Akin to what I do for the Duchess of Cambridge, what follows is a review of the Duchess of Sussex’s 2018, but with a few key differences. This is of course Meghan’s inaugural year as a member of the British Royal Family and so what follows will be a little less about her clothes and patronages (of which there are none of the latter to-date) and more taking a look at how she – and the BRF – have handled her entry.
This is a post that I’ve been playing around with for about two months and eventually decided to hold for the end-of-year wrap up I was planning, so two birds, one stone, etc. It will also serve as a benchmark when we eventually capture Meghan’s 2019 – or her first full year as a HRH complete with patronages, a new baby and a full-sized residence on the Windsor estate.
So, let’s get into it:
Where We Left Off
In December 2017, Meghan’s engagement to Prince Harry had just been announced, she was only beginning to take on public appearances as his fiancee and the media was in overdrive for another royal wedding and a new duchess. It’s been said so many times before, but it bears repeating that the BRF hasn’t quite encountered a woman like Meghan before. By that I don’t necessarily mean that she’s biracial or even American, for throughout England’s history it’s had any number of foreign princesses marry into its royal family. Her divorce is a twist, but hardly scandalous given how many senior royals have divorced at this point. No, what’s really different is that she wasn’t plucked from obscurity in the same vein as Kate, the Countess of Wessex, the Duchess of Cornwall or, further back, Diana, Princess of Wales and Sarah, Duchess of York.
Meghan may not have driven tabloid headlines, but she was an actress on a popular television show who did media interviews, participated in photoshoots, had celebrity friends and maintained any number of personal and professional digital platforms. Now she is in the unique position of being more visible and more silent and what we are seeing – and will likely continue to see – is the rub between a certain comfort level with public attention and the constrains of having to fit inside an institution that must always come first.
After a successful debut alongside the BRF at Sandringham, the new year kicked off with Harry and Meghan carrying out an engagement pretty early in January. Touring a radio station in Brixton, Meghan already set herself apart from what we were used to by wearing a pair of wide-legged trousers and a long, loose Smythe coat. The silhouette would quickly become her winter wardrobe.
Later in the month, she and Harry kicked off what became a mini-tour of the UK to introduce her to the public. The first stop was Cardiff where she debuted one of my favorite pieces from the year: this ribbon-belted Stella McCartney coat.
While William and Kate were in the middle of their Scandinavian tour, Harry and Meghan attended an engagement together in London on the evening of February 1. It was the first evening event the two publicly joined and anticipation was high for Meghan’s first cocktail dress or more princess-y look. Nope, instead she chose a black Alexander McQueen tuxedo and it may well have been my favorite fashion moment of the year just for the sheer surprise.
It remains more than a little funny to me that she and Kate both wore McQueen that evening, but in the most radically different way possible.
Later in the month, Meghan joined Harry for a day in Edinburgh for which she wore a tartan Burberry coat. I like this coat quite a bit, but this whole look turned into a miss for me – the open coat and crossbody bag is just a tad too informal.
Finally, she joined Harry, William and Kate at the Royal Foundation Forum wearing a beautiful navy Jason Wu wrap dress that we never got a great look at. Here’s to hoping for a 2019 recycle.
Meghan joined Harry for three more engagements in March, by which point it became clear that we were getting a lot more of the future HRH than the BRF could probably have gotten away with. She was a natural, drawing huge crowds and generally showing few nerves and a lot of enthusiasm.
Her March engagements were interesting – she appeared in Birmingham for International Women’s Day, underscoring what would later be called out by Kensington Palace in her online bio: her intention to focus on women’s issues.
A few days later, she joined the rest of the BRF at Commonwealth Day, a cornerstone of the royal calendar that the Cambridges only recently started joining. As we’ve discussed in the past, this difference has more to do with Harry already being a full-time royal as of when Meghan joined the family. Still, the fact that Meghan joined the family for this prior to her wedding and outside the scope of her UK introduction tour is notable.
Finally, at the end of the month, Meghan and Harry spent a day in Belfast and Meghan wore one of my favorite looks from her all year: a taupe Mackage coat and green Greta Constantine skirt with velvet Jimmy Choo heels. The different textures, the pops of color – I loved it.
Lest we think the bride-to-be would retreat in the final crunch time before her big day, Meghan carried out even more engagements in April. The biggest – very on-brand – surprise was that she joined Harry for a number of CHOGM sessions, including a reception on women’s empowerment and sessions that complemented Harry’s newly-announced role as the Commonwealth Youth Ambassador.
