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If you ever happen to find yourself in the same room as Queen Elizabeth II, keep a very close eye on her. There are certain subtle signals she might make to indicate to her staff what she wants to happen next. And should you end up actually engaging in conversation with the monarch, be wary. That’s because there’s one sign that means things aren’t going well.

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When one is a royal, there are certain protocols that must be followed. As a result, the relationship senior members of the family have with the public can be a complex one. Everything needs to be done subtly, and, in a sense, normal people are generally kept at arm’s length. It’s frowned on, even, for any regal type to take a selfie with a fan.

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And royal fashion plays into this in a big way. In fact, the Queen’s fashion choices have very often sent out signals to the watching public. The clothes that she chooses to wear on any particular day are often dissected in the media, with commentators trying to work out if the monarch is referencing how she feels about an event.

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After all, the Queen is not allowed to state political opinions in public. Part of her role as Britain’s Head of State is that she must always remain completely neutral with regard to politics. Though she has a weekly meeting with whoever the Prime Minister is at the time, the monarch’s thoughts on them and their policies always go unrecorded.

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Of course, this doesn’t always work in practice. When Scotland held a referendum in 2014 to decide whether or not they wanted independence from the rest of the United Kingdom, the Queen heavily implied that she wanted a “No” vote. She said from her Scottish residence that year, “I hope people will think very carefully about the future.”

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In the end, Scotland did indeed vote to remain in the U.K. But shortly after, an embarrassing political situation arose. Following the referendum, then-Prime Minister David Cameron informed Michael Bloomberg, the New York mayor that the monarch was delighted with the result. This was a massive no-no, however, and Cameron ended up publicly apologizing.

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Fans of royal fashion, too, can spend a lot of time wondering if ensembles have a deeper meaning. And where the Queen is concerned, certain hats or pieces of jewelry often cause speculation about her true political feelings. For instance, in June 2017, as the British government was preparing to leave the European Union, she publicly wore a hat that many thought bore a resemblance to the E.U. flag.

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That blue hat sparked a lot of interest on Twitter. One person wrote, “The Queen has highly qualified designers and fashion advisers. Her fashion usually coincides with her duty. This is not accidental.” Another said, “It’s not facetious. All her clothes are carefully considered with optics and message in mind. Absolutely not coincidental.”

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And things got even more intense when U.S. President Donald Trump visited the Queen in 2018. People scanned the monarch’s fashion accessories for any signs that she was expressing an opinion about his presence. They got what they were looking for. The brooch she wore on meeting Trump was a gift from his much-loved predecessor, Barack Obama.

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As a result, the term “brooch warfare” was coined online. The following day, Trump’s second in the U.K., the Queen wore an item called the Sapphire Jubilee Brooch, a special gift from the country of Canada… Which just happens to be a place the U.S. President had been complaining about prior to his British visit.

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By the third day of the presidential trip, it definitely appeared to some that the monarch was throwing shade. While sitting down for tea with Trump and his wife Melania, the Queen was wearing a brooch handed down from her mom. However, its last major outing had been at the funeral of her own father, where his wife had been photographed wearing it.

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At the time, a Twitter user called SamuraiKnitter provided commentary. She wrote, “Jewel watchers nearly died, because it is the brooch worn in the famous ‘Three Queens in Mourning’ photo, worn by the Queen Mum. Q.E. rolled up to tea with the Trumps wearing the brooch her mother wore to her father’s STATE FUNERAL.”

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Was it brooch warfare or just a coincidence? It’s likely no one will ever know for certain, and that’s exactly how the monarchy wants it. Royals have to be very, very careful when making fashion statements. One faux pas could spell absolute disaster, both for the offender and the family in general.

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Take, for example, Princess Michael of Kent. In December 2017 she was seen wearing a “blackamoor” brooch while going to a Christmas function at Buckingham Palace. To make matters worse, Meghan Markle, the first biracial member of the modern British royal family, would be there. As you’d expect, the fashion faux-pas caused a major stir on Twitter and in the media.

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Other royal fashion disasters have been more easily put aside, despite how embarrassing they were at the time. In 2012, when Prince William and his wife, Kate, were touring the continent of Asia, they wore the wrong country’s traditional outfits. While visiting the Solomon Islands, the couple was photographed in Cook Islands’ outfits.

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As a result, Clarence House had to release a statement about the incident. It read, “We saw [the outfits] weren’t the same design as the traditional clothes we were told would be gifted. So we checked with the Solomon Islands government to ensure the right ones were worn. We were reassured the clothes were correct, and so the Duke and Duchess wore them to the event.”

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The statement went on, “It was not learned until later in the evening that the clothes weren’t from the islands. But it was understood that the Duke and Duchess intended to wear traditional Solomon Island clothes and this was appreciated. No offense was caused.” And that’s how deadly serious royal fashion is.

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That, however, wasn’t the only time royal spokespeople have had to issue a statement about Kate’s clothes. In February 2018, the future Queen Consort was spotted wearing a hat that many people thought included real fur. And that’s because, when the product was tracked down online, it was advertised as having being made that way.

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Such was the outrage at Kate’s hat that the Palace had to again respond, according to royal reporter Richard Palmer. He tweeted, “In spite of the Twitter outcry, Kensington Palace says the Duchess was not wearing fur on her bobble hat earlier. I believe the gloves are fake fur, too, and the coat shearling.”

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Over the years the Queen has largely avoided that kind of fashion crisis, but things weren’t that way at the very beginning of her reign. While on tour in Kenya in 1952, she got the news that her father had died suddenly. What’s more, she was the new monarch. In among the obvious grief, she also had to worry about not having brought a black mourning dress with her.

