So, the wedding of the year is over. The media gush has ebbed. The attention has now shifted to Prince Harry’s cousin, the Instagram-hot Arthur Chatto, 19-year-old nephew of Queen Elizabeth. But people’s fascination with the ex-commoner/actress-now-duchess has not ceased; they note enthusiastically how she’s presently receiving a “six-month crash course on how to be royal”. Shouldn’t that have come earlier so that her choice of wedding dress could have been more “royal” too?
Contrary to popular speculation, she opted for simple—a monolith of white. As it turned out, it may not be the most memorable British royal wedding dress, but it would be remembered, if only because one Meghan Markle wore it. In fact, to us who saw the dress on television and in countless media outlets, it was a little anti-climatic, more so when the Duchess of Cambridge’s Alexander McQueen gown from seven years ago is still fresh in our mind. Still, the press raved about it: with many headlines announcing how Ms Markle, the new Duchess of Sussex, “stuns” with the Givenchy dress.
Enthusiastic social-media speak aside; the raves mostly pitched the dress as a symbol of modernity, a sign that Ms Markle will do things her way since its very simplicity is not quite the embodiment of royal bridal-dress tradition. And that gown, they opined, was very much in keeping with the wearer’s “elegant” style although, we noted, Ms Markle’s first wedding dress (worn when she married Trevor Engleson six months after the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s grand ceremony) was not exactly the byword of elegance, but in America, home of the prom dress, there is a different sense of what is elegant. Los Angeles glam transplanted to a Jamaican beach, perhaps?
What Ms Markle wore to St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle last month was without doubt an upgrade of that dress she donned to the seaside of Ocho Rios in 2011. People do progress after a period of close to a decade, alongside taste, in dress and mate. Still, the similarities can’t be ignored. Ms Markle clearly has a thing for exposed shoulders: both dresses reveal the top of her trunk and her neck. For her second nuptials, she sported a bateau neckline that underscored her shoulders and face. The shoulder baring was, of course, in keeping with what continues to trend on IG: cold-shoulder and off-shoulder tops. Both wedding dresses were also not form-fitting: the former (designer unknown) held at the waist with a bejeweled belt recalled Chelsea Clinton’s Vera Wang gown worn a year earlier, while the latest seen across the Atlantic, waisted more naturally, wasn’t cinched by a belt.
Some of her fans—journalists included—praise the Givenchy dress, designed by Englishwoman Claire Waight Keller, for not being snug at the bodice. It is rather odd for a couture gown to escape an immaculate fit. A woman designing for a woman knows women needs to breathe? We certainly don’t mean tight, but it couldn’t be said that this dress was perfectly contoured to Ms Markle’s upper body. With each camera close-up, the undulations beside the bust and beneath repeatedly caught the eye. Even the sleeves seemed missing a neat fit: in many of the photographs seen online, a dimple punctuated exactly at the armpit, on both sides. It is, to say the least, unattractive. Versace-clad ‘angel’ Katy Perry flew towards the truth when she recommended, “one more fitting”.
Joining the fray was British-based New Zealand designer Emilia Wickstead, who claimed that Ms Markle’s dress looked “identical” to the one the former had designed, named Helene. Allegedly looking alike aside, Ms Wickstead echoed the other half of the online chorus that believed the dress suffered from a good fit. “If you choose a simple design, the fit should be perfect,” she told the press unswervingly. “Her wedding dress was quite loose.” Gasp, went the collective response: loose, as we know, is not quite synonymous with wedding dresses, unless the poor bride has to conceal/obscure a baby bump.
Together with lack of a good fit, another similarity to what was worn on the beach that day in Ocho Rios is how off-the-peg the dress looked. It is understandable that Ms Markle desired to introduce modernity to a nuptial staged in a 14th century chapel, but simple that can be confused with plain is perhaps quite contrary to the ceremonial aspect expected of such highly anticipated grandeur. It could have been any woman’s bridal gown; it could have been cousin Chin Choo’s wedding at the Carlton Hotel.
We would be misguided to think that this is not Meghan Markle’s princess-bride moment. She may have brought “change” to the house of Windsor, but a royal wedding isn’t quite the stage for designer dull. She was walking down the aisle of a high-medieval gothic royal peculiar, not a minimal, modernist construction such as Portugal’s Capela de Santa Ana. This was no time to do a Bella Swan wedding. Even teenage-angst–afflicted Amelia ‘Mia’ Thermopolis of the fictional Genovia succumbed to regal finery— incidentally also a gown with a similar bateau neckline.
Could it be that Ms Markle and Ms Waight Keller thought the ultra-long veil (longer than the train of the dress) will make up for the lack of dramatic impact? Choose a modern dress; keep the veil traditional, never mind the embroidery that edged it was so subtle that its thematic significance (flowers of the Commonwealth countries) had to be explained by the media. A bridal veil may no longer symbolize what it did in the 17th Century (or even earlier), but today, it still does—even only superficially—mean that when the veil is lifted, the groom can go into matrimonial and procreative bond with his spouse. Is this obligatory for a second-time bride or is this even more relevant post-#metoo?
Perhaps we did not quite manage our expectations. But what had we expected? Should we have expected? Ms Markle may have chosen Givenchy, but she is no Audrey Hepburn. She may be the second American divorcée to marry into the British royal family, but she is no Wallis Simpson. The Duchess of Sussex (a rural county in the south east of England, where one noted attraction is the beach-side town of Brighton) may be of humble lineage, but she is no Kate Middleton, whose poise and posture have endeared herself to the public.
There’s something to be said about the carriage and bearing of Ms Markle, especially when she stands next to Prince Harry. Some royal watchers think her body language is consistent with her profession as an actor: it’s a performance. The way she cocks her head like an aspara and the way she looks at her prince like a Disney character: they look so feigned that there is a sense that she’s masking guile and secrets. The simplicity of the wedding dress perhaps similarly deflects the complexity of the person wearing it. Just don’t call it the Meghan Markle effect.
Photos: Getty Images. Illustration: Givenchy