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The unofficial dress code for returning home after time away to visit family and friends is, I’m Doing Better Than You Are. Meghan Markle knows this, as she’s turned her final weekend of official royal duty into an opportunity to wear the hell out of some expensive clothes. It began as soon as she stepped out in London, right in front of the Goring Hotel with a glamorous blowout, strappy black heels, and a belted camel coat.
The look was at once extremely chic but very understated, an elusive combination most often seen on the super-rich. It communicated that Meghan had places to be and things to do, made evident by her packed Friday schedule of honoring wounded service members at the Endeavor Fund Awards, and looking almost obscenely dazzling in the rain with Prince Harry.
London-based clothier Alex Eagle designed the made-to-order coat, made from Italian baby camel hair and costing $1724. A spokesperson from the brand told The Daily Beast they were (predictably) “thrilled” to see Meghan in it. “She’s effortlessly stylish, and wears simple classics beautifully,” they added.
Out of all the “simple classics” Meghan loves to wear (white button-ups, ballet flats, round black sunglasses), perhaps none are as evocative of the leisure class than a tailored camel coat.
Think of Nicole Kidman as Celeste Wright on Big Little Lies, snuggling into hers while dropping her twins off at a private school’s carpool line. Or the denizens of mommy bloggers propping theirs over floral peasant dresses during Instagram photoshoots.
“The style is popular because it’s a color that suits almost everyone, and a shape that feels comfortable and casual when worn with jeans, and smart and elegant when dressed up,” the Alex Eagle rep said. “It’s the ultimate versatile coat.”
Yes, Meghan has worn a few, including a Prada number to her baby shower last year. Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, another woman who married into a media circus, also owned one of her own by the Italian luxury house more than two decades before Meghan. Paparazzi shots show Kennedy throwing hers on over bootcut jeans and sweaters, wearing it as a symbol of being busy and doing things.
After Meghan’s baby shower, the Telegraph dubbed a beige coat “the key to looking expensive on a budget.” If beige screams “rich” to Americans, it might be because of the coat’s British origins.
The retailer Jaeger is generally credited to have invented the style in the 1920s, and the smart pieces were seen as a polished, but slightly cheaper, alternative to European couture. In 1956, the designer Jean Muir took over ready-to-wear at Jaeger and freshened up the brand; by the end of the ’50s stars like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe were sporting camel coats.
With its slightly militaristic double breast and wide lapel collar, the traditional camel coat has been an unofficial uniform for many royal women since then; the Queen, Princess Diana, Kate Middleton, and, of course, Meghan all own a few. The silhouette may change—there is something distinctly bathrobe-y about the one Diana wore in 1981, with its big sleeves and canvas sash—but the visual shorthand remains. These women are refined, polite, courtly.
The 1980 Richard Gere film American Gigolo features costumes by Giorgio Armani, including one very famous beige coat. The film helped to equate camel on men as a symbol of raffish charm. Think of Ryan O’Neal as the preppy-with-a-conscience in Love Story or David Beckham’s many takes on the trend. My British editor also equates it with shady gents, led by George Cole’s character, Arthur Daley, in the TV series Minder.
The camel coat has reached a bipartisan appeal—Michelle Obama wore some in the White House, and Melania Trump favors them too, often positioning the coat over her shoulders, adding height to her already 5’ 11” frame.
During her time as White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders paired hers with knee-high boots and sundresses. She may not have liked holding official press conferences, but Sanders would sometimes speak to reporters on-the-fly, outside, adding to her curated “I’m Very Busy” narrative. (Whether she was actually doing things is, you know, up for debate.)
Politics aside, Meghan Markle’s recent outfit shows that the camel coat is here to stay, especially for someone who wants the world to know they’ve got influence and know how to use it—and somewhere to be, like, right now.