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Back then, it would’ve been unthinkable for the Queen to return to Britain wearing anything other than a mourning dress. So she had to wait on the plane until the correct outfit was delivered to her; only then could she face the public. The monarch has taken a black gown with her while traveling ever since.

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Most people, however, will only meet the Queen in person when she’s wearing something brightly colored. Whenever the monarch is out in public, she tends to wear vivid shades, including green and purple. But, according to the Daily Mail tabloid newspaper, she wears blue more than any other hue.

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There is, however, a very good reason for this. In the documentary Our Queen at 90, Sophie, Countess of Wessex explained, “[The monarch] needs to stand out for people to be able to say, ‘I saw the Queen.’ Don’t forget that when she turns up somewhere, the crowds are two, three, four, ten, 15 deep, and someone wants to be able to say they saw a bit of the Queen’s hat as she went past.”

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People who spot the royals in public will notice other intriguing details about their clothes. For example, Prince George is often seen out and about, but wearing shorts rather than full-length pants. This is simply because it’s traditional for upper-class young boys to dress that way, and the current royals just went with it.

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And you’d be hard-pressed to spot a female royal going bare-legged. Modesty is still, it appears, very important to the monarchy. In 2017 CNN’s royalty expert Victoria Arbiter told Insider magazine that duchesses and the like were always supposed to wear nude tights or stockings. Arbit then explained that was “really the only hard, steadfast rule in terms of what the Queen requires.”

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And then there are the royal bags and clutches. Naturally, these serve a practical purpose. The Queen’s pocketbook reportedly contains a pen, her reading glasses, a mirror and lipstick, along with some mint-flavored lozenges. There’s also sometimes a small amount of money in there she can use to donate to her church.

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But royals often use clutches for more than just their intended purpose. Princess Diana, in fact, found a whole new use for them. Whenever she wore a low cut dress, she would hold the purse over her cleavage as she got out of the car. That helped to avoid awkward photos from overly-eager paparazzi.

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The Queen, of course, doesn’t have to worry about that sort of thing. But she, too, found a whole new use for bags as her reign went on. Obviously, they’re designed to color-coordinate with her outfit. The monarch’s pocketbook, though, is the tool she uses to send those all-important signals to members of her staff.

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The British monarch reportedly carries hooks in all her bags so she can store them safely under tables at dinner parties. That, of course, helps with access to its contents, but there’s also another purpose. If the Queen moves her bag to the table-top, it means she wants the meal finished within the next few minutes.

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This could get awkward if you’re a slow eater, because at a royal banquet everyone is supposed to do exactly what the Queen does. Only when she starts eating can the guests begin their meal, and once she’s finished, so is everyone else. But more awkward is what it means when the monarch moves her bag to the floor.

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During a dinner party, the Queen will first begin a conversation with the person on her right. And it’ll be her that starts talking, a guest shouldn’t speak to the monarch first. After that, she’ll switch to the person on her left. But if she puts her bag on the floor, beware. That means the ruler isn’t enjoying the interaction and wants a staff member to get her out of it.

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And if you ever meet the Queen at an event where she’s standing, you may note that she carries her bag on her left. That’s good! But if the monarch is speaking to you and subtly switches her bag to the right hand side, that’s bad. She’s signaling that she’s tired of the conversation and wants to talk to someone else.

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In 2011 historian Hugo Vickers told People magazine, “It would be very worrying if you were talking to the Queen and saw the handbag move from one hand to the other.” However, he added, “It would be done very nicely. Someone would come along and say, ‘Sir, the Archbishop of Canterbury would very much like to meet you.’”

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However, it seems that if the Queen is frustrated with having to talk to you and doesn’t have a bag on hand, she’ll do something else. Assuming she’s not wearing gloves, the monarch will subtly twist her wedding ring. This means that a staff member is expected to swoop in and save her from the awkward conversation.

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And within the walls of Buckingham Palace itself, there’s something else the Queen can deploy to get out of things. If she’s in a meeting and decides it’s time for the participants to leave, she can simply press a secret button that sends an alert to her staff. They’ll then come in and tactfully put an end to the discussion.

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According to Vickers, other members of the royal family also have tricks to avoid too much interaction with the public. He told People magazine, “What they all do is try to find a quick joke to leave it on. Prince Charles has a quick ‘Ha ha,’ and that enables him to break the conversation.”

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Kate Middleton reportedly also uses her handbag to send signals. And it’s a technique she may well have picked up from her grandmother-in-law. According to etiquette expert Myka Meier, who spoke to Good Housekeeping U.S. magazine in 2017, “When the Duchess is at an event, she holds her bag in front of her in both hands when shaking hands might be awkward.”

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Etiquette coach William Hanson believes the tactic is simply practical. He said, “The Duchess of Cambridge is often meeting people. Royal protocol states that we should not extend our hand to Royalty, but they extend to us – and they may choose not to. By holding something – like her clutch bag – it is perhaps giving her an ‘excuse’ to not extend her hand to everyone. She can’t shake the hands of everyone she meets – the Duchess would be there all day!”

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So, should you ever meet the Queen or one of her family members, these are some things to keep in mind. But don’t worry too much about breaking protocol. In 2006 former royal butler Paul Burrell told The Guardian an interesting manners-based story. It involved a prince who didn’t know how to create the dessert at a royal banquet, and ended up with a fruity mess in his bowl.

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Burrell said, “I was standing behind the Queen looking horrified. [The prince] was about to raise the bowl to his lips to drink it when he looked at the Queen and realized he had made a terrible mistake. Not wanting to make him feel awkward, she picked up her finger bowl and took a sip. Now that’s class.” So don’t despair too much if she moves the handbag.

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