What Is the Meaning of Meghan’s Fashion Choice?

So you think the clothes are beside the point in the Oprah-Harry-Meghan tell-all? You think it’s the vocal bombshells and revelations that matter, and no one is going to give two figs what the former royal couple who is uttering them is wearing? You, my friend, should think again. Costumes are always part of the program.

Ever since she first stepped into the spotlight not just as an actress on a pretty successful TV show but as a potential British princess, Meghan Markle has proved herself a master of the visual message.

So whatever she chose for the single-biggest speaking moment of both her career and her marriage thus far — the one that, given the pre-promotion and the public relations warfare being waged by the palace, the Sussexes and the proxies for each, is going to be seen by more people than any other appearance since her wedding — it was not going to be a random, just-because-it’s-comfy schmatta.

It was going to be a dress with purpose. A dress that would set a tone. A dress that would, after all, be seen and re-seen as the photos from the interview went around the world and down in royal history, much as the photos of Princess Diana in her black jacket looking up from under her bangs at Martin Bashir in her 1995 BBC interview still appear whenever the topic of that royal divorce comes up.

And the answer is … a $4,700 black silk wrap dress by Giorgio Armani with a white lotus flower print spilling down one shoulder.

According to Town & Country’s royal whisperer, Ms. Markle chose the dress specifically because of the lotus flower symbolism, and the fact the bloom represents rebirth, which was part of what the interview was also supposed represent: the rebirth of Harry and Meghan as an independent entity, authentically themselves apart from the royal family; the rebirth of their voices. Plus, of course, the coming birth of the couple’s next child. Oh — and also the fact that, wrote T & C, the lotus can “flourish despite seemingly challenging conditions.”

Hint, hint.

Though there is some irony in a very expensive dress being chosen to partly represent the wearer’s victimhood and resilience in the face of pain.

Still, worn belted over her pregnant stomach, with spiky black Aquazzura heels and a diamond Cartier tennis bracelet that was once owned by Princess Diana (chosen so that, the couple told Ms. Winfrey, she could be there with them), it was not exactly your run-of-the-mill maternity look.

Not exactly a “Royals! They’re just like us!” kind of thing. Not even a: “hey, we’re now in America and we’re going to use all this attention to help an American designer,” kind of thing. Not even an eco-sensitive, or support-the-outsiders kind of thing. (All kinds of things that had been part of Ms. Markle’s public image-making before.)

More of a high glamour, celebrity kind of thing. Armani was the first high fashion designer to ever woo the Hollywood set; the go-to name for stars in search of “style but make it safe,” and for studio execs looking to seem serious but not stuffy. (When asked how he felt about Ms. Markle choosing his dress for the big interview, Mr. Armani emailed, “It’s hard for me to comment about Meghan’s choice seeing it’s a dress from my collection.”)

And that made it also a “this is my choice because now I am free to make my own choices and I don’t have to think about diplomacy or fulfilling the expectations of all the people who have pinned their hopes on me as an agent of change,” kind of thing. (That’s a heavy thing, admittedly.)

It’s the kind of thing that Diana wore too, post-divorce, when she declared independence partly by favoring high-octane European designers. And the kind of thing, perhaps unfortunately, that Wallis Simpson might have worn when she and Edward went into exile; Mrs. Simpson as well seemed to find solace in high fashion.

Still, Prince Harry did not exactly do an Edward. For the interview he was wearing a dove gray J. Crew Ludlow suit — jacket $425; pants, $225 — along with a simple white shirt, unbuttoned at the throat, and no tie. It looked an awful lot like the suit he wore for his first Baby Archie photo-op back in May of 2019, and it ticked all sorts of boxes. Accessible! American! Possibly shopping his closet, which is better for the planet. He may not have realized his clothes contained all that, but his wife probably did.

All in all, a good thing, really.

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