Oh, this little thing? It's for gardening. I wouldn't want to ruin any of my good dresses. (wink)
Mort:I'd quite like to see a real king. They wear crowns all the time, my granny said. Even when they go to the lavatory. Death:There is no technical reason why not. In my experience, however, it is generally not the case. — Mort
Royalty and nobility always wear their Requisite Royal Regalia. Always.
This is not literally true; in Real Life, the fancy dress is reserved for the ceremonies and the portraits. It was a popular belief, however, since ceremonies and portraits used to be the only places commoners got to see royalty. Formal dress is designed to do to the human eye what trumpet Fanfares do to the ear.
The Ermine Cape Effect does not require an ermine cape, or even the fur of the ermine. The ermine cape is so common, and such a clear sign of royal or noble status, this trope is named for it. A character could do this just wearing a crown all the time.
This effect is deliberate, which is why it is used even by writers who know it doesn't hold in Real Life. It just doesn't seem right if the king dresses like a slob while he is being his royal self. How can you put your faith in the divine right to rule when the king walks around in a tattered bathrobe and fuzzy slippers? No, the king must create the image of majesty whenever possible. The Woman Wearing the Queenly Mask must do it even more.
So, any time a lot of commoners would get a good look at the king or queen, either through a public appearance or a portrait that would last for ages to come, the royals and nobles put on the works. Just browse around The Other Wiki for European nobility and royalty, or look at these Webshots albums.
This leads some to believe being royalty is primarily about wearing pretty clothes. It is a major factor in the belief that Everything's Better with Princesses. This is also why the Rebellious Princess will get rid of her fancy clothes when she is rebelling — she is trying to reject her status, and go unrecognized if this is desired (if people think of the princess as her regalia more than her face). Yet these new commoner clothes somehow become more beautiful, espcially if the wearer is Princess Classic.
Because royalty often hold military ranks (earned or honorary), this can overlap with Bling of War.
With royalty becoming less distant these days, this is largely becoming a Discredited Trope, save for nations that still have absolute monarchies. Tragically, in most modern European monarchies such as Monaco and Britain, the royalty seems to generally favor the Western suit-and-tie businessman look (although one certainly cannot deny that those suits are very often very sharp)note The British royals are sort of a bad example, since the men are often in their military uniforms—which they all earned, thank you very much—and the women are known for interesting fashion choices (particularly the Duke of York's daughters Eugenie and Beatrice). Nevertheless, the men are frequently found in suits—Prince Charles in particular seems to like the look, as does the Japanese Emperor, the King of Jordan, and the King of Morocco (although he'll occasionally don a traditional jallaba). In the Gulf Arab monarchies, the custom is to wear traditional dress (which even when luxurious looks surprisingly plain and simple for a region famous for Conspicuous Consumption), although the ambassador to a Western country might wear a suit. The kings of Bhutan and Cambodia generally wear traditional dress, while the King of Thailand seems to prefer his blinged-out military uniform.
In fiction, this means that any royalty is as likely as not to wear fancy clothes as everyday wear, no matter how impractical, athough it is rarer these days. Is still commonly seen in Deadly Decadent Courts.
It should be noted that even when an ermine cape is worn, this trope rarely overlaps with Fur and Loathing.
Wearing one's hair in Regal Ringlets style, or its Japanese derivation Ojou Ringlets, can be a subtler form of this.
Now although this trope is strictly about royalty and nobility, it should be noted that anyone who could afford to have his or her portrait painted would put on the works. Even the poorest naval clerk and his wife begged or borrowed the fanciest outfits they could find, because it was Just Not Done to sit for your portrait wearing your day clothes. In medieval times people rich enough would probably wear the most expensive and ostentatious thing they could manage as much as was possible, as you were expected, even required, to maintain your place in society by proving you belonged there through displays of wealth.
Sister Tropes, all of which this trope makes use of, include:
Relena from Mobile Suit Gundam Wing zig-zags this; during the period where she's Princess of her own nation, she swaps between a fancy Victorian outfit, and the same school uniform worn by the students she teaches. When she gets made Queen of the World by Romefeller she's only ever seen in the same dress, but this could be seen as an Enforced Trope, since she's supposed to be a figurehead.
The Five Star Stories gets this one right, too. While the androgynous God-King Amaterasu is known for making public appearances wearing unbelievably elaborate costumes, when he's hanging out with his closest associates at his floating palace it's not uncommon for him to be seen in nothing more than jeans & a wifebeater. In fact, most characters who are expected to wear some sort of regalia at formal events are rarely seen in it the rest of the time, & sometimes they even neglect to wear it when they're supposed to. One particularily memorable example is when Sir Voards shows up at a banquet in cargo pants & a black t-shirt.
Averted with Zahard's Princesses. Two wear regular clothes such as summer dresses, skirts, stockings or blouses, one is a slob that never leaves her room and whose only confirmed articles of clothing are her t-shirt and her huge blanket.
In Code Geass, the Britannian royal family (excepting Cornelia since she wears something more like military dress) are always dressed in this way. Interestingly, in the final episode's flash forward to the happy future , Schneizel is shown wearing what looks pretty much like a normal business suit.
Averted in Howl's Moving Castle - the king shows up wearing a relatively basic military dress uniform.
Even in her uniform or jumpsuit, Princess Fala (Allura) of Go Lion (Voltron) still wears her dainty crown.
Somewhat averted in Tears to Tiara. Arthur only wears a full red ermine cape and crown during his coronation in the last episode. But the fact that he wears a fluffy fur collar as part of his outfit for the entire series hints that this coronation would be coming. Also, his name and any basic knowledge of mythology.
Subverted in One Piece. King Cobra Nefertari invites the Strawhat crew to his bathhouse, where he bows deeply to them and thanks them for all they've done. His aide, Igaram, tries to stop him, as "a king should not bow his head to anyone," but Cobra responds, "Power is worn over clothes; a king is never naked."
Axis Powers Hetalia makes the genderbent version of Liechtenstein wear a crown and cape over his regular clothes.
Films in The Golden Age of Hollywood were rife with this trope, such as the movie Diane. Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici walk around in dresses far more extravagant than they would have worn normally. It gets to the point that the queen is sitting for a portrait, and Diane shows up from out of town in a dress just as fancy.
The Other Boleyn Girl is a clear contrast. Anne and Mary's dresses are fancy, but far simpler than those worn for portraits or ceremony. Henry also doesn't really show off his everyday clothes, save for a few fur collars on his gowns (which is what those jackets were called at the time).
The Queen inverted this and instead went with Elizabeth II's affection for big raincoats and wellies. Although in Real Life that has been Flanderised by the press, she's still made no secret of the fact that she dislikes dressing up in the full regalia. Mostly because it's very heavy; for instance, the royal crown itself apparently so heavy that it will give the wearer a headache if it is worn too long.
The Queen of Naboo in Star Wars always seems to be wearing some ridiculously complex outfit, each item of which is supposed to represent something from Naboo's history. The useful consequence is that she is completely unrecognizable in plain clothes and she uses this to go incognito as one of her handmaidens. This does mean some poor woman might be the target of any assassinations...
Also played with in that Naboo's government isn't a real monarchy, but a democracy that merely gives its elected rulers the trappings of monarchy. So the Ermine Cape Effect here includes her royal title itself.
The eponymous heroine of That Lady in Ermine wears nothing but an ermine coat, save for one scene.
This practice was given something of a Shout-Out in the book Snake Agent by Liz Williams. High ranking demons in hell got to wear beautiful cloaks of human skin, so finely made one could count the capillaries, topped off with blond human hair where humans would wear ermine.
Lords and Ladies parodies this two ways. Verence gets along with a shirt and trousers with his arse hanging out of the top. His fiance (later wife), Magrat's, clothes however are depicted as insanely convoluted with all manner of bodices and corsets and whatnot. Now this may be, as the books says, simply the way round things happen. Or it may be that Verence made another mistake by over reliance on the knowledge in books.
