Last week, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry returned to the U.K. from Canada to fulfill their final obligations as official members of the British Royal Family. On 8th January, the couple announced that they had decided to ‘step back as senior members’ of the House of Windsor with the intention to become financially independent philanthropists with general but less official ties to the royals. They will no longer use their Royal Highness titles, although they have not been officially stripped of them. They will also not use the Sussex Royal name for branding purposes. They will most likely simply be known as Harry and Meghan to the world.
The couple turned up at several events close to their hearts. With all eyes on them ready to decipher the smallest of nods and waves for evidence of their mental states, it seemed clear that the Sussexes did not come to play. In particular, Meghan was here to show the world what they were about to miss. As is befitting a woman in a professional position where her fashion choices are subject to the most intense scrutiny, Meghan played a subtle but sharp game. When appearing at an event in honor of the Endeavor Fund, Meghan arrived in a form-fitting below-the-knee turquoise dress with short sleeves designed by Victoria Beckham. The heels were Manolo Blahniks, the clutch was Stella McCartney, and the bright red lip unknown. It wasn’t necessarily a daring choice. Nobody was expecting her to rock up in Balmain spandex. She still chose a prominent British designer too. The moment, however, still read as a glorious f**k you to the rest of the world, especially when we saw this photograph of the couple on the night.
meghan and harry won pic.twitter.com/aY0mXxnBpx— G (@oneofthosefaces) March 5, 2020
Somehow, Meghan almost topped that look when she stepped out for the Mountbatten Music Festival at the Royal Albert Hall. Accompanying Harry, who wore his full military uniform, Meghan complimented him in a matching red dress by Safiyaa, complete with a shoulder cape, draped back detail, all accompanied with matching earrings, shoes and clutch. Red always makes a statement and Meghan certainly got her message across, on top of looking just stunning.
Meghan and Harry painting the town red. That’s it. That’s the tweet. pic.twitter.com/LVhr4Dchqw— Valentina ☕️ (@ValsCappuccino) March 7, 2020
And then came the absolute final event of the Sussex farewell tour, and Meghan did not disappoint. She wore head-to-toe emerald green for a Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey, and even Harry co-ordinated with his blazer lining. The draped neckline, the large matching fascinator, the touch of highlighter on her cheeks… it’s called fashion, Piers, look it up.
THE FLAVOR. THE DRAMA. THE HISTORICAL NUANCES. THE ART. THAT THIS HAS. WOW! MEGHAN’S LAST ROYAL ENGAGEMENT. LOOK AT HER pic.twitter.com/ev0DTOvTiT— just harry (@henryscousin) March 9, 2020
Fashion for royal women is an oddly treacherous field to navigate. Consorts are almost exclusively prized for their beauty and breeding abilities, two insidious narratives that anyone even vaguely familiar with the press coverage of these women will be aware of. Focusing on their clothes feels like a convenient shield for the press and public to pick apart their lives without facing the more obvious accusations of sexism. It’s another way to reinforced archaic and unevenly applied claims of ‘royal protocol’ in an attempt to drum up fake drama. Think of how Meghan was criticized for wearing black tights and a one-shouldered dress, all justified as being evidence of how she flouted the Queen’s traditions. One must dress appropriately, even if those terms are never fully defined. You’ll face flack for dressing conservatively and ‘dully’ but the wrath will be even greater if you go in the opposite direction.
Meghan has consistently been compared to Kate Middleton since the first rumblings of her romance with Harry entered the press. Much of the focus centered on fashion because that’s how misogyny works and also because it seemed clear to the tabloids that they couldn’t create an equal playing field for the two women if the conversation came down to their respective achievements. To put it bluntly, Meghan blows Kate out of the water every single time on that front. Talking-heads played up Meghan’s sacrifices for entering the royal family with a heavy and curious emphasis on her style. Oh, she won’t be able to wear red lipstick anymore, apparently. Say goodbye to short skirts because the Queen doesn’t like them. Bright colors are inappropriate, as is showing off your shoulders. Every day, it seemed like there was a new rule, and it only got harsher after the wedding. The agenda was obvious: Nit-pick everything and move the goalposts constantly to ensure Meghan can’t win. It doesn’t matter if we celebrated Kate for wearing a one-shoulder dress: Meghan did it so it’s bad now. Other royal women can wear non-British designers but Meghan doing so is tantamount to treason. She’s not doing her job properly if she doesn’t look exactly as we want her to. There’s no way for any woman to win that game but especially an American woman of color with her own causes and opinions.
That’s all set to change. Last week felt like an audition for the new era of Meghan and Harry. As much as this was their goodbye to the world of full-on royal clout, it was equally as effective as an introduction to what to expect in the future. What do we want from the untethered Sussex power couple and what do they want to achieve in return? There’s only so much we can glean from fashion for this perspective but Meghan’s a former actress and influencer who knows the power of a great dress and red lip for the right occasion, so it’s certainly worth our analysis.
Meghan and Harry co-ordinated with their fashion, reinforcing their status as a united front against the world and the royals alike. Both put themselves forward as stars in the spotlight in a way that the confines of the monarchy seldom allow for but demand in the current age of celebrity. They dressed and acted in a way that dared you to look away from them, be it because of the oversaturation of color that felt so radical in a sea of beige, or by the way they practically strode onto the scene with a looseness and confidence that’s all the more evident since they announced their exit from The Firm. Meghan didn’t just dress for attention: She dressed for revenge, covering herself with the vibrant colors and styling that would so easily have her slammed yet again as a protocol-flouting attention seeker from the usual gaggle of critics. Moreover, she’s showing them what they’re going to miss. As we’ve said before, the royals and the press need Meghan far more than she needs them. She and Harry are off to be the new George and Amal Clooney, a celebrity power couple with real philanthropist credentials and a world of open doors ahead of them.
In her newsletter Name Dropper, Meghan O’Keefe sums up why Meghan seems to inspire such virulent hatred in royalists (aside from the racism and misogyny, if course.) Whenever she enters a room looking stunning, speaking eloquently, and working with a group of people who hang onto her every word, she proves that there is absolutely nothing special about being a royal. She makes all those engagements look easy, look fun, and she makes people care. If this American woman of color who used to open suitcases on Deal or No Deal can be royal then anyone can, and that makes the entire point of the monarchy null and void. The House of Windsor needed Meghan to ensure they didn’t become even more hopelessly antiquated than they already have, but they simply threw her away, left her to the wolves by ensuring that her good intentions and popularity could never be enough. She didn’t make herself small enough for their liking. Now, she can use that spotlight in far more interesting and beneficial ways. Frankly, being a celebrity is a far better way of life than being a royal, and Meghan can ensure the British press spends a whole lot of time lamenting what they’re going to miss with her absence. They do say that the best revenge is living well, but it helps to look good doing it.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.