“The Duchess of Sussex wore ripped skinny jeans!” “The Duchess of Sussex wore a sleeveless dress!” “The Duchess of Sussex’s dress was too short!”
It feels like not a week goes by without Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, making headlines for breaking one royal protocol or another. From exposing her shoulders to exposing too much leg, some people have really taken an issue with the Duchess’s wardrobe, making out as if her break from tradition is one of the biggest controversies of our time.
Can you imagine the absolute scandal and uproar of a British royal wearing a one-shouldered dress…? Oh wait, Kate Middleton’s already done that. And it went quietly unnoticed, despite ‘breaking tradition’, all the way back in 2011.
However, when Meghan Markle wore a black one-shouldered Givenchy dress to the 2018 British Fashion Awards, the reaction was slightly different. While many people still rightly praised the velvet gown for being ‘stunning’ and ‘gorgeous’, there was a notable amount of hate and controversy over it. Headlines included things such as: “Royal SHOCK! Meghan Markle BREAKS Royal protocol AGAIN with ‘VULGAR’ fashion move” (The Express).
Following the backlash that Meghanreceived in December, Kate wore a white one-shouldered dress to the 2019 BAFTA’s in February, perhaps to show solidarity, or perhaps because she was unaware. Either way, the dress was simply praised as being “beautiful”, “elegant” and “giving the royal an ethereal look” (which, to be fair to all, it did), with little to no backlash.
So why the difference in reactions? Why has Meghan seemingly garnered a large amount of hate, or at the very least, disapproval, from certain people? Could it be nationalism – is it because she’s American, and not British? Britain and America have always had friendly rivalry, and I can’t be the only one who’s had that experience of sitting in a classroom and hearing someone just randomly start bad-mouthing Americans based on their experience with two whole people. Or could it be something a little more sinister. As one of very few non-white members of the British Royal Family, could calling this racism be justified? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time headlines including Meghan had worryingly racist undertones. For example, a title of a 2016 Daily Mail article read: “Harry‘s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton: Gang-scarred home of her mother revealed – so will he be dropping by for tea?” Another remark, again, courtesy of the Daily Mail, this time a tweet, read: “From slaves to royalty, Meghan Markle’s upwardly mobile family.”
The media is no stranger to coming after powerful women over what they wear, be it something minor like a questionable Oscars dress or something more worrying, like attacking Michelle Obama for having a more casual attire now she’s no longer first lady. Nowhere has this been clearer than with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Recently, she has faced a lot of backlash for wearing expensive brands whilst being an activist – as has Meghan Markle – as if the two were mutually exclusive. Can a woman not be socially aware and active, and still care about society at the same time? Ocasio-Cortez is working towards a more equal distribution of wealth and fair share to workers, and comments towards her by the media have included things such as: “that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles” (Washington Examiner) and the heavy criticism she received for appearing in a (borrowed) $3,000 suit for a photoshoot.
The conclusion we should draw from this is that if you’re a powerful woman in the public spotlight, it doesn’t matter what you do, it doesn’t matter what you say, it doesn’t matter what you wear – people will still find a reason to come for you. If your outfit is too nice, they’ll come for you for wasting money and hating poor people. If your outfit isn’t nice enough, they’ll come for you for being scruffy and having no taste. So really, the only option is to just wear whatever the hell you like, and have a witty comeback at the ready.
Happy International Women’s Day, everyone.