Meghan Markle's first year as a royal: Charting the Duchess of Sussex's sartorial journey

Danielle Fowler
Freelance Writer
How has the Duchess of Sussex's style changed since the royal wedding? [Photo: Getty]

Almost one year ago, the world tuned in to watch former actress Meghan Markle marry into the Royal Family.

Dressed in a minimalist bridal gown by British designer Clare Waight Keller for Givenchy with a sweeping veil to represent the Commonwealth, Meghan’s first royal fashion moment was both a clever diplomatic move and a sign of her sartorial allegiances.

The Duchess of Sussex's wedding gown hinted at the diplomatic wardrobe we could expect in the future [Photo: PA]

Fast-forward to 2019 and the new mother’s fashion portfolio includes a royal tour and maternity wardrobe, in addition to dozens of public engagement looks.

But has the 37-year-old successfully mastered the palace dress code?

From the meaning behind her penchant for neutral hues to the newfound royal’s continued reign over our shopping habits, we take a deep dive into the Duchess of Sussex’s sartorial journey so far.

How has the Duchess of Sussex’s style changed since the royal wedding?

Once famed for her trademark messy bun, trouser suits and a roster of Strathberry cross-body bags, the former actress introduced the Windsor clan to a more contemporary way of dressing.

Before the royal wedding, Meghan made her own fashion rules often wearing cool girl trousers and cross-body bags [Photo: Getty]

But less than 48 hours after wedding Prince Harry, the newly-crowned Duchess of Sussex stepped out for Prince Charles’ 70th birthday bash in a £590 midi dress by Goat - one of the Duchess of Cambridge's favourite labels.

Two days after the royal wedding, the newly-crowned Duchess of Sussex debuted her new regal wardrobe [Photo: Getty]

With a knee-grazing hemline, bespoke Philip Treacy headpiece and sheer tights - the Internet was baffled by her bold leap into regal fashion territory.

Many Twitter users even blamed Kensington Palace for 'breaking' Meghan, as she seemingly bowed down to conservative pressure from above.

But over the last 12 months, Meghan has certainly grown into her fashion role, having struck the perfect chord between Windsor protocol and individuality.

Whether it's through a protocol-skimming tuxedo dress or ASOS-branded airport attire, the Duchess still manages to prove she’s one of us - and that's what's powering the 'Meghan Effect'.

The ‘Meghan Effect’ continues to thrive under the spotlight

Despite having curated a more regal closet post-royal wedding, Meghan's army of fashion followers still seek to imitate her new style with each of her outfits garnering sell-out status.

According to global fashion search platform Lyst, every brand she wears experiences an increase in interest.

Search for Stella McCartney has shot up by 43% since the royal wedding while Givenchy experienced a 30% rise.

On her debut trip to the namesake county of Sussex, Meghan carried a £1,695 moss-green Gabriela Hearst handbag and despite the price tag, still managed to spark a seriously long waiting list.

The Duchess of Sussex sparked a serious waiting list after carrying a covetable Gabriela Hearst handbag on a debut trip to Sussex on 3 May, 2018 [Photo: Getty]

While the £940 Karen Gee shift dress she wore to make her royal baby bump debut in Sydney on 16 October, caused the website to crash.

On October 16, 2018 the Duchess of Sussex kick-started her debut royal tour in a dress by Australian designer Karen Gee. [Photo: Getty]

Though fans aren’t merely buying into her closet but her lifestyle and values.

Amanda Dishaw, co-editor of Meghan’s Mirror, tells Yahoo UK: “Meghan is such a fantastic role model exuding confidence, compassion and a down-to-earth nature - and that really resonates with women.”

“People are so enamoured with her style because she embodies these great qualities and they’re hoping to have a bit of that in their own lives and wardrobes.”

While fashion followers may not be able to afford her designer clobber, those hoping to imitate her wardrobe can get their hands on the high street looks she’s also championed - further cementing her status as one of the world’s most influential style muses.

On day 13 of the royal tour, Meghan surprised fashion followers by changing into a £35 ASOS maternity dress mid-flight. [Photo: Getty]

Fans made a beeline for the £25 H&M dress she wore for a London engagement in January, 2018 while the £35 ASOS number she changed into mid-flight during the royal tour of Australia and New Zealand also branded a sell-out.

The Duchess of Sussex's influential role in fashion

The Duchess of Sussex undoubtedly utilises mass media coverage to make far more than just a fashion statement.

From showing support for close friend Serena Williams’ debut fashion line to inspiring others to embrace sustainable garments, Meghan uses clothing to voice her opinion - without having to use words.

An advocate for sustainability

On the evening of the royal wedding, Meghan changed into a slick halter-neck gown by Stella McCartney but this wasn't merely a chance to wave the red and white sartorial flag.

The British fashion house is famed for its sustainable stance and proved the perfect opportunity for Meghan to inspire others to embrace environmentally-friendly fashion.

