Meghan Markle’s U.K. Farewell Tour is a Master Class in Revenge-Dressing

Not since Princess Diana herself has a royal sent such an exquisitely powerful message with her clothes.

BY MICHELLE RUIZ

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.

Nancy Pelosi Wears Power Brooch for Trump’s Impeachment Proceedings

Nancy Pelosi Wears Power Brooch For Trump’s Impeachment Proceedings

The speaker displayed a Mace of the Republic pin, which symbolizes the legislative authority of the House of Representatives.

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By Jennifer Bendery

WASHINGTON ― House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent a subtle message about the power she holds during Wednesday’s impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

Pelosi, who was dressed in all black presumably to convey the somber nature of presidential impeachment, wore a large brooch representing the Mace of the Republic, which symbolizes the legislative authority of the House of Representatives.Last chance to become a HuffPost founding member!Sign up for membership to become a founding member and help shape HuffPost’s next chapterBecome a founding member

Every day the House is in session, the sergeant-at-arms carries the ceremonial mace into the chamber and places it to the right of the speaker. According to the Office of the Historian, it’s made of three parts: a bundled shaft of 13 rods, a silver globe and an eagle with spread wings. The bundled rods resemble fasces, used by the ancient Romans to symbolize that people are stronger together than they are separately.

Here’s an image of the sergeant-at-arms carrying the mace into the House of Representatives in 1941.

The sergeant-at-arms carries the ceremonial mace into the House of Representatives in 1941.
The sergeant-at-arms carries the ceremonial mace into the House of Representatives in 1941.

And here’s Pelosi again on the House floor during Wednesday’s proceedings, wearing her brooch. 

House rules state that the speaker may direct the sergeant-at-arms to pick up the mace and use it to restore decorum when things get unruly, by “presenting it” to the offender. In 1858, for example, the sergeant-at-arms held the mace to restore order when Wisconsin Republicans John “Bowie Knife” Potter and Cadwallader Washburn ripped the hairpiece from the head of William Barksdale, a Mississippi Democrat.

The current mace has been in use since 1842 (so it was there for the hairpiece incident).

How They Suited Up for the Impeachment Battle In a political drama that turns on the telling detail, the details of dress matter too.

How They Suited Up for the Impeachment Battle

In a political drama that turns on the telling detail, the details of dress matter too.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Nov. 19.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Nov. 19.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times
Vanessa Friedman

By Vanessa Friedman

The fourth presidential impeachment hearings in the history of the United States, whose public phase came to an end on Thursday afternoon in the columned environs of the House Ways and Means Committee hearing room, may have hewed to decorum, but they were a battlefield nonetheless.

It was clear in the language, between those who used words like “bombshells” and “smoking guns” and “explosive” and those who used words like “boring” and “flop”; and clear in the spin, as Democrats and Republicans sparred over demands to keep the whistle-blower’s identity secret.

And it was clear in the optics of many of the witnesses, who dressed as if girding themselves for the thinly disguised war that their testimony would likely spur.

They may not have been wearing actual armor, but the references were impossible to miss.

Does it matter?

Representative Jim Jordan at the hearing on Nov. 19.Credit…Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

It has escaped no one that while the purpose of public hearings is transparency, the side effect is theater. (Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, did keep calling them “a show trial,” after all.) And the audience was not simply the reality-television star whose administration is in the dock, or the body politic of the moment, but the body politic of the future. The images, and the words they frame, will also become part of history.

The actors in this drama are playing their parts and costuming themselves not just for the social media age, but also for posterity. How we present when we say something — our decoration, our camouflage — helps shape the way it is received.

There is a reason that both the bow tie of George P. Kent, the State Department official and witness, and the jacket of Representative Jim Jordan, ended up with their own Twitter accounts. (The bow tie actually has two.)

There is a reason that everyone became fixated on the seeming twinkle in Ambassador Gordon D. Sondland’s eye, the smile that seemed to play around his lips. They undermined the card-carrying-member-of-the-establishment messaging of his dark suit and subtly patterned Republican red tie, just as his testimony undermined the no-quid-pro-quo White House story line.