Lampshaded and averted to some extent in other books in the series: Sam Vimes refuses flat-out to wear most of the traditional symbols of Ankh-Morpork nobility, tights especially - though his wife forces him to nonetheless, when he's appearing in his capacity as "The Duke". The rest of the time, he wears his Watch uniform, and she wears boots and tweed, being rich enough not to have to look rich. His job and her hobbies carrying a near-certainty of daily Clothing Damage may also have something to do with it.
The autocratic Governor of The General wears about twenty pounds of gold embroidery every time he gets out of bed and the dress uniform of the Governor's Guard makes hero Raj Whitehall feel like a revue dancer.
The Flashman book Flashman and the Great Game references this at the beginning when Flashman is invited to the Balmoral by Queen Victoria. He comments how she was one of the first monarchs to be open about not always wearing royal clothing most of the time, but instead dressing like a typical (upper class) housewife (although in this case she is dressed in Scottish clothing). This trend has continued to the present to the point that it is actually difficult (at least for Americans) to think of any occasion on which Queen Elizabeth II wore a crown and jewelery.
Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV in the Dune miniseries wears very elaborate outfits even when he's just working in his study or meeting with his advisors. This is different from the book, where Shaddam preferred to wear an ordinary Sardaukar officer's uniform with no decoration other than a silver helmet even at official state functions. This was stated to not have been the traditional formal dress, however, merely being an affectation of Shaddam, as he felt that his power was based entirely upon the fear of the dreaded Sardaukar.
Male monarchs usually wore their military uniforms with varying degrees of embellishment (Wilhelm II of Germany and Nicholas II wore uniforms studed with medals despite never being in combat, wheras Franz Josef and Karl of Austria wore considerably less elaborate ones) from the 18th century until after World War One.
In James Thurber's The 13 Clocks, Prince Zorn disguises himself as a ministrel, but the wicked duke has a spy find his clothing, which shows he's a prince, and then insists that the prince wear it.
Averted in Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar novels. While the monarchs of Valdemar do have formal gowns and a crown for extraordinary court occasions, normally they dress in a more expensive and slightly less practical version of Herald day-uniforms — the most notable difference being that a queen will wear a divided skirt instead of trousers. And the official Crown of Valdemar stays firmly locked in the treasury until the rare occasions it's needed, with a thin (comfortable!) gold circlet substituting most of the time.
Sansa from A Song of Ice and Fire. Nearly every description of the clothing of the other courtiers by her is described this way. Justified because she apparently views the world this way. Rarely are clothes "simple".
Inverted in The Kestrel, the second book of Alexander Lloyd's Westmark trilogy. When the prince of the invading army is captured he goes comepltely unrecognised, because he insists on wearing the uniform of a common soldier, having earned nothing more.
In the second book of Mistborn, a Terris Keeper comes to help Elend with just this problem, as no one takes him seriously as king because he's a slob who cares more about governmental theory than dressing nice. The keeper forces him to learn that in order to earn the respect he deserves as king that he must play the part. As he puts her lessons into practice, it works.
In C. S. Lewis's The Horse and His Boy this is used to contrast the constantly blinged-out Calormene nobility with the simpler-dressed (yet somehow still more regal) Narnians. Finally it is averted with King Lune appearing in everyday clothes.
In John C. Wright's Count To A Trillion, the ship crew (who conquered the earth when they brought back antimatter) always wear an imitation spacesuit, in special cloth, and a bracelet of red.
Alys Vorpatril in Vorkosigan Saga is the expert on this for the Barayaran court.
Discussed in The Malloreon when Emperor Kal Zakath, absolute ruler of half the world, leaves the Requisite Royal Regalia behind and spends an afternoon riding through his own capital city without being noticed. He tells his companions that without them, he's "just a man in a linen shirt", even though his face is on all the coins.
Live Action TV
Averted in Downton Abbey. It is noticeable that, while the girls dress up for formal dinners and all of their clothing is fancy, they have simple, practical outfits for daily wear, plus hunting regalia. Although thunting gear and riding tweeds were a form of this at the time, albeit a more practical form. Only the very wealthy would need them, after all.
Played straight by Delenn though not to the point of impracticality. Not unreasonable as she is an Ambadassador and a Badass Satai.
