and the incredible mutual trust since QEII granted Ms. Kelly permission to write her book The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, the Dresser, and the Wardrobe. Similarly, the Duchess of Cambridge has worked with her own stylist Ms. Natasha Archer since approximately 2007.
The dressing of the monarch and other members of the royal family is much different today, though. While the levées of the past offered the opportunities for personal and political gain, the dressing of today offers the chance to make history with diplomatic dressing. Diplomatic dressing considers the time and the place of an event when making fashion choices for our royal ladies and can even be dated back to Queen Victoria who made it a point to support English fashion houses, lace makers, and silks in her dresses.
The Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex have both been known to be incredibly keen with their diplomatic fashion. Take the Duchess of Cambridge’s most recent tour to Pakistan where she donned a traditional shalwar kameez by her trusty designer Catherine Walker while pairing it with a Pakistani-designed clutch by Zeen.
Or consider the Duchess of Sussex’s Mayamiko black and white printed wrap dress from Malawi that she wore on the first day of the South Africa tour. In this look and more, the Duchess of Sussex is careful to choose ethically sourced and created brands when she steps out on royal engagements.
While the practice of dressing the royal family has morphed considerably over the centuries, it is still one that is very careful and considerate as royal dress is observed and scrutinized all over the world. It makes me wonder what I would choose to focus on if I were a royal dresser – materials? labels? country colors? sustainable practices? There is quite a bit to consider on top of ensuring the intimate relationship you must have with the duchess, princess or monarch.