A man in uniform

William hasn’t got his military duds dirty yet, but they still matter—and will on the big day

A man in uniform

Fame Pictures/ Anwar Hussein/Wire Image/Getty Images

He may be facing “the ultimate dilemma of modern masculinity,” as the Daily Telegraph refers to his balding pate, but when it’s time to say “I do,” William will still look like prince charming—courtesy of the RAF wings and the military uniform Kate Middleton says makes him look “so sexy.”

Though Kate’s wedding dress will be the subject of acres of debate and speculation among the fashion pundits, William’s own wedding suit is almost certain to be a military uniform, the customary attire for British royals who have served in the military. William has been in all three branches of the armed forces—the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force—as tradition demands of future monarchs who will one day inherit the throne and with it the responsibility of heading the military. But for all the uniform-related photo ops and headlines, the prince’s military deeds can’t yet be called heroic in the traditional sense. Even though he’s chosen the most dangerous job available to him—search-and-rescue helicopter pilot—he’ll never face enemy fire.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to fight—he said he hoped to see fighting when he signed up in 2004—it’s that Britain no longer allows its second in line to the throne to put his life on the line in combat. Gen. David Richards, the country’s top soldier, told the Sunday Telegraph in October that he would advise the Queen against sending William to Afghanistan, even though the prince repeatedly expressed the desire to participate in the war effort. (His younger brother Harry, on the other hand, while third in line for the throne, served in Afghanistan in 2008, and is planning to return soon.)

The most action William has seen during his four years of training was intercepting $80 million worth of cocaine aboard the Iron Duke frigate north of Barbados in June 2008, and airlifting a sick worker on an oil rig off the coast of Liverpool to a hospital on shore shortly after graduating from flight school in September.

Still, even though his uniform hasn’t gotten dirty, wearing it matters. On Remembrance Sunday, he travelled to Camp Bastion in Helmand province, Afghanistan, to lay a wreath and to rally the troops. Along with his wreath was a note that shows that the war has touched him directly. “For Jo, Lex and all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country,” it read—2nd Lieut. Joanna Dyer was a friend during training at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst; Maj. Alexis Roberts was the prince’s platoon commander at the academy. Both died while on active service. “The country is as fervent today in its support for our armed forces and the sacrifices that they make as it has ever been,” he wrote in an editorial upon his return. “I find it remarkable and humbling.”

It turns out he doesn’t just look strong for Kate; he also looks strong for the country. It’s a family tradition, after all. Seventy years earlier, 14-year-old Princess Elizabeth gave her first address to comfort the British people as bombs fell on London.