She was on hand for the Queen’s birthday concert at Royal Albert Hall at the meetings’ close and again, two days later, for a memorial service in honor of Stephen Lawrence. The latter fell on Prince Louis’s birthday and so, for the first and only time during the engagement, a Sussex event was overshadowed by a Cambridge one.
Later in the month, Meghan joined Harry – and then Harry and William – for Anzac Day services that pointed to their Oceania tour. I was struck then by the image of William taking up the role that Harry played with aplomb for the last 6+ years: third wheel.
Ahhh, the wedding! The final lead up to the big day was sadly marred by the beginning of a full Markle family breakdown. Various relatives had already driven unfortunate headlines, but the split between Meghan and her father, and his eventual withdrawal from the wedding, was painful to watch. Nobody wants to be dealing with issues like that in the lead up to their wedding, much less in full view of the entire world.
The wedding itself was gorgeous and memorable, from the music to the Givenchy gown to the St George’s Chapel backdrop and the plethora of adorable pageboys and bridesmaids. For at least one day, the messiness of the final week evaporated and it was a touching ceremony for a couple very much in love. At the time, there were some raised eyebrows over the sermon delivered – and the reactions from some guests, not least of whom was Zara Tindall – but nearly eight months later, that hiccup is all but forgotten.
My favorite moment will always, always be Charles walking Meghan down the second part of the aisle. It was incredibly touching and his kindness and impeccable manners were again on display when he ensured Meghan’s mother was escorted from the chapel and accompanied on the steps outside.
This, of course, was the first time we saw Meghan wear Givenchy and she’s subsequently leaned on the brand much in the same way Kate still leans on Alexander McQueen. It’s become her mainstay for big, formal and classically royal moments and if I had to put money on it, I’d say that we’ll see her at her baby’s christening in the label later this year.
The images of Harry in his tux and Meghan in her Stella McCartney reception gown as they jumped in their vintage convertible and went off to Frogmore were perfectly glamorous. Scaled down from the grandeur of the chapel, this gave us a sense for what the couple’s wedding would look like if they weren’t in fact royal.
Just three days later, the two attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace in honor of Charles’s birthday. As you know, I have a soft spot for the PoW and any instance of his sons (and daughters-in-law) supporting him is always a win in my book. This was also the first time we saw Meghan in a hat, stockings and a dress that wouldn’t look out of place in Kate’s closet – the royal makeover looked like it had already begun.
After a honeymoon early in the month to a still-undisclosed destination, Meghan returned to London in time to participate in her first Trooping the Colour. Tanned and glowing, she chose an off-the-shoulder Carolina Herrera dress that kick started one of the more annoying trends of the year: headlines questioning whether Meghan had just broken “royal protocol.” Yeah, that’s not a thing. There is no rule book for her to throw out the window – literally or figuratively.
Five days later, she joined the Queen for an engagement in what may have been her third biggest moment this year (the first two being her wedding and baby announcement). Much later on, it was reported that Meghan missed the cue that she was supposed to wear a hat to match the Queen. Even so, the two seemed to get along famously and Meghan even got to ride on the royal train.
This month also saw Meghan’s introduction to Ascot. Looking back on it, I don’t love this Givenchy dress for the event, but I actually do really like the dress. Here’s to hoping we see it again someday.
One of my least favorite fashion moments came from this Prada skirt suit that Meghan wore at the end of the month. It felt too similar to her Trooping color and was both old-fashioned and off-kilter. Burn it.
On the fashion front, a clear highlight came early on when Meghan debuted a bright yellow Brandon Maxwell dress. This engagement would later be featured in the Commonwealth documentary recently released.
But the big milestone was the couple’s mini-tour of Dublin. Meghan killed it on the fashion front, from another tuxedo to more streamlined pencil skirts and dresses. Givenchy made a number of appearances, as did Emilia Wickstead, a brand most of us thought had died a slow death after the designer’s comments about Meghan’s wedding gown.
My only critique was to the grey Roland Mouret that was too tight in the bodice. (Still love you though, RM.)
Nor was I a big fan of the long Ralph Lauren trousers she debuted at Wimbledon, but as we well know I loved this engagement for the photos with Kate.
After a summer break that reportedly included holidays in the Cotswalds with the Clooneys and Priyanka Chopra, as well as a stop at the Castle of Mey with Charles and Camilla, the Sussexes returned to London in time to watch The Hamilton with Lin Manuel Miranda. Ugh, yes, sometimes I am actually jealous. This was one of those times.
