Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle’s dress at queen’s funeral gave subtle messages

Funerals, it should be said, rarely provide opportunities for bold fashion statements. The occasions themselves are self-evidently modest and reverent, their dress codes among the simplest and most compulsory of all dress codes.

A funeral for a British monarch has particularly stringent protocols. Monday’s service honoring Queen Elizabeth II put the pinnacle of European formality on display, as the event was largely facilitated by people whose outfits had been decided for them far in advance by royal, military and church tradition. Three of the queen’s four children, for instance, wore military uniforms — the expected funeral dress for working royals with military titles — as they walked in the royal funeral procession. So did Prince William. (Prince Harry, who gave up his status as working royal in 2020, and Prince Andrew, who was stripped of his military titles earlier this year amid scandal, were exceptions, instead dressing in simple morning suits.)

Still, finding subtle ways to communicate through clothing choices is a skill, as well as a royal tradition in its own right: Elizabeth herself, who died on Sept. 8, was known to send messages of support and affection, as well as assert her own power, through the clothes she wore in public. On Monday, the three most prominent remaining women of the royal family, the rare highly visible funeral attendees with some wiggle room in terms of what to wear, put the same strategy to use. All wore tasteful funeral ensembles with affectionate touches in honor of the queen, yet managed to send a trio of differing messages.

Catherine, Princess of Wales (a.k.a. Kate Middleton) and the wife of Prince William, wore a sharp-shouldered, double-breasted black blazer dress with pleats, a narrow waist and a moderately deep V-shaped neckline. The angular garment was a black version of the Alexander McQueen dress she wore earlier this year at a Platinum Jubilee event. She paired the ensemble with a wide-brimmed black hat, as well as two selections from the queen’s extensive jewelry collection: a pair of long drop pearl earrings (given to the queen by Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa of Bahrain in 1947) and a dramatic pearl choker (made from pearls the Japanese government gifted to the royals) that stood out strikingly against the dark hues of the day.

As Catherine ascends in the royal lineup to queen consort-in-waiting, her profile is further rising in the public eye; her husband’s time on the throne, once a somewhat distant eventuality, now feels more concrete and imminent. Her eye-catching ensemble invoked the power suits and daring fashions of the 1980s — and indicated comfort with the blazing spotlight of national attention.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, by contrast, chose a round-neck dress with a subtle black cape, pairing it with understated diamond-and-pearl earrings given to her by the queen. Her caped dress — quite literally a shroud, a shape one can disappear into — was solemn-looking and demure, and, like her sister-in-law, Meghan wore a silhouette she’d worn before, repeating the Stella McCartney pattern she wore in blue to the queen’s birthday concert in 2018.

Ahead of Monday’s event, tabloids and magazines speculated as to whether Meghan (who with Harry famously “stepped back” from royal duties in early 2020) would attend the funeral at all, owing to the strained relationship with the royal family that she has described in the past. Meghan has also expressed her dismay over her portrayals in several British news outlets, and a modest dress like this one is what you wear when you’d like to minimize the chances that you’ll be called attention-grabbing; when you’d like to blend into the scenery and be excluded from the narrative. When you would like for no one to talk about your clothes, except to perhaps note that you properly matched the tone of the occasion.

Meghan and Harry back in the royal spotlight as they bid farewell to queen

But it was Camilla, Queen Consort — the wife of the new King Charles III — who most resembled Elizabeth at Monday’s funeral.

As Charles assumes the throne, the future of the monarchy is somewhat unclear: He has reportedly considered “slimming down” the monarchy, as other nations have in recent years — stripping some less prominent members of the royal family of their titles and thus decreasing the tax burden on civilians. But Camilla’s choice of funeral dress indicated no such break with history. She wore a crisp-collared, slightly boxy black dress with a small, smart hat and a brooch on her left shoulder: a silhouette-and-accessory pairing often associated with Elizabeth. (The brooch, according to the British outlet Metro, was Queen Victoria’s, gifted to her on her Diamond Jubilee by her grandchildren.)

Though Camilla was surrounded on Monday by hallmarks of a changing world — the cool bare-ankle loafers worn by her granddaughter, for instance, not to mention the live-stream cameras set up all around the perimeter — she nevertheless communicated that, for the moment, at least, the monarchy as the world knows it endures.

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