In the year and a half or so since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle went public with their romance, the now-duchess has made waves for her repeated shunning of royal protocol. She wears her hair in undone messy buns, holds hands with her husband at official events, and breaks the unspoken royal dress code on a regular basis, by neglecting to wear pantyhose, taking off her shoes in public, and attending formal events in pantsuits, among countless other examples. In this respect (as in many others), Meghan differs wildly from her sister-in-law, Kate Middleton, who’s much more likely to sport a demure, Queen Elizabeth–approved dress and pantyhose than a pair of pants while fulfilling her royal duties, and never has a hair out of place.
According to a royal insider, this stark contrast between the two duchesses came about completely on purpose. Meghan and her stylist friend Jessica Mulroney have reportedly made a “conscious effort” since the very beginning of Meghan and Harry’s relationship to define a style for Meghan that was separate from Kate’s, so they would “not be accused of copying Kate’s style,” the insider told Elle. That said, they haven’t completely turned a blind eye to the Duchess of Cambridge’s outfits, and have “certainly kept an eye on Kate’s style because she hasn’t put a foot wrong and is a great role model.” Kate has even reportedly offered up style tips to her new in-law: “Kate has been on hand to help guide Meghan with advice about certain designers and royal protocol,” the insider added.
Indeed, while there’s a fair amount of overlap in the designers Meghan and Kate choose to wear—they’ve both repped Erdem, Alexander McQueen, and Emilia Wickstead, to name a few—their individual styles are evident in the pieces they choose. Meghan typically wears dark, solid colors, and often leans toward a trendy, professional vibe, with plenty of blazers, collared shirts, and sleek trousers. Kate, meanwhile, opts for brighter shades, often in floral or polkadot prints, fills her wardrobe with more dresses than pants, and has an overall more traditionally feminine style than Meghan.
They’re not the first royal sisters-in-law to use their clothing to differentiate themselves. In the 1980s and ’90s, Sarah Ferguson set herself apart from her best friend and fellow new royal Princess Diana by stepping up her own fashion game. While Diana was becoming known for a wardrobe full of glamorous, flattering pieces from mostly British designers, including Victor Edelstein and Catherine Walker, Fergie outsourced her own style to France. In a 1987 piece about the duo, Vanity Fair reported that Fergie had recently ordered 12 outfits, “some couture, some ready-to-wear,” from Yves Saint Laurent, many of them in royally scandalous miniskirt lengths.
“While Sarah is enjoying the opportunity to dress up as never before, for Diana clothes represent the only area in which she can safely rebel,” VF‘s Georgina Howell wrote, referencing the increasing discomfort Diana was experiencing in her marriage and royal role in the years leading up to her 1996 divorce from Prince Charles (Sarah and Prince Andrew would split up the same year). Perhaps it’s a good thing, then, that Meghan and Kate are playing things comparatively much safer—and that Meghan, especially, has found plenty more ways to rebel.