When she ascended the stage at the British Fashion Awards last Tuesday, Meghan Markle had to have known that the arm-baring, one-shouldered black velvet Givenchy dress – snug enough to show off her pregnancy – was pushing the envelope. As sure as rain on the Thames, there followed the usual tut-tutting about her gown, her black nail polish, and the way in which she appeared to cradle her “bump”.
But the Duchess of Sussex, who made the surprise cameo to present the British Womenswear Designer of the Year award to her wedding dress designer, Clare Waight Keller, is probably used to such scrutiny by now. She was, after all, the second most Googled person of 2018 – and the only name in the top five with good news attached to it.
The Markle phenomenon has undoubtedly presented us with a multitude of good news this year. A young Prince, who lost his mother at 12, found the love of his life. The subsequent wedding in May was a great, glorious subversion of every white, colonialist tradition you could think of. And now, a child is on the way. The seventh in line to the throne will carry the genes of their African-American grandmother. What’s not to love?
Queen Elizabeth once said that grief was the price we pay for love. But for Markle, the current price of adoration – from Prince Harry, and the world - seems to be envy.
The most recent leaks about her ‘demands’ over her wedding are surely proof of this. And while Kensington Palace has issued a statement denying a rift between the houses of Cambridge and Sussex, they did not walk back the rumours surrounding some of Markle’s more stringent requests.
Far be it for a woman to want the most important day of her life, (viewed by an estimated 1.9 billion), to run smoothly. Heaven forfend the former actress, familiar with the nature of celebrity in a way many of the royals are cushioned from, should make any sort of demands about what her bridesmaids should wear. It’s not as if the royal family wedding portrait will last more than two or three centuries in the public consciousness.
And how scandalous that Prince Harry should utter the immortal line “What Meghan wants Meghan gets!” Where is his loyalty to the servants of the Crown? Why didn’t he simply silence the woman who has already been given a platform from the United Nations to speak about women’s rights?
And yet Markle, who has had to weather not just poorly disguised sexism and racism from the media, but an entitled, estranged father who cannot keep his mouth shut, has managed, at least on the surface, to have risen above it.
Perhaps because, as a woman of the world, she understood it was coming. There appears to exist a sort of sunny determination about her that cannot be dislodged. A strength born of the hustle; a working class background and the implicit understanding that your destiny is your responsibility – not your birthright.
It’s a classic American ideal, and one that has been demonised – most recently via her palace aides who are reportedly “baffled” that she would send texts at 5am. Such missives – understood to be de rigeur for most successful CEOs – are presumably a shock to people used to someone like the late Princess Margaret’s routine, which included breakfast in bed and vodka just after noon. Princess Margaret, unlike Meghan, never knew a life outside of her privilege. It was hers for all time, and hence, hers to take for granted.
Nobody could accuse Meghan of taking anything for granted. The Duchess, who has been socially aware since she was a child, has taken to her new role in earnest. Only a snob would turn their nose up at her devotion.
So, if she pushed the envelope at the British Fashion Awards, it was undoubtedly deliberate. Up until now her outfits have been almost uniformly … well, uniform. Plenty of plain, mid-length frocks in block colours. Her style is how you’d hope your defence counsel would dress at your trial: corporate – no twist.
Stripes, courtesy of Ralph Lauren, were on show at Wimbledon, and stripes again, courtesy of Australian designer, Martin Grant, on Bondi Beach. You could count on one hand the number of times she’s worn a print. There was the Oscar De La Renta “tablecloth” dress at the other royal wedding, which she was crucified for. And the ruffled, pink pomp pom dress she wore in Fiji, for which she similarly burned. It makes sense that Markle would want her sartorial choices to err on the side of safe.
But her black Givenchy dress hints at a new boldness from the Duchess. And, considering she’s judged no matter what she does, it seems to be her right – and privilege – to go ahead and stretch whatever limitations the palace and the public have tried to place on her. If 2018 was her year, it was also her crucible. But knowing Meghan Markle, she has plenty of fire left for 2019, and that’s something we can all look forward to.