On Thursday, Meghan Markle stepped out in the Welsh city of Cardiff wearing a black coat by Stella McCartney, a cool pair of jeans by a local Welsh brand, Hiut Denim, paired with a fashionable pair of Tabitha Simmons high-heeled black boots.
At first sight, it was a conventional (if stylish) ensemble, but, dig a little deeper, and Meghan’s clothing choices revealed a young woman deeply aware of the complex messages that well-chosen fashion has the power to telegraph.
Her hair, for example, ripped up the rule book on trussed-up royal coiffuring: it was only loosely tied back in a messy bun, positively encouraging strands to flicker and blow across her face on a windy afternoon.
Meghan may be about to become a princess, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to button up. The comparison to Kate’s perfectly ironed tresses is instructive.
Broadly speaking, Meghan is easier to relate to, despite the sometimes extremely expensive clothes she wears. And one of the keys to Meghan’s accessibility is a deliberate sense of imperfection and incompleteness. For example, Meghan’s earrings that she wore on Thursday were also artfully mismatched, which once again reminded the world she isn’t perfect Kate.
Meghan’s clothing choices also were of a piece with her values: Her £295 ($408) green bag was from an ethical label which donates its profits to charity; DeMellier London finances vaccines in developing countries. Stella McCartney is known as a label for campaigning against animal cruelty and the Welsh brand of jeans was a masterstroke as the company specializes in employing laid-off factory workers to make its hip products.
Susannah Taylor, a former beauty and health editor at British Vogue and Glamour magazines, and the editor-at-large and founder of Get The Gloss, told The Daily Beast that Meghan is presenting a considered counterpoint to Kate’s style.
“Meghan epitomizes how a lot of women would like to look today—chic and modern all at once. There’s nothing dowdy about her dressing and it’s way more relaxed and carefree than Kate’s, with more modern, edgier details.
“Take for example the visit to the Invictus Games in 2017 where she wore a ripped jean, an oversized white shirt, and a burgundy pointed ballet shoe. Kate’s tamer version would have been skinny dark (not faded) jeans, ballet pumps, and a tight fitted white shirt. The fact that a royal-to-be would dare to wear a ripped jean is exciting in itself. That said, as the future queen of England, Kate is not really in a position to be as rule-breaking or as rebellious as Meghan, so it’s easier for Meghan to take fashion advantage.”
Emma Elwick-Bates, fashion consultant, editor, and American Vogue contributor, concurred, telling The Daily Beast: “The further one is from pole position on the Buckingham Palace balcony, the more fashion daring you can be. So Meghan has less pressure on her than Kate, and does not have to adhere to the same Home County mores.
“The spotlight is definitely on Meghan Markle, and thus far I think she’s been valiantly giving the sparkle the people want, although it would have been good if she’d carried on acting, or her even her ‘Tig’ blog. We need a meta, modern royal.
“I am loving her sexy, and very international boot collection. Aquazzura! Tabitha Simmons! It’s the antithesis of Kate’s sensible nude courts and wedges, that sometimes let down a great ensemble.
“But I am less interested in what she’s worn on her official outings—so far, so neutral—than how she has worn it, her overall confidence and poise. This is what informs her style.”
Elwick-Bates adds that she is a keen fan of Meghan’s off-duty style; “the Invictus denim look, or the beanie-clad lovers Christmas-tree shopping last year; it reminds one of Diana bouncing into the [Chelsea] Harbour [fitness] Club in varsity sweaters and slouchy socks.”
They are also, of course, looks that are easy for people to get hold of both philosophically and practically.
There is strong anecdotal evidence that consumers are drawing inspiration from Markle’s looks: The white wool coat she wore for her engagement pics with Harry sold out instantly, as did a £500 ($693) purse by Scottish brand Strathberry—in 11 seconds, according to U.K. Business Insider.
However some may take with a pinch of salt retail analyst Brand Finance’s estimate of the “Meghan Effect” being worth £500 million this year, as Forbes has reported.
Estelle Lee, a fashion writer and brand consultant, tells The Daily Beast that part of Meghan’s success is that although her clothes are aspirational, they are also reminiscent of how real people do things: “She mixes brands at high/low price points, tapping into the way real women shop. Less is most definitely more where her style is concerned. She’s got the casual ‘thrown together’ look of the Vogue fashion set down to a vintage cotton tee: Pick a key piece and use a neutral palette to layer your outfit.
“We’ll let her off for the ne plus ultra of engagement dresses (from Ralph & Russo) at an eye-watering £56,000 [$75,000], when she then goes and casually slips on a best-loved British retailer Marks and Spencer cashmere sweater [£45, or $62] for a visit to a Brixton radio station.”
Of course, there’s one very big fashion moment coming up for Meghan in May, when the eyes of the world will be on her as she makes her way down the aisle at St George’s Chapel in Windsor on Harry’s arm.
Royal reporter and biographer Omid Scobie told ABC News that the designer has already been chosen, with the help of her friend, stylist Jessica Mulroney.
“Meghan flew in her close friend and bridal stylist Jessica Mulroney from Toronto to London last weekend where she attended a top-secret fitting at Kensington Palace with the designer,” Scobie said.
“They’ve tried on a number of different designs and are currently whittling it down to pick the best design for the day,” Scobie added.