The royal cost of keeping up appearances

Dressing the House of Windsor: Princes and princesses must travel the world, but someone has to pick up the clothes bill
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The Independent Online
It is not easy keeping up appearances for the Windsors. But the Royal Family's latest clothes bills for foreign travel, from the well-cut safari suit to the most spangled evening dress, all land on the desks of Whitehall civil servants to be settled.

Some of the royals are such dedicated followers of fashion, that the strain is already showing on the most recent recruits to the family. Prince Edward's partner Sophie Rhys-Jones, told her friends recently she simply could not compete on pounds 300 week as a humble former PR consultant. As the bills trickle through for trips including those to the Caribbean, Hong Kong, Mexico and San Francisco, it is hardly a surprise. Princess Margaret alone took pounds 7,200 worth of gear for her and her entourage on a trip to the United States last summer.

Even the royal men are not shy of shelling out on dapper outfits for royal tours. Prince Philip spent pounds 1,800 on clothes for a trip to the Caribbean; and Prince Charles's tailors put in a bill for pounds 6,400 for his trip to Los Angeles and Hong Kong. The most modest buyer was the Duke of Kent who spent just pounds 300 for a two-day trip to Singapore in September.

But what is a full-blown royal to do on such a trip? According to the shopping list for travel clothes, climatic changes, evening galas and state events do not come cheap, and the royal wardrobe is high-maintenance. As with all royal tours, Buckingham Palace send all the couturiers' bills to the Foreign Office for payment.

The front-runner in the royal glamour stakes is Princess Margaret, who has made a recent concession by wearing hand-me-downs from her sister. She is famous for her taste in spangled dresses, white Minnie Mouse shoes from Rayne, designers who include Anouska Hempel and Caroline Charles, and attention to detail. She once said: "I always have to be practical ... Sleeves mustn't be too tight either, they must be all right for waving."

Even the lesser royals are determined to keep up appearances. The Duchess of Kent, who favours Giorgio Armani,has spent around pounds 11,000 on tour clothes in the past three years.

Prince Edward forked out pounds 2,200 of Foreign Office money on a trip to Swaziland. He was a customer at Airey and Wheeler, the gentlemen's outfitter in Piccadilly famous for its safari suits, and which ran up lightweight suits for Sir Winston Churchill when he visited Aristotle Onassis's yacht in the 1960s.

Earlier this summer, Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, attempted to defend the wardrobe bills. He said: "High-profile and worthy representation of Britain abroad inevitably involves additional expenditure on clothes by members of the Royal Family."

One welcome cutback has been Princess Diana's removal from the list of royals claiming for new frocks and suits from the Foreign Office, since the royal divorce was set in motion. She set new standards a decade ago for reportedly ordering pounds 80,000 of outfits for a 16-day tour to the Middle East, softening the blow by selecting British designers, including Catherine Walker and the Emanuels.

But the most notable absentee from the wardrobe expenses file is the Princess Royal, famous for gamely reusing outfits she ordered up to 20 years ago. At the D-Day commemoration service in Arromanches she wore a coat she first wore to visit Canada in 1974.

John Boyd, her milliner of 27 years, said afterwards: "She keeps all the hats I've made her in perfect condition ... They're all put away beautifully and come out years later, like new."

Sartorial style does not come cheap

Date Duration Royal Destination Clothing

March 93 5 days Diana Nepal pounds 4,800

March 93 20 days Philip Caribbean pounds 1,800

Sept 93 4 days Edward Swaziland pounds 2,200

Oct/Nov 93 4 days Alexandra US pounds 4,950

Dec 93 4 days Duchess of Kent Seychelles pounds 4,300

Oct 94 14 days Alexandra HK & India pounds 7,000

Oct 94 13 days Gloucesters HK, Sing & Japan pounds 6,000

Oct/Nov 94 11 days Charles LA & HK pounds 6,400

Nov/Dec 94 8 days Kents HK pounds 7,400

June 95 1 week Margaret San Francisco pounds 7,200

Sept 95 3 days Duke of Kent Singapore pounds 300

Nov 95 4 days Gloucesters Mexico pounds 3,000