March 30, 2015

Privilège du Blanc: Princess Charlene’s Papal Fashion

Two years ago in March, Catholics around the world awaited white smoke to billow out of the Sistine Chapel’s chimney pipe. After days and days of black smoke appearing, signifying that we hadn’t yet received a new Pope, the stakes got pretty high: whoever we ended up with better be worth this wait. And, as it turns out, he was. I could have waited for years just to have Pope Francis in the end.

At Pope Francis’ inauguration Mass, royal watchers were delighted to see a couple familiar faces in the tremendous crowds: Princess Charlene and Prince Albert! Being sovereigns of one of the few Catholic nations in the world, the Princely couple attended the inaugural Mass to pray for the new pontificate.

Charlene selected a black dress and mantilla, per tradition when a woman has an audience with the Pope. I’m quite unclear as to why women are required to dress in mourning around the Pope, but I do understand that part of it has to do with respect and modesty. I still can’t figure out how black achieves those two things, but whatever. Tradition is tradition, and we Catholics are known to stick to tradition like grim death. Which, strangely, brings us back to black. At least Charlene looks good in black!

But here comes the interesting bit! Charlene is one of the very few women in the world who is actually entitled to wear white around the Pope. This right is called Privilège du Blanc/Privilegio del Bianco/Privilege of the White, and it applies to all female Catholic rulers of Catholic nations or the wives of Catholic rulers (it adds up to only a handful of women in the world). It is yet unclear to me why Charlene opted for black at the inaugural Mass – perhaps to detract attention from her sartorial choices so that the focus might be on the matter at hand? Who knows. But she was flanked by a couple other royal ladies who did enjoy their privilège du blanc:

Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg (left) and Queen Paola of Belgium (right) both wore white to the inaugural Mass.

Charlene did draw attention for wearing white some years ago, when she exercised the privilège du blanc during a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

The Vatican actually had to issue a press release explaining her choice of color, as Monaco had previously not been included as one of the countries worthy of the privilège du blanc at that point. Apparently, the Vatican had given Charlene the all-clear to wear white prior to the visit, but they just hadn’t publicized Monaco’s inclusion in the law. The press release calmed any uproar and explained that it was entirely acceptable attire for Charlene’s position as the Catholic sovereign’s wife.

But the privilège du blanc does not open up the floodgates for bells and whistles. Women enjoying this attire must still keep accessories to a minimum, skirts below the knee, and modesty throughout – nothing low cut, tight, or flashy. And, of course, a head covering is still required.

Charlene pulled off the privilège du blanc perfectly: a cream-colored, elegantly embroidered dress, tailored impeccably, paired off with beige pumps and simple accessories, which included a white lace veil. As far as jewelry goes, I don’t think I see any at all, save her wedding band of course, and her makeup was neutral and appropriate. Modest, chic, and respectful all at once. The picture of perfection, as usual.

As we stagger out of the Lenten season, let’s enjoy these photos of Charlene in white in hopes of a lovely upcoming Easter and, with highest hopes, a spring that’s just around the corner. And a happy 2-year anniversary to Pope Francis!

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