The Duchess of Cambridge in Pakistan, 2019. (Photo: Karwai Tang/WireImage/GETTY IMAGES); Meghan, Duchess of Sussex visits The Nelson Mandela Centenary Exhibition at the Southbank Centre on July 17, 2018 in London. (Photo: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images); Diana Princess of Wales at a desert picnic in Saudi Arabia in November, 1986. (Photo: David Levenson/Getty Images); Queen Elizabeth II at Ventnor during a Royal visit to the Isle of Wight, 1965. (Photo: Fox Photos/Getty Images); Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge attends the EE British Academy Film Awards 2020 at Royal Albert Hall in 2020 in London. (Photo: Lia Toby/Getty Images); Princess Diana At The Cannes Film Festival, France. (Photo: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images); Meghan, Duchess of Sussex attends the Mountbatten Music Festival at the Royal Albert Hall on March 7, 2020 in London. (Photo: Eddie Mulholland/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
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HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Fashion
In her new book, Elizabeth Holmes digs into the wardrobes of the Queen, Diana, Kate and Meghan to parse the meaning behind House of Windsor style / BY Leanne Delap / November 17th, 2020
So Many Thoughts is a royal-watching sensation, the clever Instagram account of journalist Elizabeth Holmes. A former style reporter for The Wall Street Journal, her concept has been expanded and deepened into a book that publishes today called HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Fashion.
Online, Holmes decodes the outfits Kate and Meghan wear in real time, dispensing fun facts as well as explaining the signals these closely observed women send with their choices. These range from diplomatic messaging (a green dress to match the Pakistani flag, to cite a look of Kate’s on a recent tour to the country) to support for BIPOC and marginalized designers (Meghan’s choice of a trench dress by Grace Wales Bonner, who is biracial and supports genderless fashion, for the first reveal of baby Archie).
In her coffee-table style book, which has both more heft and perspective than the online series and some lovely, engaging prose, Holmes also digs deep into the wardrobes of Diana and the Queen. Thus we get a rich, nuanced perspective of how successive generations of the modern House of Windsor have decided to dress for their highly scrutinized senior roles in The Firm.
We spoke with the author from her home in California about how the book came about, her American perspective on royal mania over the decades, and what it was like writing in real time as Meghan and Harry made their dramatic – and notably fashionable – exit from royal life earlier this year. The conversation has been edited for length.
LEANNE DELAP: You found some deep-treasure details about who wore what and why that I hadn’t seen before. How did you try to bring a fresh perspective to royal fashion watching?
ELIZABETH HOLMES: As a journalist, a book is a dream. I’ve wanted to write one for a long time. Because I focus on Kate and Meghan on Instagram, here I got to take a deeper dive into the Queen. She is so familiar, in a contemporary sense, but the history was exciting to delve into. Then there’s Diana: that was just thrilling to me. I was just a little too young to follow her in real time – I’m 40 now –so it was just wonderful to discover how much she changed royal fashion. And how much power she found from it. Suddenly I saw Kate and Meghan in a new light, understanding how Diana set the stage for all that is happening today.
LD: How do you think that writing about the royals from your perspective as an American journalist is different from that of a British or Commonwealth perspective and audience? Do you think your fellow Americans found a new foothold of connection when Meghan arrived on the scene?
EH: The American perspective on the royal family is unique: we can appreciate the pomp and circumstance, but our tax dollars are not invested in them, the way the British are. Here in America, we can watch from one step back and delight in it all.
I first found myself fascinated back in 2011, when Kate and William got married. I was getting married the same year, so I followed along while I was planning my own wedding.
As Americans, we were sort of immune to it all. But then when Meghan came along, she was American (and had obviously spent a bunch of time in Canada), so it was one of us! Watching her enter the fold, and what she did – especially in the narrative of royal fashion, which is my aisle – I found it so exciting!
With Kate, a lot of people thought [her wardrobe] was not that exciting: feminine and classic and traditional. But along comes Meghan, fashion forward, relaxed cool, sophisticated Southern California style, and a whole new group of royal style watchers was born.
LD: Kate and Meghan were pitted against each other in so many ways by the tabloid press before the Sussexes departed. How did you arrive at your Team Both approach for your SMT community? Some of the tabloid digs at Meghan – her tiny perceived breaches of protocol like a messy bun or black nail polish – were obviously underpinned by racism: that she wasn’t doing things “right” because she was an outsider. Did you go through a process in terms of policing your online community/comments section to keep the views fair and balanced?