The Duchess of Sussex chose sustainable designer Stella McCartney for her wedding reception [Photo: Getty]

Over the past 365 days, the Duchess has continued to show support for ethically sound brands.

During the royal tour of Australia and New Zealand for instance, she stepped out in a pair of Outland Denim jeans crafted by women rescued from trafficking.

On day two of the royal tour, Meghan stepped out in a pair of this season's 'It' trainers [Photo: Getty]

On the very same trip, Meghan donned this season's 'It' trainers from vegan-friendly label Veja with a pair of Rothy’s beach-friendly recycled pumps also packed in her suitcase.

“The Duchess wearing the Black Solid Point, one of our best-sellers, was a lightning in a bottle moment for the brand,” vice president of marketing at Rothy’s, Elie Donahue, told Yahoo UK. “We were on a rapid growth trajectory and Meghan catapulted us to a new level of global awareness.”

READ MORE: Where to shop Meghan Markle’s royal tour wardrobe

The brand - which has repurposed over 25 million water bottles into shoes - experienced a 4% uptick in sales post-Meghan while traffic to the site also shot up, as shoppers sought to invest in the royal’s latest sartorial venture.

“Rothy's has been a sustainable brand since day one, transforming recycled plastic water bottles into beautiful shoes and ensuring sustainable manufacturing and fulfilment practices - and we think it's incredible that the Duchess is aligning with her values.”

The Duchess of Sussex also championed sustainable brand Rothy's during a trip to Melbourne [Photo: Getty]

Her ethical fashion choices also have the power to influence our spending habits on a more subconscious level with many of us likely to follow in her sustainable footsteps.

“The Duchess of Sussex is such a great style icon not only because she always looks incredible, but because she's conscious of how her fashion choices can help create a more positive world,” sustainability specialist, Olivia Pinnock, tells Yahoo UK.

“So often we see pictures of her but we don't hear her voice so she uses her choice of brand to portray a message that's important to her.”

Through doing so, the Duchess of Sussex helps to put smaller sustainable brands on the map.

“Many of the people who copy her style won't be aware that they might be buying into an environmentally-conscious brand, they just see a great product being worn by someone they admire,” Pinnock continues.

“Once they go to buy that product though or they look up what she's wearing, they're also finding out about the issue of sustainable fashion so she's driving awareness and doing it in a way that is chic and fashionable."

A fashion fan girl

Not only does she use her platform for the greater good, the Duchess even makes sure to give her friends a shout-out.

Over the past year, she's worn a blazer plucked from close friend Serena Williams' debut fashion line while designer Misha Nonoo also features heavily in her wardrobe - remember that chic pleated skirt?

Meghan championed close friend Misha Nonoo's fashion line at the launch of her cookbook on September 20, 2018

When not gifting her friends a headline or two, Meghan uses media coverage to shine a spotlight on under-the-radar labels.

For instance, to unveil first child, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor to the world, she wore a sleeveless trench dress by London-based designer, Grace Wales Bonner.

The Duchess of Sussex championed London-based designer, Grace Wales Bonner, at the royal baby reveal [Photo: PA]

The 28-year-old designer of Jamaican and English heritage is lauded for her exploration of black identity through fashion and scooped the LVMH Prize in 2016.

Supporting a designer whose values and background align with her own was crucial, especially for such a milestone moment.

Courtesy of Meghan’s patronage and status, Grace Wales Bonner’s name is sure to be propelled to new superstar heights.

A diplomatic dresser

During her debut royal tour of Australia and New Zealand in autumn 2018, the Duchess of Sussex made sure to dress diplomatically in nine homegrown labels from Martin Grant to Maggie Marilyn.

On day nine of the tour, she looked to accessories as a way of championing local talent with a clutch lovingly crafted by women in the area - an item purchased earlier that day from the Suva market.

For a trip to Suva in Fiji on October 24, 2018 the Duchess carried a clutch made by local women [Photo: Getty]

According to royal etiquette expert, Grant Harrold, flying the flag for the country you’re visiting is something that is expected from female members of ‘the firm’.

“It's quite nice to wear a designer from the country or area that they are visiting to show support,” he tells Yahoo UK. “It also raises awareness of the designers - which the Duchess of Sussex will be fully aware of.”

READ MORE: Why didn’t Meghan fly the British flag on debut royal tour?

But that doesn’t mean Meghan can’t have a say over the colours, fit and label.

He adds, “The royal family is a brand at the end of the day but without question, I do think the newer members, like Kate and Meghan, make sure to keep their own sense of style while following protocol.”

From ‘passenger pink’ to a penchant for black, how Meghan uses colour to communicate

One of the more subtle differences in Meghan’s post-wedding wardrobe was her switch to a neutral colour palette.

Once fond of prints and vibrant hues (remember that Self-Portrait number?), the Duchess of Sussex stuck to a grand total of six pastel-decked outfits for the first month of married life.

For an Invictus Games reception in April 2018, the former actress chose a floral Self-Portrait dress. [Photo: Getty]

In need of evidence?

First up, there was her Trooping the Colour debut, where Meghan opted for an off-the-shoulder Carolina Herrera skirt suit in blush pink.

On June 9, 2018 the Duchess made her Trooping the Colour debut [Photo: Getty]

Next, there was a white 'My Fair Lady'-inspired ensemble by Givenchy which made the headlines following her Royal Ascot appearance.

For her debut Royal Ascot on June 19, 2018, the Duchess chose a Givenchy shirt dress [Photo: Getty]

While she arrived at the Queen's Young Leaders Awards on June 28, 2018 wearing a Prada co-ord in, you guessed it, candy floss pink.

Once again, Meghan looked to baby pink for a public engagement [Photo: Getty]

But what was the reason behind her sudden penchant for blend-into-the-background colours?

“Meghan's style has evolved since marrying into royalty having become much more inclusive of blush colours or what I would describe as 'passenger pink',” fashion psychologist, Dawnn Karen, tells Yahoo UK.

"When women of power marry men of power, they tend to tone down their power and dress more feminine,” she continues. “Wearing this ‘passenger pink’ denotes high levels of sensitivity, innocence and of course - femininity.”

READ MORE: What Meghan’s Duchess outfits all have in common

"By wearing the neutral shade, Meghan is balancing out the power that she has while standing alongside Prince Harry."

A more subtle colour palette also works well in keeping with royal protocol.

For instance, when senior members of the family attend public engagements alongside the Queen, they must ensure that she stands out from the crowd - wearing pastel colours is one easy way of doing so.

The Duchess of Sussex wore a cream-hued Givenchy dress for her debut engagement with the Queen - who chose a zesty lime ensemble by Stewart Palvin. [Photo: Getty]

But throughout her pregnancy, the Duchess of Sussex began to experiment with bolder hues once again - with royal blue appearing 24 times.

The Duchess of Sussex in a blue dress by Carolina Herrera in Morocco [Photo: Getty]

“Blue signifies trust and loyalty,” Dawnn Karen explains. “Many people may have questioned Meghan's sincerity when becoming the Duchess of Sussex and unconsciously, she could be wanting to prove that she can be trustworthy and that she is loyal.”

Interestingly, black has also proven her go-to shade over the past year with a grand total of 23 minimal ensembles gracing the headlines from her 2018 Fashion Awards Givenchy gown to that show-stopping Oscar de la Renta frock.

On December 10, the Duchess of Sussex made a surprise appearance at the 2018 Fashion Awards [Photo: Getty]

“There was also a lot of speculation about Meghan coming from Hollywood and into royalty with many asking if she could pull of this role,” Dawnn Karen explains.

“With Meghan facing that amount of scrutiny, she could be suffering and black shows a sense of control, a sense of concealment and a sense of elegance.”

How much has the Duchess of Sussex’s royal wardrobe cost so far?

According to royal fashion experts over at Unidentified Fashion Object No More, the Duchess of Sussex spent more than any other European royal on clothes in 2018 - approximately £500,000.

Though the true figure is likely to be even higher with only 256 of her 324 outfits identified while the price of her Givenchy wedding dress remains shrouded in secrecy.

The Duchess of Sussex's wedding dress was rumoured to have cost approximately £387,000 [Photo: Getty]

In comparison, the Duchess of Cambridge reportedly spent something in the region of £71,825 with 117 new pieces added to her 2018 wardrobe.

Though we mustn’t forget that she was expecting Prince Louis last year - meaning she spent more time away from the spotlight than usual.

READ MORE: How much did Meghan’s maternity wardrobe cost?

In regards to Meghan’s maternity wardrobe, she spent approximately £500,000 on 78 public engagement outfits with popular labels including Givenchy, Victoria Beckham and Stella McCartney.

How does Meghan’s maternity wardrobe compare to Kate’s?

Before Meghan became a fully-fledged member of the family, the Duchess of Cambridge was heralded the nation’s fashion sweetheart.

With three children - Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis - the 37-year-old is certainly familiar with the art of regal maternity dressing.

READ MORE: The Duchess of Cambridge’s best maternity fashion moments

Throughout her pregnancies, the Duchess of Cambridge recycled a large number of looks and was widely praised for her strategic cost-per-wear approach.

The Duchess of Cambridge recycled a Hobbs coat first worn in 2013 while pregnant with Princess Charlotte [Photo: Getty]

In fact, it’s her maternity coat collection that she frequently revisits, as she has recycled the following throughout her pregnancies: a £1,5000 hot pink Mulberry coat, a £169 Hobbs leopard coat and a £1,784 Sportmax coat in powder blue.

But with only a year under her belt, the Duchess of Sussex has plenty of time to curate a recyclable closet that’ll last her royal reign.