Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton Reveal the New Rules of Royal Dressing
Both duchesses are at the top of their style game, with each look getting bolder and brighter. Here’s how Meghan and Kate are dusting off palace dress codes.
What does Meghan Markle wear when she’s at home, baking her famous banana bread or roasting a chicken with Prince Harry, as the couple is known to do? It’s hard to imagine Meghan kicking back in a pair of old sweats and a Northwestern hoodie. Maybe her loungewear of choice is somewhat athleisure-ly—after all, in 2015 the former actress did declare “Yoga is my thing.”
It’s understandable if you’re bored at the thought of Markle looking a lot like you do, watching true crime on a weeknight in her telltale messy bun. We like it when Markle, per her tabloid moniker, sparkles.
This week, the Duchess of Sussex reminded us that she can do just that when, at five months pregnant, she stepped out in a head-to-toe sequined gown by Roland Mouret.
Less than a year into Meghan’s official tenure as a member of the royal family, the new duchess and her sister-in-law Kate have both cemented their respective sartorial sensibilities, one sharply tailored coat at a time. The two seem to be tag-teaming as they rewrite the rules of royal dressing where formality and casual meet and sometimes combine.
It’s as if they’re both stars on a hit TV series that is back for Season 2, with a heftier budget than the last go-round. The clothes are splashier, the colors are brighter, and every appearance is a chance to communicate their respective characters.
Princess Diana's style evolution was gradual, and while every look was ravenously consumed by the tabloids (and their readers), she stood alone as a royal style avatar in a (mostly) pre-internet era. Her two daughters-in-law are operating in a faster, social-media-drenched world, and dressing accordingly.
Kate’s take on dressing is more pragmatic than her sister-in-law's. The mother of three has become the rightful heir to Michelle Obama’s “I wear skinny jeans, just like you!” approach. She earns relatability points for repeating outfits, such as her beloved Penelope Chilvers riding boots, which she’s owned for over a decade.
Kate’s style is quintessentially British, which comes off as a nice and seemingly intentional counter to Meghan’s breezy, Goop-esque glamour. Still, Kate’s picks are expertly tailored, such as the raspberry Oscar de la Renta skirt suit the duchess recently wore to the Royal Ballet.
Cinched at the waist and just-voluminous-enough at the shoulders, the quintessentially British look could have been pulled by Patricia Field as a costume for a Princess Diaries spinoff.
Though both duchesses play the diplomatic dressing game first mastered by the queen and Diana—the queen famously wears bright colors so she can always be seen—Meghan has injected a dose of modernity to the mix. Kate has followed her lead.
Sure, both women still dress with their occasion in mind. During her trip to Australia, Meghan wore many pieces designed by lines based there. But the two also seem acutely aware of the fact that there are countless websites and fan accounts eager to document their every mood.
Diana would save her juiciest pieces for a capital-M moment. She donned a “revenge dress” at the Serpentine Gallery in 1994, the day after Prince Charles announced his infidelity on primetime TV, and wore a baby blue tulle strapless Catherine Walker gown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1987.
Meghan and Kate are not as strategic—when it comes to the Fab Four, every appearance has the potential to be a moment; hence, Meghan wearing head-to-toe sequins on a Wednesday night at Cirque du Soleil.
Exactly how the two decide what to wear is shrouded in palace secrecy. A representative in the press offices of Meghan and Kate declined to comment to The Daily Beast about the logistics behind how the duchesses curate their wardrobes.
We do know a few details about how the duchesses pick their clothes. A fund set up by Prince Charles foots the bill for any clothing the women buy for official appearances. The elder prince has around $28 million in the Duchy of Cornwall fund, which is where all members of the so-called Fab Four go to draw expenses.
Both women work with stylists. Kate has Natasha Archer, a personal assistant-turned-fashion guru who reportedly urged the duchess to wear shorter skirts. Meghan Markle is known to bring her best friend, Canadian stylist Jessica Mulroney, on her official tours to help tap looks.
Though the duchesses are not allowed to accept freebies from designers, People reported that their respective stylists pull a variety of pieces for free, decide what will be worn, send back the rejects, and buy whatever is used.
Do we really want to reduce Markle’s sparkles and Kate’s pastels to that arduous process of tracking numbers and package slips? It seems that many who follow the royal family are content to leave those details to palace assistants.
Part of the fun of watching Meghan step onstage at the British Fashion Awards in a one-shouldered black velvet gown, cradling her baby bump, is because we don’t know where it came from.
There are no paparazzi photos of her out shopping. Her stylist has not told blogs how readers can find similar, cheaper dupes. Meghan doesn’t have an Instagram account, so she couldn’t post a photo showing her eating a salad in a bathrobe, surrounded by a glam squad, captioned with “It takes a village.”
As far as royal fashion-watchers are concerned, it takes nothing for Meghan to show up to an event, high heels on, hair styled just right, trousers pressed or dresses expertly fitted, even during the unpredictability of her first pregnancy. There is no evidence to suggest that Kate’s famous blowouts are not just how her perfectly coiffed hair naturally looks each morning.
The reality is also the fantasy.