Celebrity Style

The Deeper Meaning Behind Meghan Markle’s Embrace of Her Former Royal Wardrobe

The Duchess of Sussex in Carolina Herrera at the the State Governor House in Lagos. Photo: Kola Sulaimon/Getty Images

When Meghan Markle made her first appearance in Nigeria on her three-day trip to the country with Prince Harry, she did so in a peach Heidi Merrill sundress that she’s owned for six years. Although the Duchess didn’t publicize the brand, blogs like “What Meghan Wore” almost immediately traced it back to the sustainable California designer’s 2018 collection. The name of the product felt a little tongue-in-cheek. It was called the “Windsor Dress”—the very name of the royal house that Harry and Meghan abruptly departed in 2020.

There was likely no sartorial shade intended: In 2018, when the dress was likely purchased, Meghan was a key part of the Windsor fold. And over the past few days, the Sussexes have very much acted like they’re still working members of the family. Their visit to Nigeria, which is meant to raise awareness for mental health as well as the Invictus Games, feels similar to the working tours they once took on behalf of Queen Elizabeth. The Duke met with injured service members. The Duchess co-hosted a panel for Women in Leadership alongside the Director General of the World Trade Organization. They both attended a reception hosted by the chief of defense staff in honor of military families.

The whole thing felt like a throwback to five years ago. As did her wardrobe: Markle re-wore a number of pieces that she’d previously sported for high-profile public appearances in the past. There she was, in the bright yellow Carolina Herrera dress that she announced her pregnancy with Lilibet in 2021. The next day, she had on a white Altuzarra pantsuit she first wore during an official visit to Australia in 2018. During that aforementioned military reception, she wore a white St. Agni dress and a diamond cross necklace that once belonged to Princess Diana.

Duchess of Sussex wears Princess Diana's cross at the Nigerian Defense Headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria
The Duchess of Sussex wears Princess Diana’s cross at the Nigerian Defense Headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria.Photo: Kola Sulaimon/Getty Images

On the surface level, these are practical choices. When going on a de-facto royal tour, it makes sense to re-wear the (very expensive) investment clothing one purchased for previous ones. However, on a deeper level—from the “Windsor” dress to the demure Carolina Herrera—Markle is certainly evoking her days as a working, full-fledged royal through her clothing.

Whether or not that is intentional remains to be seen. But it’s not a bad idea. For all the criticism that has swirled the Sussexes, none of it has ever been about their ability to represent themselves abroad: their international appearances as working royals attracted crowds in the tens of thousands and an avalanche of positive press. When Harry reflected on their 2018 tour of Australia on Oprah Winfrey, he said how “effortless it was for Meghan to come into the family so quickly in Australia and across New Zealand, Fiji, and Tonga, and just be able to connect with people.”

“She was welcomed into the family not just by the family, but by the world,” he added.

In fact, the Nigeria visit is a reminder of what the royals lost: a diverse couple that can connect with a tremendous amount of people of all ages, countries, and ethnicities. During her women in leadership event, Meghan powerfully opened up about the recent discovery that she is 43 percent Nigerian to Director-General of the W.T.O Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. “Being African-American, part of it is really not knowing so much about your lineage or background, where you come from specifically,” she said. “It’s been really eye-opening and humbling to be able to know more about my heritage and to be able to know, this is just the beginning of that discovery.” The room broke into applause. Meanwhile, Prince Harry—a veteran himself—visited injured soldiers Reference Hospital in Kaduna. He cracked jokes and made small talk about football matches, while also encouraging them to participate in the Invictus Games (his bi-annual tournament for wounded service people.) “You are going to get better, get back on your feet,” he told one.

Such positive and meaningful interactions are no doubt good for Meghan and Harry, who have recently struggled in the court of public opinion. In June 2023, after their rumored 200 million dollar Spotify deal fell through, many wondered what exactly their future was if they couldn’t continue talking about their experience with the British monarchy.

Nigeria, as well as the recent announcement of two new Netflix projects, suggests a turnaround: even though the Sussexes can’t go back to the royal family, they can go back to basics of helping people. And Meghan’s return to the wardrobe she crafted in that era clothing feels like a sartorial symbol of that shift.

However, that’s not to say they want to go back in time. Markle paired a Johanna Ortiz dress with a pair of Heidi Callier sunglasses called “The Expat.” If one wanted to over-analyze that, here’s what they’d conclude: California is suiting them just fine.

This article was originally published on Vogue.com

More From Vogue

Share now on:
FacebookXEmailCopy Link