how to dress garden party

What does one wear to a Royal Garden party? That’s the first question most women ask when that all-important invitation arrives in the post.

It’s one of the most exclusive of UK summer events to be invited to – no pressure then! You can act as cool as a cucumber but it’s inevitably a big deal to be asked to enjoy what will be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Garden parties are an important way for the Queen to meet people from all walks of life who have had a positive impact in their community and are a way of recognising public service. Around 8,000 people attend each garden party as invitees are allowed to bring their spouse, partner, a friend and any unmarried children.

There are three garden parties every year at Buckingham Palace and one at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. All are very formal affairs so it’s important to dress appropriately.


Garden parties did exist in Queen Victoria’s time but, despite being held in the afternoon, were called ‘Breakfasts’. Back then, only the nobility and officials were invited.

By the time Queen Elizabeth came to the throne in 1952, eligible young women were presented at Court, as they had been for years. But in 1958, these presentations were abolished and garden parties were created as a modern replacement.

So what is the protocol for dressing for a Royal Garden party? It’s hard to master the dress code for any summer garden party, let alone a royal one.

The ‘advice’ given to women guests attending a Royal Garden party is to wear a Day Dress or a Special Occasion Dress in which you are comfortable and confident as it can be a long but very enjoyable day.


Wearing a dress can still be a women’s most popular choice. It can be teamed with a jacket or a wrap, however a dress on its own can be just as striking especially with the correct accessories such as a statement jewellery piece and matching shoes & bag. Sometimes something a little different can be great to wear too, such as a stylish jumpsuit or a modern tailored or floaty trouser suit just like this stunning John Charles design in Carnation & Ivory.

how to dress garden party
John Charles design in Carnation & Ivory

The most suitable style of dress/outfit obviously depends on what shape you are. Shops specialising in special occasion dresses or outfits will offer you good advice on what looks best. It’s summer so there will be more choice of colourful prints as well as block colours. Fabrics should be light and airy: silk, linen, cotton mix or chiffon would work well (we supply Plus sizes up to 26 in a wide selection of styles).

Don’t choose fabrics that are transparent or an outfit that is too revealing. Whatever style you choose your overall look can be completed with a pretty fascinator, hatinator or even a traditional hat, which you may be glad of if it is a very hot day.

Miliner Nigel Rayment designs an array of headpieces suitable for any Special Occasion including dainty feather fascinators to large elaborate hats & hatinators.


Stilettos do look fabulous with a lot of outfits but remember they can be rather challenging on grass and gravel. Flat shoes, wedges or something with a slight chunky heel could be better for navigating the beautiful grounds. Choose your bag wisely: a cross-body style bag – not too big or bulky – or a bag you can comfortably hold on your arm means that your hands are free to hold a cup of tea and a plate of food. The dress code is simpler for the men, who can wear uniforms, morning dress or lounge suits – most men opt for suits.

Don’t forget to be prepared for the weather because Royal Garden parties are never cancelled, even in torrential rain. Take a smart raincoat and umbrella, as you won’t be allowed in looking like a festival goer in a cagoule and wellies!


Tea is served in three marquees: a main tent for the public, the diplomatic tent and the Royal tent. Guests queue up for their tea and are free to wander the grounds which, at Buckingham Palace, have a beautiful lake. It’s hard to believe that such a tranquil setting is in the middle of London.

Inside the main marquee is a 400 foot-long buffet table with 110 staff ready to serve tea, cordial, salmon and cucumber sandwiches, scones, strawberry tartlets, mini-Battenberg cakes, fruit and whisky cakes. It’s estimated that a total of 27,000 cups of tea are drunk at the three garden parties combined.

If you are lucky enough to meet the Queen or other members of the royal family, you will be selected to stand in designated lanes among the crowds for a very brief introduction. So practise your curtsey!

Posted by Gill Tincknell for Compton House of Fashion

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