Tuesday 21 January 2020

Style counsel: all eyes on the duchess for first foreign visit

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex head here to challenge the World Cup for headlines, writes Sophie Donaldson

Meghan Markle in 2018. Picture: PA
Meghan Markle in 2018. Picture: PA
Meghan Markle in 2015. Picture: WireImage
Meghan Markle in 2013. Picture: Getty
Meghan Markle in 2014. Picture: Getty
Meghan Markle in 2014. Picture: Reuters
Meghan Markle in 2016. Picture: Getty
Meghan Markle in 2016. Picture: Getty
Meghan Markle in 2018. Picture: Reuters
Meghan Markle in 2018. Picture: Shutterstock
Meghan Markle in 2018. Picture: Getty
Meghan Markle in 2018. Picture: PA
Sophie Donaldson

Sophie Donaldson

Forget the World Cup, royal-watching remains the ultimate spectator sport and now we have a home fixture - the arrival this week of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's first trip abroad as a married couple will be a hoot for fashionistas who will be captivated not by what the royal couple actually say but, rather, what Meghan wears.

And, of course, there may have to be some late changes to the kit before kick-off. I'm sure the original plan was a honeymoon trip trousseau, based around Ireland's usual temperate July weather rather than a heatwave. Thankfully any lingering threat that tweed may have been involved has passed.

Since the news broke of their engagement last year, there have been endless articles and photo galleries charting Meghan's perceived 'style evolution' and, since the wedding, her 'royal transformation'. Although it has not blatantly been said out loud, the underlying appeal of this discourse is the 'rags to riches' storyline - or working class to royalty. However, Meghan's glossy image has been cultivated over many years in the public eye. The shiny-haired, ivory-toothed facade is more down to a series of small transformations rather than a whirlwind, Princess Diaries-type makeover. Although there are so many unrelatable aspects to Meghan's life, this ongoing set of physical changes is something we can all relate to.

How we dress is influenced by so many things - age, experience, career, family, relationships, geographic location. Most of us will experience several mini style evolutions over the course of our lives, and thank God for that. Can you imagine being stuck in a sartorial rut, circa 1992, or refusing to give up those acid-wash jeans you rocked back when Madonna's Holiday topped the charts? Style evolutions are not only inevitable, but they are entirely necessary. Life is constantly changing and so, too, should our wardrobe.

That said, having spent hours scrolling through pre- and post-Harry images of Meghan, I don't think her style has changed all that much. While it's clear she has succumbed to certain royal protocols, you could hardly claim a dramatic transformation has taken place. She hasn't been jimmied into a twinset and draped in pearls, and she is yet to be seen striding around in hunting tweeds.

Once you get past the flesh-coloured tights and dinky hats she has started wearing, the fundamentals have remained much the same. Meghan's style has always been classic. She favours neutrals like white, black, blush pink, nude, navy and burgundy. And although her hemlines have come down, her necklines have remained rather prim. Apart from the daring metallic mini-tuxedo dress she wore to the CFDAs in 2015 it's rare to find a photo of Meghan in a plunging neckline, which, in the age of the naked dress, made her something of a rarity among her thespian peers.

She clearly loves a good coat - the white belted coat by Canadian brand Line the Label she wore when announcing her engagement to Prince Harry sold out within minutes, but it was one of many classic styles she has sported in recent years. She loves a slim cut trouser leg or skinny jeans, as well as a knee-length pencil skirt, an item of clothing that is oddly royal-appropriate.

While many have hailed Meghan's 'reinvention' a success, the adjustments she has made to her appearance post-marriage have faced criticism from social media commentators. "The moulding of the Windsor Wife has begun. Messy hair and yoga in bikini photos replaced by Kate's shiny pale tights and dreary dress. Feminism be damned now, eh Megs?" reads one typical comment, made after she stepped out for the first time in those aforementioned pantyhose.

Whether we realise it or not, our sense of style can also be influenced by our spouse. In the #metoo era, the thought of a woman changing herself to please her husband, and appearing more subservient in the process, is simply unacceptable. When it comes to a woman dictating what her husband wears, however, we hardly bat an eyelid. How many bordering on slapstick exchanges have you witnessed between heterosexual partners, in which the woman quips how dire her other half's dress sense was before she got her hands on him, and he simply nods along like some sort of hapless hulk. It's a trope that is re-enacted again and again, both in real life and in popular culture, and one we never tire of. We certainly do not find it offensive or problematic that one person would dictate what another wears. No, we find it amusing - until the gender roles are reversed.

Whatever Meghan chooses to wear during her Irish tour will, as always, be the subject of heated debate and discussion; although I think we can all agree that in the current heatwave, there couldn't be anything more uncomfortable than a pair of cloying nude tights.

Sunday Independent

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