EH: I think for people who might not be familiar with the royal fan world, it might not be clear just how heated the discourse had become. I was alarmed by the fall of 2018 during Harry and Meghan’s tour of Australia, as royal watchers, stirred up by the tabloids, were starting to choose a side: Team Kate or Team Meghan. They were no longer just enjoying or celebrating.
It was all so gloriously unnecessary to me, these individual, independent, accomplished women in the monarchy. As for Kate, her future is very different from that of Meghan! People felt the need to choose. It is such an old trope, pitting women against each other. I hated to see it, wanted to come up with a response to it. I went with Team Both, this idea you do not have to choose, a healthier mindset online.
LD: What is the fantasy we all fall for in royal fairytales? How do the palaces and gowns and jewels and carriages, pageantry and tradition, heighten that fantasy?
EH: This is an interesting question for the 2020 audience that I speak to online. They came in [to the Royal family conversation] with Kate or Meghan, following the younger generation. Then they were exposed to the drama of The Crown. So Meghan, her treatment, the heavily racist coverage, the unfair comparisons, opened people up to the contemporary, real-world reality. You can’t any longer just delight in the princess trope. I try to talk about women in 2020, to expand and talk about bigger issues, too. So yes, the initial appeal is princesses and their castles, but what keeps people are the meatier discussions.
LD: Do you think Meghan went into royal life with the highest of intentions and that she tried really hard to make it all work?
EH: What I see is someone who tried really hard as a royal. She was working really hard to take notes and dress the part and be part of this family.
The book, as crazy as it was to write it in real time, was due right at the moment they [Harry and Meghan] were leaving. It required additions to flesh out their stories. It turned into a time capsule of Meghan’s wardrobe as a senior working royal. From those ripped jeans, from her appearance at the Invictus Games [in Toronto in 2017] to that green dress on Commonwealth Day this March. All three of Meghan’s final outfits, she nailed it, in blue, red and green jewel tones. They were everything you expect from royal fashion, standing out in a crowd, British designers, nude heels, pantyhose, all of it.
What is see very much in Meghan’s clothing choices is that she was a grown, accomplished woman, she knew the language of clothing, had worked with costume designers on set, had done red carpets. She jumped in immediately.
She came to this with a certain sort of level of expertise. She understood her personal style and how to mix it together with her new role. I admire what trying to do.
LD: So after the whirlwind exit, do you admire how Meghan has used fashion to signal in her new Hollywood life with Harry?
EH: Her first few appearances in California, it was very non-identifiable fashion. It was clothing. The purpose was not to distract from anything. For example, that birthday video with Archie, it doesn’t matter what denim shirt it was. She was on a breather between royal life and what she is doing now.
It is similar to how Diana didn’t need fashion in the same way in her humanitarian years. There is something to be said about not using fashion, not participating in fashion, but focusing on the causes she was supporting.
Meghan on those early Zoom calls, where she is talking more, had no need for fashion to become even a mention. Now, seeing her get more into it, leaning into her sophisticated relaxed, SoCal style, I cant wait for her to do appearances again!
LD: Kate has such a polished, consistent image, even as she has just begun to experiment with a bit more fashion forward look. Does this reflect her experience, and growing confidence in her roles as wife, mother and royal (and future Queen)?
EH: Kate is playing with fashion a little bit more. I think she is not naturally as interested in fashion as Diana was. She has come to see its potential. It is part of her duty.
She started out wearing relatable, off-the-rack clothes. We could see ourselves in this often-remote institution through her. She was, we forget now, a commoner and at the time that was new. So she didn’t try and overreach and go full custom designer right from the start. She embraced fashion in the new way.
Kate uses fashion to open a door, get us to read the caption and the paragraph underneath her picture of what she is wearing, to get the news about what she cares about – the cause she is promoting – out there. Fashion is a gateway for some people and the royal family recognizes that and uses that.
A lot of clothing is made for good pictures. People see and form a lot of opinions based on those pictures. Kate has always dressed thoughtfully. She has begun inserting herself into the fashion conversation.
I’m out there reading the tea leaves, trying to understand what they are trying to tell us.
HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Fashion was published Nov. 17 by Celadon.