In the Netherlands it is better not to wear fur, in China white is the color of mourning and in a mosque the headscarf is a must for women. The Royals need to switch gears on the international stage to keep everyone friendly. In Rome, do as the Romans do! Josine Droogendijk of Modekoninginmaxima.nl explains how royal ladies prevent an uncomfortable fashion moment.
Text: Josine Droogendijk. This story has already appeared in Vorsten 13 of 2021 and has been adapted for online publication if necessary.
In many countries, it is customary for high-ranking guests to be received with traditional gifts: a feather cloak in New Zealand, for example, flower garlands in Nepal or a khata (ceremonial shawl) in Bhutan . Customers can also choose to refer to national clothes commonly worn in their attire. In the Netherlands, dress customs are fairly standard by international standards. You rarely see the King without a tie and the Queen invariably wears a hat on formal occasions. Customers can quite easily comply; it is not a national costume that lends itself to a fashionable gesture. Willem-Alexander would be surprised if the King of Sweden appeared in clogs or in a Staphorst costume.
Máxima winks at the saree
Take India for example, it’s a whole different story. The sari is the great pride of the country and few tourists leave without it. When the Dutch court gets the green light for a state visit in 2019, Máxima will know what to do: find the saris she bought during a previous state visit (2007). She entrusts the saris to Jan Taminiau, who transforms them into western evening dresses with a clear nod to the sari. The diplomatic gesture earned Máxima many compliments, both in the Netherlands and in India.
Diana and Catherine in Pakistan
One country where you can easily score points in terms of diplomatic attire is Pakistan. During Princess Diana’s visit in 1996, her wardrobe with long tunics and trousers (the so-called shalwar kameez), scarves and colorful embroidery is even described as “master fashion”. So the bar is set high when William and Catherine make a five-day visit to the same country in October 2019. The couple aren’t put off by this. With great enthusiasm, the Duchess conjures up one shalwar kameez after another and the prince wears a coat and knee-length trousers, a so-called sherwani, at the state dinner. To top it off, the prince’s gesture is executed in the national color of Pakistan: dark green. Talk about a fashion masterclass!
Good research is essential
But what not to wear? During visits to Indonesia, Máxima therefore leaves the so-called Borneo jewels at home. The yellow gold and diamond set was offered to Queen Wilhelmina by an Indian sultan during her investiture. They may seem appropriate to wear in Indonesia, but the jewelry also evokes memories of a colonial past. The choice of clothes and accessories during a visit abroad therefore requires customization, but the members of the royal family receive all the help for this. Long before a state visit begins, part of the court travels to the country in question for reconnaissance. Things like weather patterns, dress customs, and symbolism are all carefully noted. According to Rick Evers, author of Máxima. More than Majesty, sometimes someone Máxima’s height is arranged to check if the car is high enough to get out and in in style with a hat. Just think about it. During the preparations, an inventory is also made of which gifts will be offered. In 1964, for example, Juliana received a large feather hat as a gift during a state visit to Mexico. In this case, it is of course not so practical if you are already wearing a hat and saying “no” is also not the intention. Juliana therefore consciously wears nothing on her head during the handover.
Máxima and Beatrix visit the mosque
Despite careful preparations, things sometimes go wrong. Like in 2009, when Máxima neatly brought a black headscarf for a visit to the Sheikh Zayed bin Sulta Al-Nahayan Mosque in Abu Dhabi. During the drive from the car to the entrance, she already turns it on, but upon entering the building, the host has an annoying message for her. The scarf is not sufficient, it must be ‘fully covered’. In other words: completely covered. If Máxima hates anything, it’s a change of clothes on camera, but now she really has to believe it. As the cameras flash, she struggles in a abaya, a wide dress from neck to toe. This should never have happened and it is really due to incomplete preparation. A few years later, in 2012, the mosque is visited again. This time, the princess is already wearing the right clothes when she arrives. Queen Beatrix too, but she decided to add a personal touch. The result is a wonderful combination of hat and scarf. The comparison with the fairy Mooiweertje from the Disney cartoon sleeping Beauty is quickly done, but the queen’s special choice is of course correct. A diplomatic gesture only works if you don’t cross your own borders.
Who over the years has become the queen of diplomatic dress choices is of course the queen. If you read her dresser Angela Kelly’s books, you’ll come across the most beautiful examples. However, the preparations do not always go smoothly and Kelly does not hide it either. She writes in clear terms The other side of the coin about an incident in Vatican City in 2000. Well before the visit begins, Kelly learns what the Queen will be wearing (although she is not yet the one determining the wardrobe at this time- there). To his surprise, a bright pink coat is planned – for the papal audience. As head of the Anglican Church, Queen Elizabeth could well put up with this, in the opinion of the British Court. Kelly’s ears flutter when he hears the plan, because the Vatican’s dress code is crystal clear: a Protestant head of state wears black to a papal audience.
But Angela’s concerns go unheeded. The pink cape goes in the chest, period. Afraid of making a huge blunder, Kelly contacts the Queen’s private secretary, but he’s also undeterred. And now? The dresser decides to secretly put a black dress in one of the suitcases, just in case. Once in Rome, Kelly is right. The Vatican advises before the hearing begins that dark clothing is highly desirable. With panic in his eyes, the private secretary bursts into Kelly’s hotel room to tell it. For a moment, the chest of drawers makes him sweat, but then the suitcase opens and Kelly’s secret project emerges. All’s well that ends well, though you can feel the frustration in every word she wrote. Because what is going on? After the visit, a photo would be taken outside the Sistine Chapel
of the Queen and her staff. The private secretary thought a black outfit was too dark, it must have looked like a pleasant day. Setting priorities can apparently be very difficult, also in court.
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