The mini tuxedo dress by Judith & Charles was a smashing success in my book.
The blue Jason Wu dress that Meghan wore to the ‘100 Days of Peace’ gala is a great example of a dress that was reportedly beautiful in person but absolutely terrible in photographs.
A few weeks later it was announced that Meghan had been working with victims of last year’s Grenfell Tower fire on a cookbook showcasing a diverse mix of international cuisine. It has since become a best seller, allowing the women behind it to invest in their community kitchen and turn a very real profit. I loved this initiative and the luncheon Meghan hosted at KP was her first time steering the ship during an engagement – it was very, very well done.
By the end of the month she had ditched even the training wheels of Harry and carried out her first solo engagement at the Oceania exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts. The fact that she felt comfortable doing this just four months after her wedding is not too shabby.
Before the Oceania tour, this month saw the arrival of Harry and Meghan in Sussex, with the Duchess wearing green leather.
Rumors abounded a week later when Meghan turned up to Princess Eugenie’s wedding in a loose Givenchy coat and held her wrap and scarf close to her midsection as she got out of the car. I pretty much ignored the chatter at the time, but…
…The rumors were right. Four days later, Kensington Palace confirmed that Harry and Meghan are expecting their first baby in Spring 2019. The news came as the two kicked off their marathon four of Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Fiji, while the timing likely had quite a bit to do with realizing it would be hard to keep things under wraps while Meghan was being obsessively photographed every day.
The next two weeks were a whirlwind of engagements through the region, including opening and closing the Invictus Games. After a strong start that included early morning yoga and late night banana bread baking, Meghan ended up having to bow out of a few engagements a couple days in due to exhaustion.
By the end of the trip I think all of us were exhausted and, upon reflection, I’m not sure how wise it was to have the tour so long. Less because of Meghan’s pregnancy and more from burnout. Tours in that region usually have to be that long for purely logistical reasons, while the location of the Invictus Games made it a no-brainer – still, there’s a part of me that thinks some of the backlash and negative Meghan stories that began coming out in November and December have to do with a touch of over exposure.
On the style front, the tour felt uneven to me. My personal style is far more akin to Meghan’s than to Kate’s, however there’s a reason why Kate sticks to form-fitting and perfectly tailored garments – they photograph better. What’s more comfortable and useful to me – or Meghan in her former life – is very different from carrying out appearances as member of the BRF.
Some days were pitch perfect, and others felt random, overly duplicative or just slightly off. And yes, by the end of the tour, I was very excited for it to be OVER.
Smartly, the two laid low for several days after they returned to London. They reappeared for Remembrance services, while Meghan was noticeably on a different balcony from the Queen, Camilla and Kate. While I understand the compelling visual of the three queens (one regnant, two consorts), I did feel a little bad for Meghan all by herself for her first foray into all of this. Couldn’t they have stuck Sophie or another one of the less senior Windsor women with her?
While Meghan carried out engagements later in the month, it was pretty clear towards the year’s last weeks that she was carrying a lighter workload than perhaps earlier anticipated – likely due to her pregnancy.
By then, too, the first stories of a divide between the Sussexes and Cambridges were in full swing. News had hit during the tour that the couples intended to split their household in 2019, while it was reported soon after that Harry and Meghan would be making their home base at Frogmore Cottage on the Windsor estate. It wasn’t long until speculation ramped up that the move was less about logistics and more because of personal and professional tension – we covered that at the time here.
The clear highlight of December was the first of three appearances Meghan put in – a surprise showing at the British Fashion Awards to present an award to Clare Waight Keller, the designer of her Givenchy wedding gown. It was a glamorous intersection of celebrity, fashion and royalty – in other words, an evening it’s hard to imagine any other Windsor besides Meghan really nailing.
Finally there came the dog and pony show of Christmas this year – Meghan and Kate were all smiles, but the big takeaway most people took is that the two were clearly putting on a bit of a show. Probably. Who can blame them?
Covering Meghan this past year has been an interesting evolution and one that has surprised me on a few different fronts. From Meghan’s straightforward approach to her celebrity to her eagerness to take on a big workload to her background, there’s a lot about her that makes her a solid and important addition to the BRF. Her independence, professionalism and, to be honest, basic style also makes her someone that it’s easier for someone like me – and perhaps many of you – to relate to.