Sort of subverted/modernized on Kings, where the royal couple, despite being an absolute monarch and his wife, dressed as one would expect a real-life modern U.S. President and First Lady to dress.
This is played somewhat straight with their son, Jack, who despite wearing a suit on most occasions, always seems to be wearing one made out of some kind of very shiny and very gorgeous-looking fabric.
Played with on The Kingdom Of Paramithi: The king and queen only wear their robes for their royal duties. They will otherwise be shown wearing formal attire.
An ecclesiastical variation in Father Ted: whenever a bishop is shown they're always "bishoped to the nines" (as described by writer Graham Linehan). In reality, Roman Catholic bishops wear clothing similar to the average priest when not taking part in services.
On display several times in Uther and Morgana's wardrobe in Merlin and Arthur's, to a lesser extent.
The French play Ruy Blas by Victor Hugo was criticized for having the Queen in full regalia when she confessed her love to the titular character. Since it was a climax, he got away by invoking the Rule of Cool.
The 2009 revival of Exit The King plays around with this a lot— the three royal characters wear fur capes so ludicrously long that they become physical comedy props.
Averted in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead — in the film version the Queen's already pulling off her fancy earrings after the royal audience is over and preparing to put on more serviceable day-wear (for medieval times, anyway).
In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Emperor Uriel Septim VII wears his ermine-collared, gold-brocaded purple robe and jewel-incrusted amulet while wading through a sewer system to escape assassins. His heir, Martin, does the same at the end of the game in a warzone, though he was on his way to coronation.
Uriel was also wearing a different royal outfit when he was freed from imprisonment in oblivion at the end of Arena. He does however, seem to wear a more practical outfit in Daggerfall. Though that's also when his hair mysteriously vanished.
Also in those games, Hoggmeiser (an big, humanoid, ax-wielding boar) and other Nether Nobles wear ermine capes and crowns.
Suikoden IV gets it right with King Lino En Kuldes, who wears a regal outfit in only one scene in the entire game. The rest of the time, he dresses like any other citizen of his kingdom, to the extent that no one who didn't already know who he was could tell that he was the King of Obel. (The main characters actually initially mistake his butler/chamberlain/advisor-type guy for being the king, since he was the only person in the palace who dressed even remotely formally.)
Averted in Gaia Online. Johnny K. Gambino (who, while not actual royalty, certainly acts he is) normally dresses in fairly fancy clothes, even when working in the lab. However, recently he's taken a liking to lounging around his mansion in a blue bathrobe and socks, watching old Ron Bruise movies.
In several Ultima games, Lord British is apparently so fond of his ermine coat and golden crown that he wears it in bed. He does admittedly have only one sprite like everyone else, but it still looks rather funny.
The Princess/Prince class in Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City naturally fall into this; like all classes, they are represented in-game by their portraits. Unlike the other classes, their outfits are pure examples of Requisite Royal Regalia — both princesses wear Pimped Out Dressesadorned with gems, tiaras, earrings, and ornately detailed armor, while the older prince wears even more ornate armor (and earrings) and a sweeping cape, while the younger prince has a tiny crown and fur-trimmed cape with a huge gem brooch. And they apparently explore the Yggdrasil Labyrinth in all of this...
In Radiant Historia, Queen Protea of Granorg brings up this trope when her daughter, Eruca, argues that the court should cut back for the benefit of the citizenry.
Eruca is throughly guilty of this herself, both in sprites and being the only character to use dress-class armors. Her defense stats are deplorable, outmatched by the nine-year-old Trap Master who at least has the decency to wear magic-enhanced cloaks.
Can be played straight or averted in Fable III. The Hero starts off as a Prince/Princess in pajamas, and the first order of business is to pick an outfit to wear for the day. The choices are either a flamboyantly elegant outfit, or one that's more practical. However, shortly after the introduction the Hero is required to obtain some new clothes to blend in with the locals. After the coup, the Hero gets a new regal suit, complete with crown, but there's nothing stopping him/her from swapping it out for one of the numerous other costumes acquired throughout the game.
All the Disney Princesses will wear a fancy gown or two in their movies, like Belle's apparently gold lamé dress (either that or it had a really good dye job, which would also cost a lot of money in those days), but in The Merch, those gowns are worn all the time, and sometimes they have dresses that are even fancier versions of those.
