What I learnt about style from working as a Royal lady’s maid

From mastering a capsule wardrobe to remembering who’s the star of the show, tips for channelling regal style – even in lockdown

Princess Diana duchess of cambridge kate middleton the queen elizabeth ii countess of wessex
Stylish Royals: Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Duchess of Cambridge, Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Diana Credit: Getty Images

The royal calendar runs with reliable predictability and military precision – Sandringham at Christmas, Easter at Windsor, summer at Balmoral. As with all of us, the pandemic has disrupted this steady calendar, so many royal fashion watchers will have missed the usual pageantry of style that adorns these occasions.

As a former royal maid, I’ve often thought how quiet it must have been during the pandemic for employees of the Royal household without the usual busy stream of engagements, events and gatherings, all of which require appropriate dress.

I worked as a housemaid at Buckingham Palace, with travel to all the other royal residences, from 2006–2010. As part of my role I carried out lady’s maid duties for female members of the Royal family and other guests who stayed with Her Majesty. Each lady would be assigned a lady’s maid responsible for unpacking their suitcase, arranging clothes and accessories in an immaculate and easily accessible way, laying out appropriate outfits prior to changing, and assisting with dressing when required.

Alicia Healey with a coat by Katherine Hooker and hat by Rachel Trevor-Morgan Credit: Alicia Healey

This experience, together with my subsequent jobs as a lady’s maid, PA and stylist for high-profile Middle Eastern ladies, inspired me to write a book: Wardrobe Wisdom (National Trust/Pavilion, 2018) – offering advice on how to organise your wardrobe effectively, how to dress for key events in the season and how to care for your clothes.

I’ve always favoured classic, timeless style over fleeting trends, so have long admired elegant royal style, characterised by its simplicity: perfectly colour-coordinated ensembles with minimum fuss but maximum impact.

Besides the aesthetics of an outfit, it’s important that it’s practical for the occasion – with considerations of weather, location and others present taken into account. On foreign tours, royal ladies frequently dress diplomatically, paying tribute to their hosts by dressing in the colours of their flag or by wearing local designers.

The Queen’s dresses and hats may display a kaleidoscopic range of colour, but she favours neutral accessories (black, white or beige) and pearl jewellery. This makes dressing and packing much easier as the accessories rarely change – with the exception of her brooch, chosen for symbolic reasons. Credit: UK Press

When junior royals and guests are in the presence of HM, they will be informed by their dressers/maids as to what the Queen is wearing so that they choose outfits that complement hers – the same formality of dress (such as formal day dress, or black tie) and not the same colour.

It’s a reminder that the Queen is the star of the royal show and that other members, however young, glamorous or stylish, are always in supporting roles.

Since leaving the Royal household, one of my jobs included packing a Saudi Sheikha’s three-month honeymoon wardrobe. (I went with the couple – a unique experience!) I had to select outfits for her to wear each day, taking into consideration the length of the stay and the climate. The itinerary included Venice and Russia in winter, but also Bali and Bangkok, which were hot and humid.

Princess Diana: I love the asymmetric sleeve on this striking turquoise gown worn by Princess Diana to a banquet in 1989. It’s a dress that could still be worn today, over 30 years on – a true sign of timeless style. Credit: Getty Images

This was a much more challenging job than working for the British royals, who are experts at small capsule wardrobes with fairly minimal and manageable luggage. This lady’s dressing room looked more like three floors of Selfridges. My royal training in how to quickly and professionally pack and unpack suitcases was put to good use as I transported her 10 suitcases around the world visiting 13 countries in three months.

I like to share my style ideas, often influenced by royal outfits, through my Instagram account @theladysmaid. I’ve had style dilemmas messaged to me from Baltimore to Bahrain, proving that there is a global audience for elegance and traditional dressing.

Tailored dress coats are the Duchess of Cambridge’s royal uniform – a classic look that never really goes out of fashion. When wearing one colour like this, it’s often advisable to vary the tone slightly in the accessories, or add texture (such as patent, suede or velvet), to add a bit of interest. Credit: Getty Images

Even in lockdowns over the past year when there has been nothing to dress for, people have still wanted to see occasion-wear posts, perhaps for escapism – to hope for and to inspire brighter times, when they can dress up for special events again (which is good for me, as there are only so many ways I can style slippers and sweatpants!).

Classic, colour-coordinated clothes, that offer a stable sartorial foundation, can also be calming, reliable and reassuring – qualities needed in uncertain times, and exuded by the royals.

The Countess of Wessex’s style has really evolved over the years and she’s now one of the most stylish royal ladies who is an expert at dressing for formal occasions: always elegant and adhering to the formalities of royal dress, but not afraid to have fun with fashion and to experiment. Credit: Getty Images

In fearful periods of upheaval, we tend to hold on to what is familiar, to feel that something at least is secure.

An Instagram follower messaged me in the first lockdown and said that looking at my posts helped her anxiety, while an NHS nurse commented that, far from being frivolous in a time of crisis, she enjoyed the posts as a distraction from the fraught reality of the pandemic.

The royals, like all of us, have had a quieter year, but they are still dressing up – and we should follow their lead.