Why We’re So Obsessed With the British Royals’ Fashion

In an age dominated by influencer and celebrity endorsements, no one drives sales quite like the British royals.

Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle’s influence — cheekily nicknamed the “Kate Effect” and “Markle Sparkle,” respectively — has been well-documented, through blog posts, surveys and designer-reported numbers. Queries for each women triple year-on-year, according to a report released last week from data provider SEMrush, with numbers soaring even more when major life events (like a new baby’s birth) happen.

But why do the duchesses have so much power in the first place? Donna Rockwell, a clinical psychologist who specializes in fame and celebrity psychology, said our collective obsession with all-things royal may date back to Queen Elizabeth II.

“Queen Elizabeth in particular is very warm . . . She’s admired by her own people. Perhaps we see in a psychologically Freudian way, a sense of comfort with this mother. Perhaps we all feel like offspring of hers,” Rockwell said. “Thus, we would see a connection to Kate in a sisterly way — look up to her, how she dresses, how she smiles, her volunteer work in the communities she visits.”

queen elizabeth, queen elizabeth ii, pink dress, royal wedding, lady gabriella windsor
Queen Elizabeth II arrives at Lady Gabriella Windsor’s wedding in May 2019.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

While Brits are interested in the royals partly because they’re watching their taxpayer dollars, Rockwell said obsessing over the duchesses may be a form of escapism for those across the pond.

“[One] thing I think that speaks to us about the royal family is the sense of order — that it’s not chaotic,” Rockwell said. “Particularly in the political climate we have in the United States right now, where everyone is so polarized.”

Rockwell added that Americans might be particularly intrigued by Markle, “one of us who became one of them” — a sentiment shared by Elizabeth Holmes, a longtime style reporter and author of the forthcoming book “HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style.”

kate middleton, emilia wickstead, mulberry, gianvito rossi
Kate Middleton wearing a green Emilia Wickstead dress and Gianvito Rossi pumps in May 2019.
CREDIT: Shutterstock
meghan markle, erdem fall 2019, Aquazzura's Deneuve pumps
Meghan Markle wearing an Erdem fall ’19 coat and dress with Aquazzura’s Deneuve bow-embellished pumps in March 2019.
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Holmes explained that Markle’s marriage into the royal family two years ago “really upped the interest in royal style.”

“I think that’s because she and Kate have such different vibes,” Holmes said. “There has long been a contingent of Kate fans drawn to her classic choices and penchant for British designers. Meghan, with her minimalist yet fashion-forward pieces from an array of fashion houses, has brought in a new audience.”

Middleton is known for wearing British designers like L.K. Bennett, Rupert Sanderson and Alexander McQueen (who made her 2011 wedding dress). Meanwhile, Markle has a mix of European and non-European brands in her wardrobe, such as Givenchy, Manolo Blahnik and Ralph Lauren.

BAFTA Red Carpet Kate Middleton
Kate Middleton wears an Alexander McQueen dress teamed with massive sparkling earrings at the 2017 BAFTAs.
CREDIT: Shutterstock
Meghan Duchess of SussexMeghan Duchess of Sussex visit to the Association of Commonwealth Universities, London, UK - 31 Jan 2019Wearing Givenchy Worn Before
Meghan Markle steps out in a Givenchy cape coat and Stuart Weitzman pumps at London’s City University on Jan. 31.
CREDIT: Tim Rooke/Shutterstock

Both women are known for incorporating some more accessibly priced items into the mix — pieces in the $200 and under range that fans can shop online (before they sell out, that is).

“[Markle and Middleton] wear a lot of off-the-rack pieces that are available for shoppers to buy,” said Holmes. “I have made a few royal-inspired purchases myself and, I have to say, I’ve been quite impressed. The J.Crew boots Meghan wore on tour last year are some of my favorites. The Ray-Ban sunglasses Kate sported at Wimbledon are fantastic, too.”

Prince Harry and Meghan Duchess of Sussex at the Royal Flying Doctor Service at Dubbo AirportPrince Harry and Meghan Duchess of Sussex tour of Australia - 17 Oct 2018
Meghan Markle wears a Serena Williams Collection blazer, a white Maison Kitsune blouse, Outland Denim jeans, and J.Crew Sadie boots in October 2018.
CREDIT: Matt Baron/Shutterstock
Catherine Duchess of CambridgeWimbledon Tennis Championships, Day 2, The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, London, UK - 02 Jul 2019Shoes By Gianvito Rossi, Bag By Alexander McQueen, Belt By Alexander McQueen Wearing Suzannah
Kate Middleton makes an appearance at the 2019 Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses with Gianvito Rossi pumps.
CREDIT: James Marsh/Shutterstock

Holmes is hardly the only one to make a royal-inspired buy. Sales of Superga’s white Cotu sneaker (priced at just $65) about doubled when Middleton wore them out and about. Meanwhile, traffic to Rothy’s website more than tripled when Markle wore the brand’s sustainably made $145 flats on a tour of Australia last October.

Kate Middleton Superga Sneakers
Kate Middleton wearing Superga sneakers in October 2016 on the royals’ trip to Canada.
CREDIT: Rex/Shutterstock
meghan markle, rothy's
Meghan Markle wears Rothy’s shoes on South Melbourne Beach in Australia in October 2018.
CREDIT: Matt Baron/Shutterstock

But it goes beyond that: The royals influence not only what consumers wear but also how they wear them.

“[When I look at a photo], I’m even looking at how the celebrity is wearing that item — particularly the footwear — and seeing ‘How does that fit on their foot? Do they have bunions? Is there any areas where it looks tight?'” explained Rockwell. “I look at the gap on the back of the heel to see if it actually looks half a size larger, and things like that.”

To that end Markle and Middleton don’t only impact clothing and shoe sales. When news emerged that Middleton wore Alice Bow’s luxury insoles, the brand went from “being a well-kept secret of London ladies in the know to becoming a global brand — literally overnight,” the designer told FN.

“The first time Tatler reported the duchess’ enthusiasm, I woke up thinking our website had been hacked, given the number of orders that had rolled in over night,” Bow said. “The duchess is an icon of modern royalty [and] she is always smiling, even when wearing the highest of heels.”

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