Activist with a decades-long track record of advocating for women and girls. Coupled with one of the most visible and desirable men in the world. Designers want to dress her. Adoring crowds gather to catch a glimpse of her. A woman for kids to look up to, settling comfortably into her role as pleasant figurehead on the world stage. These are things that Ivanka Trump wants to be. These are things Meghan Markle actually is.
When Donald Trump was elected, it was clear that Ivanka wasn’t qualified to work in the White House. At least not in the sense that “qualified” means “equipped to understand and perform the duties of a job.”
Ivanka Trump had never shown interest in policy or politics—unless you count the fact that her eponymous line of clothing appeared to be designed with depressed bureaucrats in mind—before her father ran for office. Ivanka was more focused on the family brand, on sitting in a fake television boardroom with her father, on lying about how many units in the erstwhile Trump SoHo had been pre-sold. She’d even dipped her toe into lifestyle blogging.
Ivanka wanted to be a princess, a denizen of photo-ops and collectible dishes Middle America can order from Parade magazine, like Princess Diana. A person beloved and celebrated like royalty, and immune to the critical eye of the political media. Problem is, there’s no “princess” position in the executive branch.
After her marriage to Prince Harry, Meghan Markle will be stepping away from politics to focus on her royal duties. But the years before her royal courtship were characterized by advocacy and grit.
Markle first publicly advocated for women and girls when she was just 11 years old, when she started a letter-writing campaign against an ad that suggested only women perform housework. The campaign got the attention of NickNews. Per the AFP, her role as a global ambassador for World Vision Canada took her to Rwanda and fostered her advocacy for children in other developing countries. She’s written about global stigma around menstruation, and spoken at the UN for International Women’s Day in 2015. During that talk, the self-described feminist said “Women need a seat at the table, they need an invitation to be seated there, and in some cases, where this is not available, they need to create their own table.”
This February, Ivanka Trump tweeted a photo of herself sitting at her father’s desk in the Oval Office, noting “the importance of women having a seat at the table.” This would be a nice photo-op for an advocate if pesky political reality hadn’t gotten in the way: Ivanka’s father, whom she is supposed to be advising, has nominated or appointed white men to positions of power at a rate not seen in decades.
Ivanka has no policy accomplishments as a senior White House adviser, besides giving the World Bank an idea to start a fund for female entrepreneurs (which isn’t that original idea to begin with. It’s not like Ivanka invented the iPhone). Every other move the favorite Trump daughter (poor Tiffany!) has made has only led her into the path of more intense public disdain. She made an enemy of Cecile Richards when she awkwardly inserted herself into the Planned Parenthood debate. She shrunk away from her father’s comments on how the Nazis that marched in Charlottesville were perhaps, in a way, good and became the subject of one of the most savage Twitter draggings of all time when she half-assed a Pride Month message. She tweeted a bland condemnation of accused pederast Roy Moore in her typical toothless fashion, condemning child predators to hell but refusing to declare them ineligible for public office.
A recent speech in Japan was sparsely attended. Her support for a Republican tax bill that seems to run contrary to her whipped-cream platitudes about empowering women and families has earned her deserved criticism. There’s the fact that the Ivanka-Jared brain trust has its own growing political blooper reel. And a recent week in India was marred by bad publicity, the worst fear of a Trump.
Before Ivanka even arrived, an unnamed Indian diplomat compared her to a “half-wit Saudi prince.” Then there was the news that Hyderabad, India, had cleared out its beggars in anticipation of the visit. Then there was the awkward fact that the first daughter was talking about female empowerment in the shadows of the very sort of sweatshops that manufacture her brand’s clothing. Then even fashion abandoned her.
In The New York Times, Vanessa Friedman notes that Ivanka tried to display “fashion diplomacy” during her time in India, with mixed-to-poor results. One dress evoked comparisons to wallpaper; others, complaints that they reflected fantasies of India rather than authentic expressions of Indians.
Indian designer Neeta Lulla custom-made a sari for Ivanka, but Ivanka instead opted to wear… Tory Burch. “It would have been a pretty big statement if Ms. Trump had worn it,” Friedman writes, “but all the Tory Burch was also interesting, given Ms. Burch’s very vocal support of female entrepreneurs.”
Still, Tory Burch must have been excited about the sartorial choice, right? No. “Not that Tory Burch (the company) seemed particularly excited about Ms. Trump’s patronage,” Friedman continues. “‘We don’t work with Ivanka at all,’ a spokeswoman said by email when asked about it.”
In contrast, Markle is the fashion industry’s newest muse, in much the same way the Middleton sisters were nearly seven years ago. According, again, to the Times’ Vanessa Friedman, Marklemania has already started. Every outfit she wears inspires crazed levels of imitation. Magazines are already using Markle as a peg in style headlines. The coat she wore during her official engagement announcement crashed its brand’s website. Markle, Friedman notes, will “unquestionably be the most desired guest for any brand” at London Fashion Week this winter.
Every day features a new Markle wedding dress fanfic piece written with the help of a bevy of designers and speculation. Will she pick Jenny Packham? Oscar de la Renta? She’s already described her perfect dress, says ABC (she actually didn’t describe anything specific at all). Whatever Markle picks, people will go apeshit over it.
Ivanka and Markle have interacted before. Markle, like Ivanka, used to run a lifestyle blog. Hers was called “Tig.” While it was deleted this past April, old entries are still available via the Internet Wayback Machine. Markle actually interviewed Ivanka for her blog in 2015 (over email) but was liberal with praise, calling Ivanka “staggeringly beautiful” and “incredibly savvy and intelligent.” “I always remember Ivanka being different,” Markle wrote. “She wasn’t dancing on tables as a teenager or releasing pop albums. She wasn’t running amuck publicly, swearing and being smacked with DUIs.” Markle wrote that she and Ivanka had made plans to get drinks the next time they were both in New York City, noting that she’d order what Ivanka ordered, so intense was her desire to emulate her success.
But perhaps Ivanka would rather have what Meghan is having. “I’ve never wanted to be a lady who lunches,” Markle wrote in 2015. “I’ve always wanted to be a woman who works.”
Ivanka’s widely panned book, called Women Who Work, was released in 2016.
There’s something uniquely 2017 fever-dreamy about the divergence of Ivanka and Markle’s fates. Markle, a working actress who once held a briefcase on Deal Or No Deal, gets to retire from the thornier parts of politics and into a life of a princess. Meanwhile Ivanka, the telegenic heiress of the man behind The Art of the Deal has found herself queen of the frogs.