And of all the images, after the hours of questions and answers, grandstanding, interpreting and debating, it is not the many dark suits with red or blue ties and the little Congressional lapel pins that are the de facto Hill uniform that remain seared into memory. (Though they were consistently, consciously, modeled by Adam Schiff, the Intelligence Committee chairman, and Mr. Nunes, as well as by David Holmes, the political counselor in the American embassy in Kyiv, and David Hale, the under secretary of state for political affairs.)

George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, left, and Ambassador William Taylor are sworn in at the impeachment hearing on Nov. 13.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

It was, rather, an actual uniform: one that was formal in its rigor, unmistakable in its messaging, and representative of a different kind of national institution.

In many ways, Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman’s decision to appear in his Army dress uniform, medals arrayed on his breast, buttons agleam, was simply the most obvious statement of an implicit position, one shared by most witnesses, albeit expressed in various individual ways.

It was one that stood aside from partisan politics, that prized country above self, that understood testifying as a duty — but also understood the rules of combat.

Colonel Vindman said as much to Representative Chris Stewart, Republican of Utah, who first put the uniform on the table as a topic of conversation (followed quickly by President Trump, who told reporters, “I understand now he wears his uniform when he goes in.”).

Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

In response to a not-so-subtle attempt by Mr. Stewart to portray the choice as a ploy, Colonel Vindman said, “I’m in uniform wearing my military rank” because “the attacks that I’ve had in the press and Twitter have marginalized me as a military officer.”

It was a symbol, just as Mr. Jordan’s decision to shrug off his suit jacket was a symbol of his willingness to be the Republican Party’s attack dog.

After all, as he said in the “House Freedom Caucus” podcast in March, apropos of his tendency to tote his jacket over an arm instead of wearing it: “You get in these hearings, and if I think the witness isn’t being square with me and it’s going to get kind of heated, I mean maybe it’s just me, I just don’t feel right with the jacket on.”

The imagery taps into the cinematography of stripping down before you get in the ring; of every boxing or schoolyard tussle movie ever made. Even when he wasn’t ceded the floor, Mr. Jordan was telegraphing readiness to rumble.

Jennifer Williams, the special adviser to the vice president for Europe and Russia.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Not that Colonel Vindman and Mr. Jordan were the only participants dressing for a fight. They were simply the most obvious.

While Mr. Kent’s bow tie got most of the viewing attention during his appearance, his three-piece suit was equally notable. All five buttons of the vest were tightly buttoned, even though men’s wear rules tend to dictate that the bottom button be left undone, as it is in a suit jacket.

The vest formed a kind of extra protective layer for the witness, just as the silk scarf guarding the neck of Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, demanded a closer look. Reportedly a traditional design from Hermès known as the Grand Uniforme, created in 1955, it featured a pattern of gold helmets and what looked surprisingly like swords.

Fiona Hill, the former senior director for Europe at the National Security Council.Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Elaborate, almost Napoleonic hilts, with tassels and ropes and other elements of martial pageantry. As if there were any doubt that a woman who started her testimony paying homage to her fellow diplomats in “hardship” positions, a woman of calm, carefully considered answers, did not anticipate what weapons may be deployed.

There was more: Jennifer Williams chose to appear in a hunter green coatdress with a black belt cinching the waist, almost military in line, and Fiona Hill, the former top Russia expert on the National Security Council, wore a gold chain around her neck, with a matching gold chain around one wrist. It was visible as she raised her left hand to gesture while she crisply handled questions about who knew what in the chain of command.

Coincidence? It’s possible.

But given the attention paid to the moment, now and forevermore, given how much care and preparation each witness put into his or her testimony, given the way the whole case may turn on the telling detail, it seems unlikely these details, no matter how minor they seem, would be overlooked. They tell their own part of the story.

Vanessa Friedman is The Times’s fashion director and chief fashion critic. She was previously the fashion editor of the Financial Times. @VVFriedmanA version of this article appears in print on Nov. 22, 2019, Section A, Page 16 of the New York edition with the headline: Sartorial Rules of Combat (No Jacket Required). Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe