Battle of the Gowns: Kate and Meghan Make Royal Appearances on Both Sides of the Pond
Catherine, Princess of Wales, at a Diplomatic Corps reception at Buckingham Palace, Dec. 6, 2022. (Photo: Victoria Jones/POOL/AFP/Getty Images) Inset: Meghan, Duchess of Sussex receives an award at the 2022 RFK Human Rights Ripple of Hope Gala at the New York Hilton, Dec. 6, 2022. (Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for 2022 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Gala)
It was another big gown moment for the royalty Tuesday night, on both sides of the pond. Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, were honoured at a human rights gala in New York that became effectively a part of the big launch for their much-anticipated Netflix docuseries, Harry & Meghan: Becoming Royal on Thursday, Dec. 8. As they ramp up their publicity machine, the Royal Family in Britain braces for impact. Meanwhile, keeping calm and carrying on, at least in public, King Charles hosted a full white-tie reception at Buckingham Palace, which means tiaras for the working royal women.
December is always a busy month for the royals. From Remembrance Day through to the moment they leave for the family gathering at Sandringham (which was where Queen Elizabeth always preferred to spend the holidays), their calendars are full.
This year, all eyes are on the younger generation, and the battle for headlines on both sides of the Atlantic between Charles and Diana’s two sons. After the kerfuffle involving the trailer launch for the Sussexes’ Netflix show dropping in the middle of the Waleses’ royal tour and Earthshot Prize in Boston, there came last night’s Ripple of Hope Award event in New York, where Harry and Meghan were honoured for their for their work on racial justice and mental health awareness by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Organization.
A few hours earlier, pictures emerged of a big night in London, when King Charles and Camilla, Queen Consort, alongside the Prince and Princess of Wales, hosted the first diplomatic reception at Buckingham Palace since 2019, before the pandemic.
But what most people see — in newspapers and on TV, on social media — is what the younger, female royals wore. So we had Meghan in white strapless Louis Vuitton, a visual throwback to her wedding dress by Givenchy with the boat neck collar (though more daring), accessorized with her late mother-in-law’s emerald ring (which she also wore to her wedding reception, in her second dress, the white Stella McCartney halter).
Kate wore her go-to evening wear designer, Jenny Packham, a sparkling red column dress with sharp shoulders, along with her second tiara in as many weeks. She wore the Lover’s Knot favoured by Diana to the state dinner for South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, but chose the Lotus Flower tiara (most associated with Princess Margaret, who owned it in the mid to late 20th century), a more rarely seen item borrowed from The Crown Jewels. She had worn the Lotus Flower twice before. Kate’s hair was also a fashion talking point: she wore it smooth and straight, rather than in her usual bouncy waves. This added sophistication and a more haute fashion element to the overall look. Paired with a tiara — possibly her first time to wear a jewelled headpiece with her hair down since her own wedding — it made for a fresh beauty look for the new Princess of Wales.
Some may think all this fashion information is not significant. It very much is: royals signal mood and motive and policy and diplomacy with their very, very carefully made clothing choices. Meghan, in wearing white, was sending a message. White means purity, it hearkens back to her bridal moment in the sun, which was a day of great goodwill for Harry and Meghan from the public, and a day of great hope for the monarchy. The Ripple of Hope Louis Vuitton obviously showed more skin: signifying Meghan’s “freedom” to dress more as she wants now as a celebrity than during her short (and as she has said, painful) time as a working royal. There was an interesting pleating device making the skirt of the dress into a bell shape, with a deep slit up the middle. It must have been hard to walk, sit and exit a car in, but Meghan handled the challenge like a pro. The inclusion of Diana’s ring is also a big signal; indeed, Harry compares his fears for his wife’s fate to that of his mother’s experience in the harsh royal spotlight.
For her part, Kate is always, always “appropriately” dressed. She never goes off protocol with her fingernails, her hair, her stockings. But more importantly, she always dresses for the occasion. Fashion looks just spectacular on her, and after nearly 12 years as a royal she never puts a foot wrong and knows how to pose. (For William’s environment initiative, the Earthshot Prize on Friday, she wore a rental neon green dress on theme for sustainability, which also echoed the Queen’s bold colour choices. She stood out in the crowd, and could be seen from every angle and seat in the auditorium.) Her red Jenny Packham was perfection, and as always, tailored exquisitely to her slender frame. Truly, watching Kate, as a fashion editor, all I can think about is how it is a masterclass in the power of proper tailoring. Never does a seam rise, or a skirt cling. Now, red is usually considered an “attention grabbing” colour, and she does draw the eye, but in the heavily gilded halls of Buckingham Palace, it gives off big regal vibes and a Christmassy sparkle.
The big question was what would Harry and Meghan say at the awards ceremony. They were heckled with some tough questions about their motivations from both the crowd assembled outside the venue and from reporters inside. They did not rise to the bait, with Harry simply caught on mic observing aloud that “there were a lot of questions.”
At the podium, where Vladimir Zelenskyy was also honoured, Harry acknowledged that the award was not for their lifetime body of work: “As we all face a complete and challenging time in the world, we choose the path of optimism of care for each other and our communities. We understand this honour, not about the culmination of a life’s work, but instead and in many ways for us a beginning.”
Organizer Kerry Kennedy, daughter of RFK, originally told press back in November that the Sussexes’ award was for their challenging of the institution of the monarchy on racism issues. Last night, however, it was reported that the reason they were being honoured was for their work with their non-profit Archewell foundation.
For Meghan’s part, she spoke about her suicidal ideation and mental health struggles while within the royal fold. She said of the honour and its inspiration: “The enduring dream of RFK of a just and peaceful world is so much more than a simple hope. It’s a direct ask, a specific challenge, a call to action, a test of individual courage and collective spirit.”
That was not the only award Meghan received last night: her podcast Archetypes took home a People’s Choice Award at that ceremony back home in California.
After this burst of glam and celebration of diplomacy and good works by both the Sussexes and the Walses, it is now back to their respective mansions to hunker down as the world watches the most famous family in the world offer a peek (however one-sided) into the inner workings of palace life. It will be riveting, as gut spilling always is, but it is also more than a little sad. The accusations of racism are harrowing and need addressing on an institutional scale. The family stuff — the hierarchy, the misunderstandings, the different approaches to life and public service, the pain of Diana’s untimely death and how it affected her young sons — all that feels very private. We all have family rifts, and god forbid they be played out on a platform that has the ability to beam that laundry into millions upon millions of homes, well, it’s pretty unfathomable.