Poor Meghan Markle. For every person gushing over how in love she and Prince Harry look in their engagement photos (#relationshipgoals), someone else was talking about her choice of dress.
Because of course they were.
We all were.
She is a woman in the public eye, which means we all feel the need to scrutinise her choice of clothing. And the latest piece of clothing causing controversy is a dress by British design house Ralph and Russo. It’s a lavish black gown with a sheer, embellished top half and a feather skirt. It’s also worth £56,000.
Now, given the average salary in the UK is £25,000, many people have not reacted positively to Markle’s sartorial choice, claiming she’s out of touch and wondering whether the couple really are the down-to-earth royals we wanted them to be.
But when did Markle ever say she wanted to be the “people’s princess”? She never has. She seems to want to do things her way and clearly isn’t afraid to break with traditional royal protocol by – gasp! – exposing her legs in the couple’s engagement interview and – shock horror! – daring to wear a sheer top. But who says she has to be down to earth?
Markle is a successful actress. She has earned her own money and should be free to spend it on what she chooses. That is exactly what an empowered woman does. While the Duchess of Cambridge may have been praised for shopping in the likes of Reiss, Jaeger and Zara, Markle may not do the same. But why should she?
Of course, people will undoubtedly compare the two women’s styles (much as they’ll try their best to create some sort of imaginary rivalry between them), but Kate and Meghan’s dress sense couldn’t be further apart. As wife of the future king, it’s perhaps little wonder that the Duchess of Cambridge dresses much more conservatively than most other women her age (35). It’s all knee-length pencil skirts (that aren’t too tight, naturally) and buttoned-up jackets. As well as the occasional show-stopping Jenny Packham gown.
It remains to be seen, however, whether Markle will be forced to go down the same path. As principled as she is, the actress already seems to have mysteriously stopped tweeting as of March this year, with many speculating that the powers that be might have asked her to refrain if she was to become part of the establishment.
And of course, everything Kate or Meghan wear will sell out. Markle was named the fourth most influential person in the world in the fashion stakes by Lyst this year, and multiple items of clothing she’s worn have already been renamed in her honour by the brands.
We are obsessed with royal fashion. And I really feel for the women whose sartorial choices are held up with so much more scrutiny than their royal partners. The Duchess of Cambridge can’t even go gardening without being criticised for wearing old wellies.
The trouble is, they can’t win.
Wear something too expensive and upmarket and you’ll be told you’re out of touch and in bad taste; wear something too common and people will say you’re not acting like a princess (even if you’re actually a duchess).
Of course, all women in the public eye are criticised for what they wear, but the royals (and politicians, lest we forget those leather trousers) are held to higher scrutiny. As leaders of our nation (in a way), we feel like we’re allowed to have more of a say about the royal family. But we shouldn’t, even if social media allows pictures to spread like wildfire and we’re all able to share our views on an outfit instantaneously.
But of course, fascination with royal wardrobes is nothing new.
Twenty years after her death, we’re all still obsessed with Princess Diana’s style, with endless coffee table books dedicated to her fashion choices and an exhibition tracing the evolution of her style at Kensington Palace. At least posthumously Princess Di no longer faces criticism over the prices of her dresses.
Kensington Palace has said that the Ralph and Russo gown that set tongues wagging this week was “privately purchased”, however fashion insiders say it’s extremely unlikely that Markle paid full-price for the dress considering how much attention it was always going to garner. But either way, she’s not spending public money and she’s a grown woman with her own source of income. It’s also rather fabulous to see a woman in her position wearing a badass dress that would probably be frowned upon by traditionalists in the royal family.
Markle looks absolutely fantastic, so we should let the woman wear whatever the hell she wants.