Meghan Markle and the Power of the Re-Wear: How Her Royal Tour Wardrobe Kept the Focus on Substance
When it comes to royal fashion, nothing is accidental. Each outfit is carefully planned, so when the Duchess of Sussex traveled to South Africa with a luggage full of low-key looks and pieces she had already worn publicly, it sent a subtle, but clear message: 'I don't want the focus of this trip to be on my clothes.'
"Any time a royal re-wears something, there’s usually a reason," says Christine Ross, the editor of Meghan's Mirror, a blog which chronicles the Duchess of Sussex's outfits.
"They want to redirect the conversation, and it shifts that conversation from fashion to [one of] substance."
Prior to the tour, Meghan didn't "recycle" her outfits that often. After all, she only joined the royal family in May of 2018 and has been steadily building a wardrobe that suits her new career and lifestyle over the past year and a half. It's understandable. But that only made the sheer number of repeated looks (at least six by my count, with additional accessories) in South Africa all the more striking.
Elizabeth Holmes, a journalist well-known for her popular #SoManyThoughts series on Instagram, where she provides commentary on the royals' sartorial choices, found Meghan's re-wears on the tour "incredibly notable."
"First and foremost, I thought that it was about taking the emphasis off of the clothes and onto the engagements," Holmes tells me.
"Every normal person wears their clothing more than once, but these are people who have access to any designer and any style on the planet. So when they choose to re-wear something, it's significant."
Sometimes the Duchess's attire even helped to make unspoken connections between an event in South Africa, and Meghan's previous work back in the U.K.
For example, she wore a blush-colored House of Nonie trench dress to meet with Nelson Mandela's widow, humanitarian Graça Machel. She had worn that same dress to a Nelson Mandela memorial event in London back in 2018.
According to Holmes, re-wears often give the media a chance to resurface these older appearances. "That was a really thoughtful re-wear," she says. "It reminds people that this is something that Harry and Meghan have cared about for a long time.
But in general, Victoria Murphy, a freelance royal reporter who covered the tour on the ground in South Africa for Town&Country, says Meghan didn't want fashion to overshadow the purpose of the tour.
"The overriding theme of her fashion and her jewelry on the tour was that it was low-key," Murphy says.
"She wore a lot of brands that were very accessible. She also wore a lot of things that she's worn before. At no point did any outfit become the story unless of course she deliberately wanted it to because it was by a local designer or a brand that she wanted to champion."
Additionally, while royal aides will sometimes share information about the outfits Meghan wears, on this trip, in particular, details about her clothing were not always instantly available, demonstrating how low on the agenda fashion was during the official visit.
It also helped that the Sussexes gave the press plenty of other things to write about (even before Prince Harry released that searing statement about the press).
There was so much to talk about things beyond fashion.
"I think when Harry and Meghan and their staff were planning this trip, they wanted to see the work that is going on with ordinary people, and they wanted that to shine. They started the tour in a township, and Harry said how important it was to draw attention to the challenges that the country faces as well as looking at the amazing work that is being done," Murphy says.
"One of the reasons I think the tour was so successful is because they spoke so much with the media. They were also really generous in their words when they made speeches and when they posted on social media. We had so much information; there was so much to talk about beyond the fashion, beyond what she was wearing."
In addition to keeping the focus on the issues, Meghan's wardrobe also sent a message about relatability and frugality, one that came just weeks after the Sussexes were on the receiving end of criticism for flying on a private jet.
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Many of the new pieces, including the blue Club Monaco dress Meghan wore to meet with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, were off-the-rack, and relatively affordable (especially when compared with some of the Duchess's other clothes, by designer brands like Carolina Herrera, Givenchy, and Prada).
"Even when she wasn’t re-wearing outfits, she was wearing pieces that were affordable," Ross says. "And she feels more accessible and more relatable when the clothes that she wears are affordable."
Holmes also finds it important that Meghan is choosing to wear the same dresses she wore during her early pregnancy.
"We live in a time when the idea of 'bouncing back' after having a baby is really celebrated, and that's not realistic for most women," she says. "And so to step out in dresses that she had worn while pregnant, I think was an incredible message."
Part of the relatability of Meghan's attire had to do with the schedule of events planned for her time in South Africa. "Sometimes on royal tours, there'll be an occasion where a female member of the royal family would wear a tiara or a very striking piece of jewelry, but there was nothing on this trip that would have made that choice feel natural," Murphy says.
Yes, Harry put on a tie a few times (to meet with Archibishop Desmond Tutu and the presidents of Malawi and South Africa), but in general, events were fairly casual.
"There was no real chance for them to get glammed up," Holmes notes. "I think that shows they wanted the overall vibe of the tour to be: 'we're here among the people; we are doing good work.'"
In terms of her accessories, Meghan also kept things minimal, even choosing to forgo wearing her engagement ring during the tour. Instead, she opted for a simple gold band with a turquoise stone from Jennifer Meyer, worn alongside her Welsh gold wedding ring.
It is understood that the decision was made because Meghan intentionally wanted to be "low-key" on the trip.
"Everything is thought through and planned out and purposeful," says Ross, reflecting on Meghan's choice not to wear her engagement ring in South Africa.
Similarly, when Meghan did choose to wear a new look on the royal tour, those outfits were also significant.
Several of the never-before-seen items that she sported on the tour were from ethical and sustainable fashion brands. Notably, the olive green dress by Staud that Meghan chose for her visit to the Auwal Masjid mosque, was made out of recycled tissue nylon.
The white shirt dress that she chose for the final day of the trip, was created from leftover fabric to minimize waste. It was also by a local South African designer, Hannah Lavery.
Overall, Meghan's sartorial symbolism was subtle, but clear: the focus of the tour was not meant to be on fashion, but rather on the work.
"Meghan has learned how to send a message with her clothing," Ross says. "Now she's being very careful about what she’s saying."
*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors