Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton have some of the most enviable wardrobes in the world. Having to attend state banquets, premieres, meet and greets and less official events on a day to day basis, they have an outfit for every eventuality, and hardly ever put a sartorial foot wrong. But how exactly do they choose said outfits? And who pays for them? Well I’m glad you asked…
Do royals pay for clothes?
Yes. The royal family isn’t allowed to accept gifts you see. According to their official website, ‘The fundamental principle governing the acceptance of gifts by Members of The Royal Family is that no gifts, including hospitality or services, should be accepted which would, or might appear to, place the Member of The Royal Family under any obligation to the donor.’ Gifts from businesses should be declined, unless they are to mark special occasions such as a royal wedding. In that case, ‘the consent of the Member of The Royal Family should be contingent upon the enterprise undertaking not to exploit the gift for commercial purposes.’
Once a royal is in the family, then the clothing budget comes out of Prince Charles Duchy of Cornwall estate, which dates back to 1337, and goes to the eldest child of the reigning monarch. He then gives Prince Harry and Prince William an annual allowance to pay for anything to do with their public appearances, which includes clothes. It was reported that last year, the two couples had just under £5m to share between them, though the amount is reviewed each year based on the number of appearances.
Before Meghan married Harry, and before Kate married William, they would’ve paid for their own clothes though, which reportedly included their wedding dresses.
How do royals choose their clothes?
Two words: royal stylists. Obviously, royals lead very busy lives, so they don’t really have much time to go shopping, which is where the stylist comes in. That said, Meghan apparently dresses herself, though she’ll likely have an assistant who can call clothes in for her.
As for Kate, she has been working with Natasha Archer since 2007. According to The Cut, she calls in some options from different designers, and then goes through them with Kate to see which one she prefers. Then she will simply send back those that don’t work, and buy the ones she keeps. The royal also has long-standing relationships with designers such as Sarah Burton from Alexander McQueen, who designed her wedding dress. For special occasions, they might work on creating bespoke outfits, which will start with conversations with the designer, and usually require a few fittings for the process, where Kate will visit the studio.
Being a royal stylist is a whole other gig than being a celebrity stylist, due to factoring things like dress code, etiquette, symbolism etc. A celeb stylist might look for the wow factor on the red carpet, a royal stylist must always be conscious of dressing appropriately for the occasion. For example, you’ll never see Kate or Meghan wearing a mini dress whilst they entertain European royals at Buckingham Palace.
Royals often pay homage to a country they’re visiting, by for example dressing in a local designer, or adding a symbol to their outfit, such as the maple leaf in Canada. Stylists will also pay attention to weather condition, whether an outfit will ride up, photograph well and so many other factors you wouldn’t think of normally.
Katie Nicholl, royal columnist and author of Harry and Meghan: Life, Loss, and Love, tells Vogue Australia: ‘The idea of a stylist in royal circles is seen as frivolous, and courtiers would have us believe the Duchesses of Sussex and Cambridge choose their own outfits and do their own shopping, when actually there is someone in-house taking care of all of this. They may well have other duties as well, more on the level of a PA, but they are responsible for packing for tours, calling in clothes and travelling with the royals on tour. Their job is hugely important. [Whether] that first image of Kate or Meghan arriving overseas or stepping out at an engagement will make the front page largely depends on what they are wearing.’
And while Meghan and Kate always look impeccable, you’ll never see them in the latest trends, as their style needs to be relatable and not attention-grabbing. No Balenciaga trainers or neon dresses here.
The Queen also has her own set of dressmakers who have worked with her for years on her signature style, focusing on timeless elegance.