Since her engagement to Prince Harry in November 2017, Meghan Markle found herself under the microscope of the public eye, the same one that her sister-in-law Kate Middleton has lived with since she started dating Prince William as a university student in 2003.
It comes with the territory when you’re in a relationship with a prince. Yes, you can live a real-life princess fairy tale, but everyone will want to know everything about it. And what you’re wearing. Preceding Middleton and Markle, their late mother-in-law Princess Diana struggled with her own spotlight. And that was long before the sharp teeth of social media emerged.
Monday’s Commonwealth Service in London marked the end of official royal engagements for Markle and Prince Harry. But for the sisters-in-law, comparisons will surely continue, especially if Markle chooses to remain in the public eye, which seems a likely bet. The public has made it clear that there is room for two very different princess stories. If anything, they would rather have it that way.
Over the past three years, the comparisons and contrasts between Middleton and Markle have been numerous — in fashion, in attitude and ultimately, in the decisions each one has made about royal duties.
Both princesses had to undergo a certain amount of transformation before entering into the royal family: Middleton shed her aughts-era, university-age party girl threads (and modeling ambitions), while Markle put away her ingenue hemlines honed on the red carpet. As both entered into official royal duties, their respective wardrobes were whittled down to the three most important pieces of the royal dress code: coats, fascinators and pumps.
Even in their last official engagement together, the sisters-in-law wore opposing outfits that seemed to invite an almost cartoonish comparison of ruby versus emerald in the proverbial crown jewels.
Was Markle’s choice of color in her Emilia Wickstead sheath and cape a subtle message to the queen? (She reportedly wanted to wear the royal emerald tiara to her 2018 wedding to Prince Harry but was seemingly denied.) Why was Middleton rewearing her Gianvito Rossi pumps and Catherine Walker coat from Christmas 2018?
Anyone who has worn these colors knows that it’s not an accident. Among a sea of drab colors and sober outfits in Westminster Abbey, both Markle and Middleton clearly wanted to make a forget-me-not statement.
Neither will be forgotten, surely, and the interest in what Markle does next is palpable. How she presents herself and shifts her fashion choices will be a likely window into her career plans. Will she continue the philanthropic footprint sporting sustainable and cause-driven brands like Veja and Rothy’s?
Will she bolster feminist messaging with female-led brands like Jennifer Chamandi, Sarah Flint and Zyne? Or will she go big-time Hollywood with her favorite red carpet staples like Aquazzura and Stuart Weitzman. Will she flagrantly shun the royal dress code with high hemlines and more revealing necklines — or stay the course in polite looks that will keep up the princess appearance? She didn’t seem to enjoy the mandate of nude hosiery, often going bare-legged at appearances. Now, she won’t have to worry about it.
Markle’s departure from the royal purview may actually benefit Middleton, who in recent years has engaged a bit less with fashion than she did when she was newly married. Juggling three children and the increasingly senior duties of royal life might have something to do with it.
The global fashion world would gladly welcome her back as the originator of the Kate Middleton effect, if she so chose. In 2020, there are even more contemporary brands ripe for the Issa treatment. She might even look to her American brunette counterpart of the same name for lessons in how to reignite her fashion influence.
Markle and Middleton have always taken two different approaches — and their lifestyles will certainly diverge further now.
But curiously, their shoe choices have remained eerily similar. Both seem empowered and unbothered by stiletto pumps. Both like a well-placed sneaker moment. Their choices are both classic, uncomplicated and seem to convey the message that any woman can look like a modern-day princess with a color-coordinated outfit and well-punctuated shoe.
Perhaps Middleton and Markle’s best shared shoe example lies in Manolo Blahnik’s classic BB pump. For two very different princesses, it’s the ultimate Cinderella-story shoe. And just maybe, their common fashion thread going forward.