Not since Princess Diana herself has a royal sent such an exquisitely powerful message with her clothes.
A dress is never just a dress when you’re a woman in the British royal family. Sometimes it’s sartorial diplomacy, like Kate Middleton wearing Ireland’s signature emerald-green while sipping a Guinness in Belfast last week, or Meghan Markle choosing Australian designers like Karen Gee and Martin Grant for her 2018 royal tour-drobe. Other times it’s for function. Queen Elizabeth is known to wear monochromatic Easter Egg shades so her subjects can see her in a dense crowd.
But the royals are also experts in the exquisite art of revenge dressing—showing up to an event looking like pure fire, in an outfit so stunning and show-stopping, it elicits instant regret from any opposing party. Revenge dressing hinges on looking so good, it hurts anyone who dared to doubt you. See: Brad Pitt stopping time when he arrived at the recent Golden Globes in a Brioni tux and Ray-Bans, like a modern-day Cary Grant; the sheer Alexander Wang catsuit Bella Hadid wore to the Met Gala after splitting from The Weeknd in 2017.
But no one quite pulls off the practice like the royals, who seldom grant interviews or otherwise speak in public, and rely on their clothes to send secret, or not-so-secret messages. Over the past few days, Meghan’s spate of bright, body-hugging, almost-achingly glamorous looks during her and Harry’s proverbial “farewell tour” are a master class in revenge dressing—except instead of an ex-boyfriend, the entity that should be sad to lose her is the British monarchy.
Not since Princess Diana emerged in an iconic black, off-the-shoulder Christina Stambolian cocktail dress and pearl choker on the very same day in June 1994 when her ex-husband, Prince Charles, admitted on national television he’d cheated on her, has a royal woman in transition sent such a potent message: you’re going to miss me when I’m gone.
In a crescendo of see-you-later, Meghan saved the best dresses for last: the striking green Emilia Wickstead worn to Monday’s Commonwealth Day service—her last ever event as a senior royal—elicited audible, near erotic gasps from this writer. The swish of the cape called to mind Saturday night’s electric-red Safiyaa, worn at Harry’s side to the Mountbatten Festival of Music. It was the color of the carpet at Buckingham Palace, where she will no longer hang out with people who wear racist brooches. Another day, another triumph: on Thursday night, Meghan chose turquoise Victoria Beckham—plus a bold, berry lip—for that magical under-my-umbrella-ella-ella moment with Harry, en route to the Endeavor Fund Awards. Somewhere, Jessica Mulroney must be cheering.
I fancy this fashion hot streak a most gracious dig at the British tabloid press, which seemed to skewer Meghan for sport. The dazzling recent head-to-toe photos of her are the kind they would have loved to publish for years to come; perfect for garnering clicks and selling newspapers… if only they hadn’t lobbed so much abuse her way. The Los Angeles Times’ Meredith Blake likened it to the Pretty Woman scene when Julia Roberts returns to that snobby boutique in a snazzy suit, just to say : “Big mistake—huge.” Showcasing their special brand of subtly sexy, modern-royal magic in recent days, Meghan and Harry also reminded the monarchy that it is losing two superstars who felt they had “no choice” but to step back.
Meghan’s farewell tour fashion was rife with sweet revenge messaging. As a senior royal, the duchess favored black, navy, or a muted palette of buttery mauve and taupes. But in recent days, the colors turned unapologetically bold—like her critics never wanted her to be. It can’t be a coincidence that Meghan opted for not one but two capes, whether for superheroine vibes (some credit her with rescuing Harry, after all) or to symbolize the couple’s flight. After being criticized for not wearing enough British designers, Markle notably took her bow wearing three (in Beckham, Safiyaa, and Wickstead).And while Meghan’s farewell looks were revenge dressing as its best, the Sussexes’ beaming smiles may have been the accessories that spoke the loudest: neither looked like they regretted the decision to step back from royal life, no matter how much controversy and drama and opposition the choice provoked. They projected a united front right down to their coordinating colors: Harry’s blue tie matched Meghan’s Wickstead dress on Thursday night; the red Safiyaa complemented his military dress on Saturday; eagle eyes pointed out that on Monday, the liner of Harry’s suit blazer was, like, Meghan’s Wickstead dress, a glorious green. They may no longer be senior royals as of later this month, but they still rule.