This seems to have something of a justification at Disneyland. Belle can come out in her peasant garb (which she wears for the vast majority of the film) and be completely ignored by guests, then come back out in her gold dress and get mobbed. Many guests seem to be unable to recognize the princesses without their regalia.
Jasmine gets hit the hardest by this trope. In the movie she wore: her princess quasi-harem outfit; her slave outfit (the same thing only red, with a bigger tiara and tighter pony-tail), her "common" outfit which consists of a hooded robe over her princess outfit; and the more "formal" outfit when she's flying off with Aladdin at the end, a pinkish affair that has shoulders and finally covers her midriff and has a cape. Her standard blue will be shown fairly often, occasionally the "formal" attire from the end, but in at least half the books/cards/bags/whatever, she's depicted wearing a very European style dress not found anywhere in the movies or TV show.
Parodied on Shrek the Third. Shrek and Fiona are forced to wear ridiculously confining finery for a ceremonial dinner. Shrek has to get some poor servant to scratch his bum for him... and wouldn't you know it, that's when the curtain is raised. To top it off, the buckle on his belt pops, leading to Disaster Dominoes.
In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Princess Azula and Prince Zuko (during the time periods he wasn't exiled) always wore their formalwear, except for the Beach Episode. Although their formalwear was Fire Nation military dress uniform and not ridiculously overdone gowns, and so wasn't very cumbersome for them. Upheld again in that Azula has been seen without being fully-made-up and her hair elaborately done only when woken up in the middle of the night, and/or in the process of losing her mind.
Well, both time we see here, being groomed it was for a special occasion (a war meeting and her coronation), but she was still made up the entire time she spent travelling through the Earth Kingdom (in fact she practically went nuts putting a hair out of place).
Their father Ozai, on the other hand, gives Hank Hill a run for the title of world's least animated animated man. Save for burning his son's face off, walking around during a war meeting and the final fight scene, he was onlyseen sitting immobile on his throne, done up in his most elaborate robes and regalia. Amusingly, he usually loses most of his clothing along with the regal wear both of the times he fought (the first because Agni Kai are traditionally fought shirtless, while the second was because the new clothes he had were rather ridiculously cumbersome).
Bumi uses it as part of his Obfuscating Stupidity. Like Ozai, he takes off his robe to fight, revealing himself to be quite healthy for a 112-year-old man.
Princess Celestia is constantly dressed in impeccable finery and a tiara every time she appears. Even in bed. And also, her rainbow gravity-defying hair.
This is outright dressed down however, compared to the finery she wore in the finale of season 3. With the enormous, poofy dress and jeweled crown easily twice the size of her normal tiara, it's no wonder she doesn't wear it more often.
Whenever he's not a disembodied cloud of smoke (so pretty rarely), KingSombra wears an ermine cape and a spiked crown along with heavy platearmor. The cape has the side effect of always covering his Cutie Mark, giving birth to some fan theories about what it may be. There is also some speculation that it may conceal a pair of wings.
Due to the weight of the Imperial State Crown it is common for British Monarchs to wear it for several hours prior to the annual State Opening of Parliment to become used to it. Courtiers have reported witnessing Queen Elizabeth II wearing it while eating breakfast and reading the paper.
While Queen Elizabeth II is considered by many fashionistas today to be quite dowdy if not outright frumpy, in her youth, she and her sister, Princess Margaret, were major fashion leaders who were very frequently seen wearing the most elegant dresses by leading British and French designers of the Christian Dior-led "New Look" period.
Diana, Princess of Wales, was very much a fashion leader back in the day as well. She made a particular point of patronizing British fashion designers and wearing their creations.
This once actually had a practical purpose. It was a convenient way to store wealth before efficient banking services. This was especially the case for nomad nobility who had no other way to store it.
Elizabeth I of England is justly famous for her spectacular state wardrobe (though she dressed less ornately in private). James I&VI was an aversion of the trope to the extreme displeasure of his English subjects accustomed to a monarch who knew how to make a show.