Kate has been on my radar since I was a kid and from that comes a very different sort of affection. Even so, her trajectory is not one in any way mirrored by my own life. From the nature of her work life prior to marriage to the central role her relationship with William clearly had to her silence over the years, it’s clear Kate was living in a quasi-royal state long before her wedding. Even so, watching Meghan has actually made me appreciate Kate more, and I don’t mean that as a criticism of Meghan.
This first occurred to me during Harry and Meghan’s engagement interview, but Meghan actually paints more starkly how inherently foreign and strange the structure of the BRF is. Kate’s public deference to William, her own reserve and, perhaps, the fact that she is English, allowed for a less visible transition. Meghan is more outgoing, candid and tactile – at times that feels very jarring when she is standing alongside Kate, William, Charles and other royals.
I don’t believe that she is wildly high-maintenance or personally difficult to work with or for, but I do believe the stories that her style is at odds with traditional Palace staff. Glimpses of that come through when she’s doing walkabouts and from the nature of the quotes that are reported from her engagements – it’s not hard to make that leap. What will be interesting to see is the extent to which she conforms to the atmosphere around her in the coming year, or whether this is a defining feature of her as a HRH.
It also points to something else, which is that it will be much easier for the public to burn out on Meghan than it will with Kate. Her very presence offers more meat to the press because she 1) works with them and 2) is more likely to say something. Kate’s reserve – and even blandness, at times – is also a powerful defense. Nearly eight years in, there is still some mystique to her because of how very little we know about her personality or opinions. Sometimes that feels maddeningly retro, but for a woman only at the beginning of a decades-long career, it’s also smart.
Meghan has the ability to do what Diana, Princess of Wales once did so effectively and, ultimately, destructively, which is call out in stark contrast the ways in which the BRF is old-fashioned and a beat behind. Meghan – and Harry – embrace their position as a platform to do good and that’s understandable – commendable, even. It’s also completely cut off from the realities of the role of monarch, which isn’t something from which William and Kate are able to divorce themselves. There are very real constitutional, historical and cultural limits to how they can exist.
My final thought here has to do with the timing of Meghan’s introduction into the BRF, because it was incredibly fast. The most obvious contrast is obviously William and Kate, but it’s worth noting that the Earl and Countess of Wessex took a similarly slow and steady approach back in the ’90s. These were, in my opinion, clearly lessons learned from the drama of the Wales and York marriages.
Harry took a different approach, and though some of the impetus is the reality of Meghan’s age and a desire to start a family, it also creates a dynamic that is incredibly old-fashioned. In that way, Meghan has more in common with the royal brides of history – she is foreign, thrown in the deep end of court life and pregnant within months of her wedding. The greatest gift William likely gave Kate is that of time to get used to the boiling water, or not. Meghan doesn’t have that, and before she has a chance to acclimate to being a duchess, much less a wife, she will also be a mother whose child will be a blood member of what can be an overwhelming institution.
I don’t get the sense that scares Meghan or Harry, but I can understand why it scares some of the people around them. So, my final word on the Duchess of Sussex’s 2018 is that it’s been incredible to watch and she has taken to her new position with aplomb and that is nothing short of remarkable. That was, however, the easier part – this next bit will be much harder.
With that, frivolity. Since everything for Meghan is essentially a debut, I’ve divvied up the categories a bit differently than I did for Kate:
Best Coat Ensemble
Meghan wore a lot of amazing coat this year, and though I came close to calling out the ribbon-belted Stella McCartney, as far as whole looks go, the winner is a throwback to her engagement. During a March trip to Belfast, Meghan wore a cream coat by Mackage, a white sweater by Victoria Becham, a teal-esque green skirt by Greta Constantine and heels by Jimmy Choo that came together absolutely perfectly.
Best Evening Ensemble
There were quite a few dazzlers this year (not least of which was her Stella McCartney wedding gown, though I’m not including that of the Givenchy ceremony gown in consideration). Even so, no other moment caused as much excitement for me as her wearing the Alexander McQueen tuxedo in February. It set quite the tone for her introduction.
Best Day Dress/Skirt Ensemble
Another tough one, but my eye keeps going back to the bright blue silk day dress by Veronica Beard that she wore in Tonga this October. It was absolutely pitch perfect.
Best Casual Ensemble
This is going to sound strange, but I’m going with this dress up of an Invictus Games-branded button down. It’s hard to work an outfit around something like this, but the combination of the Mother jeans, white Altuzarra blazer and Tabitha Simmons heels were breezily stylish and inherently Meghan. Like the grown up version of her ripped jeans and flats from last year 😉