Saturday 21 September 2019

Royal style tribes

Are you a Kate or a Meghan? From hair to occasionwear, Meadhbh McGrath contrasts the rebel and the rule-follower's approach to dress

Kate Middleton’s best-selling engagement dress. Photo: WireImage
Kate Middleton’s best-selling engagement dress. Photo: WireImage
Kate Middleton in casualwear
Kate Middleton in a lace Temperley gown
Kate Middleton in her signature A-line silhouette in Germany
Meghan Markle opted for Canadian brands for her engagement announcement
Meghan Markle wearing trousers during an official appointment
Meghan Markle's messy bun at an evening event
Meghan Markle's controversial ripped jeans

Meadhbh McGrath

Since her engagement to Prince Harry, Meghan Markle has proved to be a powerful player in the fashion world. The 'Meghan effect' has become an industry phenomenon - just as with Kate Middleton, almost everything Meghan wears sells out within hours, from handbags by niche brands to Marks & Spencer's balloon sleeve knit jumper.

While Kate and Meghan have major selling power in common, that's where the style similarities end. The short suits and minidresses of Meghan's days as a TV actress have been ditched to reflect her status change from small-screen star to royal-in-waiting, but she still takes a very different approach to dressing from her soon-to-be sister-in-law.

The standards for 'correct' royal dress mean members of the family must choose clothes that will appeal to a conservative mass audience. Meghan, however, has so far ignored many of these rules, from the obligatory nude tights (she is frequently spotted with bare legs) to the requisite clutch bag, in order to bypass any awkward handshakes (Meghan prefers cross-body bags that leave her hands-free).

Kate will eventually be the wife of the King of England, and that means more serious implications for what she is allowed to wear. And while Kate first started dating William when she was just 21, Meghan, at 36, has lived a whole life outside the monarchy, and is very comfortable in her style. Now sixth in line to the throne, Harry doesn't face the same pressure as William, so we're unlikely to see much change in how Meghan dresses.

Kate favours sophisticated, polished classics informed by having spent almost all of her adult life in the British monarchy, as Meghan effortlessly blends laidback Cali-girl style with modern minimalism. Where Kate obediently follows the rules, Meghan is the new royal rebel, like Princesses Diana and Margaret before her. How do their styles differ? Let us count the ways...

Engagement look

The new traditionalist: Kate's blue silk Issa dress was an instant hit back in 2010, which left the British label struggling to keep up with such enormous demand - even eight years later, the dress still sells out after restocks. It was a decidedly formal look, but Kate was already showing a skill for mixing high street and luxury fashion, pairing the dress with courts from House of Fraser. The sensible shoes, along with the long sleeves and nude tights, hinted at the conservative looks to come.

The royal rebel: Straight out of the gate, Meghan was a rule-breaker, choosing to announce her engagement in clothes by Canadian brands (a nod to Toronto, where she lived while filming the TV series Suits), with bare legs and statement-making heels from Aquazzura. The sexy lace-up style was a far cry from Kate's safe courts, forecasting a more rebellious path for Meghan. She also opted for bare arms during the TV interview - a bold look the royal family tends to shy away from.


The new traditionalist: Kate has honed her look since the early 'Sloane Ranger' days of blazers, Barbour jackets and cork wedges, and casual events give her an opportunity to showcase a slightly sassier style than we tend to see in her formalwear, whether in stripy jumpers and box-fresh trainers or a quilted jacket and pristine dark denim - which still look destined for a display case in the Victoria & Albert Museum some day.

The royal rebel: While Kate might be the template for how women wish they looked doing the grocery shopping, Meghan's outfits, from the wide leg trousers and M&S jumper to the striped midi dress, are usually the ones women can see themselves wearing. The ripped jeans and loose white shirt she chose for her first public appearance with Harry at the Invictus Games are a perfect example of her refreshingly relatable style.

Since her engagement, however, she has looked a little out of place in more casual settings. During a sporty outing with Harry, the distressed denim had to go - and was rather awkwardly replaced with bootleg jeans, olive trench coat and spike-heeled boots. She could take some tips from Kate on this front.


The new traditionalist: Kate first modernised royal style by blending designer fashion with high street pieces, mixing in items from LK Bennett, Topshop and Zara for official engagements. In her early years as a royal, Kate's style was more unapologetically glamorous (including a blush sequinned gown from Jenny Packham and a halterneck number by Amanda Wakeley), but she has moved towards a more conservative wardrobe, favouring ladylike silhouettes with sleeves, a nipped-in waist and knee-length skirt, often topped off with a traditional hat or fascinator.

It was a treat to see her go full Hollywood at the 2017 Baftas in stunning Alexander McQueen with a rare off-the-shoulder neckline, but she played it safe this year with the much-analysed green Jenny Packham gown that rejected the Time's Up all-black dress code for the night.

The royal rebel: Pre-Harry, Meghan favoured miniskirts, short suits and plunging necklines. And while the £56,000 Ralph & Russo gown she chose for her engagement photos was a showstopper that wouldn't look out of place at the Oscars (and may hint at an equally spectacular wedding gown), Meghan has refined her wardrobe following her induction to royal life. However, her choices remain decidedly modern - most notably, a sharp black trouser suit by Alexander McQueen for her first evening engagement.

Hair and make-up:

The new traditionalist: Kate quickly earned a reputation as something of a professional hairbrush thanks to her famous locks. She is seldom seen without her trademark blow-dry - including emerging from hospital last month just seven hours after giving birth to baby Louis. Kate is also known for quite a heavy make-up look, with rings of black eyeliner, thick matte foundation and pink powder blush, a combination that can be prematurely ageing.

Now that she's in her mid-30s, however, she has toned it down and embraced a more dewy look, instantly taking years off by swapping powder products for cream and sporting far less eye make-up.

The royal rebel: You'd think a TV actress would be much heavier-handed when it comes to make-up, but Meghan prefers a low-key look off-screen. She has said she rarely wears foundation, preferring illuminating tinted moisturiser to let her freckles shine through.

In stark contrast to the immaculately coiffed Kate is Meghan's signature messy bun. The casual style has proved divisive, with critics deeming it sloppy and inappropriate for a royal-to-be, while others love the relaxed ease of the look. While there's slim chance she knocked it up herself as you would on the way to a yoga class, the bun is laidback and no-fuss, plus it's a bit of a power move - it tells us that this thoroughly modern princess is carving out her own identity in the royal family.

Irish Independent

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