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Scandal is not unfamiliar to the Royal Family: we've witnessed adultery, racism, unjust colonization, and class divisions, but with a topic as serious as the British monarchy, controversies relating to fashion may seem jejune. Meghan Markle's complex role in the contemporary view of the Palace cannot be ignored, and after watching the multi-episode documentary focused on Meghan and Harry’s life, the true power of her wardrobe was revealed. While discussing one of the oldest reigning regimes, Harry and Meghan open their documentary dressed in plain, loose-fitting clothes, which directly juxtaposes the intense, messy, and toxic history they go on to tell.
Fashion scandals are often nuanced because of how they are received by the public, but Markle’s “scandals” stemmed mainly from her mere presence and role in the Palace. These issues would not have reached this level of scandal had they happened across the pond. The most striking part of Markle’s time in the UK was her muted wardrobe. To most people, wearing a neutral tone is not a statement, but to Markle, it is a comment on the outdated rules of the monarch. For almost all of Meghan's time in the UK, although not required, Meghan's wardrobe consisted solely of camel and neutral tones. There was intention behind this: Meghan’s presence in the UK caused a backlash, and she wanted to do everything in her power to blend in. It is established and widely understood that one should never wear the same color as a senior royal. It was framed as an “embarrassment” to match with a higher member of the royal family, but with no advanced notice, this meant Meghan had to constantly play it safe by wearing neutrals.
Markle noted, "To my understanding, you can't ever wear the same color as Her Majesty [Queen Elizabeth] if there's a group event. But then you also should never be wearing the same color as one of the other more senior members of the family… So I was like, 'Well, what's a color that they'll probably never wear?' Camel? Beige? White?"
Fashion is personal, fashion is expressive, and when robbed of that, its meaning becomes devoid. Meghan’s identity made her a target to the media, and she has spoken out numerous times about the challenges she faces as a biracial woman in the royal family, including feeling unsupported and unprotected by the institution. It was clear that she was scrutinized and held to different standards than the rest of the royal family. Meghan Markle’s past profession as an actress and her identity as a mixed American woman ostracized her, and understatement is very valued by the British, so she played into this by protecting herself and wearing neutral colors, eliminating all aspects of her personal identity from her wardrobe. In Meghan’s first solo outing with the Queen, she sported a cream-colored sheath dress by Givenchy that was drowned out by the Queens neon green ensemble. The pure fear of ostracizing herself further became crippling and forced the once stylish, daring actress to play it safe and blend in. Fashion scandals plague the judgemental world we live in, yet what is considered “daring” for Markle is simply a small stray from outdated, conventional British standards. Markle made headlines for forgetting a name tag at the Royal Ascot, wearing a baseball cap at Wimbledon, and simply over-accessorizing. Although seemingly a story of the monarch controlling everything once again, Meghan left her legacy by ditching the neutral wardrobe and trading it for louder colors for her final appearances before stepping down as a royal.
This isn't the first time Royalty has come under fire for fashion. When you think of Princess Diana, do you think of the bounds she made towards equality, being the first royal to genuinely care about social progress, or do you think of her “revenge dress,” the powerful form-fitting, off-the-shoulder, silk black dress worn to the Serpentine Gallery in 1994. Paired with a simple pearl necklace, the dress ultimately became symbolic of her messy divorce when Charles admitted to his adultery that same night. With all eyes on Princess Di that night, all hope for Charles's redemption was lost: enter revenge dressing. This 1994 night marked a pivot in her wardrobe where “The heels got higher, the hemlines got shorter” (Eloise Moran, author of “The Lady Di Look Book”), and it became clear that Diana’s fashion choices no longer catered to the Palace with fear of embarrassing them, a sentiment eventually adopted by Markle as well.
Meghan and Di do what most plagued with scandal wish they could, turning the attention into progress. Princess Diana was known for her philanthropy, and Meghan’s endeavors would make her proud. Markle has been a vocal advocate for ethical fashion and has used her platform to promote sustainable, inclusive, and responsible fashion practices. In many public appearances, she has been seen wearing clothing from brands like Stella McCartney, Gabriela Hearst, and Everlane, which are known for their sustainable and ethical fashion practices. Markle also has been a vocal advocate for black-owned fashion brands and their missions; she has been seen wearing clothing and accessories from brands like Misha Nonoo, Dion Lee, and Oremme. Meghan’s dedication to boosting small fashion brands has been dubbed the “Meghan Economy,” worldwide coverage of Meghan and Harry's engagement announcement and subsequent official public appearances helped to introduce millions to Markle’s favorite small fashion brands. As people try to mimic their style, the net present value to brands that Markle endorses are estimated to be 150 million pounds, or $212.1 million, according to David Haigh, chief executive officer of Brand Finance. Meghan has also been an advocate for fair labor practices in the fashion industry. She has also been known to amplify the importance of the people behind the clothing and solely support fashion brands that prioritize fair labor practices, living wages, and ethical manufacturing processes.
The news and media robbed Meghan during her time in the Palace, but this is a story of grabbing a scandal by its roots and making your own narrative.