It took Meghan Markle only two seconds to close her own car door on Wednesday. But the moment of relatability left many Markle stans clutching their imitation Aquazzura pumps in celebration. Deal or No Deal-briefcase-girl-turned-royalty... they’re just like us! Except for, you know, the million-dollar wardrobe.
Before closing her own door, Markle had exited the her car in a long-sleeved, black Givenchy number that would come off a bit too Wednesday Addams save for a strategically placed skirt slit. For her first solo outing as a royal, Markle oozed the breezy confidence she’s known for.
Even before joining the royal family, Markle projected self-assuredness. She ran a site called The Tig, where she blogged about independence and living alone. In 2015, she penned an essay for Darling detailing how she found self-confidence as a young actress when a casting director told you, “You need to know that you’re enough.”
Still, after her wedding to Prince Harry, Markle struggled to hit her sartorial stride. On May 22, the Duchess of Sussex attended a garden party celebrating Prince Charles’ birthday. She paired a rose fit and flare sheath with tights and a bespoke Philip Treacy hat tipped ever so slightly on the angle.
In her modest, buttoned-up silhouette, the newlywed could have walked out of a BBC period drama. It was lovely. And, to some, a snoozefest.
“She looks like a Stepford royal,” read one comment on Meghan’s Mirror, a blog that tirelessly documents the Duchess’ every outfit. “Dressing appropriately does not mean ‘wear an ugly beige sack,’” another decried.
“People were aghast that Meghan had worn a dress that was so not her,” Amanda Dishaw, the blog’s editorial director, told The Daily Beast. “They were horrified that she had gotten married and then switched everything out for an uber-conservative wardrobe.”
Though the $790 Goat number sold out after Markle wore it—the line reported that extra interest caused their site to crash—something was off. What had happened to the woman who strolled into our hearts wearing her J. Crew trench coat?
Re-enter Jessica Mulroney, the Canadian stylist, Markle confidant, and unofficial royal wedding planner.
“I’m not sure if the palace called her and said, ‘OK, this is not working,’ or if they planned for Meghan to wear something more conservative for her first few events, but either way, Jessica Mulroney got back into the picture,” said Dishaw. Suddenly, Markle was back on her game.
We have Mulroney to thanks for some of Markle’s major wins this Summer, especially during her trip to Ireland with Prince Harry. As Good Morning America reported, the stylist pulled a universally lauded daffodil Brandon Maxwell midi dress and structural Roland Mouret frock.
That isn’t to say the criticism has stopped. Two months after her wedding, royal expert Katie Nicholl estimated to Entertainment Tonight that the duchess (or, rather the Prince of Wales) had spent $1 million on clothes alone. “She’s not repeating anything,” Dishaw noted. “She’s wearing very expensive pieces—Oscar de la Renta, Givenchy—which is not her norm. Going forward, we expect to see some of those pieces repeated and worn in rotation.”
It’s not unusual to see Kate Middleton re-wear pieces, but she's had seven years to build a style arsenal. Markle has been married for four months.
Since protocol strictly forbids royals from making public political statements, it's become somewhat of a tradition for female members of the family to speak through their clothing. The queen reportedly wears bright pastels so her adoring public can spot the 5ft 4in monarch in crowds.
More often than not, Princess Diana spoke through her fashion. Sometimes her intentions were diplomatic, like when she donned red polka dots to match Japan's flag during a trip to the country.
Other moments were delectable power moves. Diana wore a sensational Christina Stambolian LBD to the Serpentine Gallery on the same night an interview documenting Prince Charles’ infidelity was set to air. (It was later dubbed “The Revenge Dress.”)
Middleton is married to the ostensible future King of England, and she dresses the part. Her classic look is polished, but calculated, as if she has some style calculated. Skirt suit + piping + pillbox hat = Easter outfit. Polka dots + cinched waist = Wimbledon.
It's much more fun to see Markle wear a minidress to the premiere of Hamilton (sans tights, no less!) than to see that Middleton's worn the same Penelope Chilvers boots again.
Since Markle's reported "trendy-lefty" beliefs have to stay out of the public eye, she has taken somewhat of a Diana approach to statement dressing. The duchess is fond of pantsuits, a look the queen allegedly considers unladylike.
Is she staging a quiet style coup?
“With the pantsuits, Meghan's saying ‘women don’t have to wear ball gowns if we don’t feel like it,’” Dishaw said. “A lot of times, we don’t hear Meghan speak at her events, but by wearing clothes from a brand that supports women’s rights, or believes in sustainability, she is able to promote the causes she wants to.”
Sure, some Markle watchers care about her fashion politics. Others probably just want to copy her style. Regardless, Markle has that intangible it factor that ensures, as People once cutely put it, “everything she touches turns to sold.”
An early example of Markle’s selling power came in 2017, when she made her public debut as Harry’s girlfriend at the Invictus Games in Toronto. David Lochhead, who co-founded the sunglasses line Finlay and Co. with Dane Butler, remembers it well.
“It was around 10 p.m. on a Monday evening in September, and I was riding the Tube [subway)] home,” he recalled to The Daily Beast. “I hadn’t checked my phone in a couple of hours as I’d been having dinner with my family. A friend had sent a screengrab of Meghan's outfit at the Invictus Games and asked if the sunglasses were Finlay.”
They were. “I let out a little squeal of joy and punched the air,” Lochhead said. The best was yet to come.
Twenty-four hours after Markle was photographed in the tortoise-shell Percy sunglasses, the brand saw a $25,000 sales boost. The days following gave Finlay & Co. its highest-ever week of online sales.
Harry proposed in November, and before the announcement the couple had only been photographed together at the Invictus Games. When covering the news, media outlets reused the photos of Markle in the sunglasses. Lochhead said this second round of press led to another bump in sales.
According to Lochhead, “In the 12 months that Meghan started wearing Finlay, online sales have risen 300% and web orders have been received from 96 countries around the world.” American shoppers have contributed to 40 percent of the profit.
Percy, the exact design that Meghan was photographed in, contributes to 70 percent of all online sales.
While Finlay & Co. got its happy ending from Markle, her effect on sales can be somewhat exaggerated. While it’s true that whatever she wears thrusts a label into a spotlight, the attention isn’t always lasting.
“It’s hard for a brand to truly optimize on this, as they have little to no warning that their piece has been chosen for the occasion,” Kate Smith, retail analysis and insights director for data company Edited, told The Daily Beast. “Upon sell-out, (smaller brands) may not be able to get their piece replenished in time to tap into all those eyeballs. Unless a brand is able to establish a more lasting relationship (with Markle), there’s unlikely to be a significant lift in performance.”
Not everyone can afford bespoke Givenchy, which fuels the production of knockoffs. According to Smith, mass market retailers are churning out belted trench coats, menswear inspired pieces, ripped denim, and oversized button-downs because Markle favors those styles.
Free People sells the not-so-subtly titled “Meghan” bodysuit, which has a Duchess-esque boatneck. According to Smith, 2018 has seen a 318 percent increase in products named Meghan.
The world wants to see as much as possible of Meghan Markle, but Markle herself is still processing the looks she wants to be seen in—and looking pretty darn fabulous as she does so.