In today’s celebrity-obsessed world, palace fashion is about a lot more than sparkling crowns.
Modern royals — from Diana to Meghan Markle — are expected to walk the narrow line between tradition and show-stopping style. As objects of public fascination and ambassadors for the crown, they often use their clothing in deliberate ways to communicate with their fans, said Elizabeth Holmes, author of “HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style” (Celadon Books), out Tuesday.
“The royals will never comment on [their looks],” Holmes told The Post. “They won’t give speeches, they won’t say, ‘This is why I am wearing this.’ They leave you to connect the dots.”
Holmes — who runs a popular Instagram account devoted to royal fashion, with 139,000 followers — has made a career of doing just that. Her book is a visual deep dive into the ladies of the House of Windsor and their designer duds, starting with Queen Elizabeth II.
Holmes said that while the queen has been crafty with her looks, her former daughter-in-law Diana took purposeful dressing to the next level, as seen on the fourth season of “The Crown,” now on Netflix.
“She derived power from it,” said Holmes. “And I think that helps explain a lot about why we care so much about what Kate and Meghan wear today, because Diana came on the scene and made royal fashion exciting and a reason to pay attention to the family,” said Holmes.
But that doesn’t mean she was above the occasional faux pas. Here, the recent royal family’s most controversial looks, from some of the most talked-about women of all time.
When Diana married Prince Charles in 1981, she was only 20 years old, and trying to look mature in high-collared shirts and long hemlines. She was also fighting back against her first scandalous press photo the year before, when she was still a shy young woman working at a London preschool.
“A photographer from the Sun went knocking on her nursery school door and said, ‘I heard you are dating the Prince of Wales. Can I take your picture?,’” said Holmes. Although her skirt was modest, when the light hit it from behind, her legs were exposed. “She was mortified . . . It was hotly discussed,” said Holmes.
But a few years after her wedding, Lady Di embraced daring duds.
“By 1985, she had her children and her marriage was on the rocks,” said Holmes. “Everyone was excited about her fashion and she knew people were following her for it. She used clothing as a clapback. The worse the troubles got in her marriage, the more exciting her fashion grew,” said Holmes.
On a tour of Italy in 1985, she wore a succession of cheeky menswear looks, including a green Jasper Conran suit with matching tie. It wasn’t risqué, per se, but it was extremely fashion-forward and a statement of her growing influence and innate style.
Holmes said the public was dazzled but within her own household, it became a point of contention.
“There was fawning over it and that’s where it became an issue with Charles. He tried to use her fashion against her, as evidence that she was shallow and frivolous.” But Holmes said that was shortsighted: “Her fashion kept her in the [spotlight] and contributed to her popularity.”
After she and Prince Charles separated in 1992, she was unleashed. Diana is known for her 1994 “Revenge Dress“: an off-the-shoulder, short number from designer Christina Stambolian. She chose the cleavage-bearing frock for a gala that took place on the very same night that Prince Charles confessed, via television documentary, that he’d been unfaithful to her.
It was a style salvo for the ages, said Holmes.
A curvy queen
For the bulk of her reign, Queen Elizabeth II, 94, has been sporting colorful coats and matching hats in the boldest array of hues — something she’s done since her 40s. But Holmes said that in her youth, the queen was quite fashion-forward, and even showed off her hourglass figure. “People compared her to a pinup,” Holmes said of a snug white lace dress she wore to a garden party in Australia. “You can see people in the back, craning their necks to get a look at her.”
Soon after she ascended the throne, Elizabeth embarked on a global press tour, from November 1953 through May 1954. Her mission was to positively represent the crown when her uncle’s, Edward VIII’s, abdication was still fresh in the public’s mind. “Her job was to dazzle. We don’t think of the queen like that. It was a very short stretch of her reign that she played in fashion like this,” said Holmes.
But by the 1980s, she’d evolved her look in a way that not everyone liked. For a trip to Canada, she sported a boxy, lavender suit that critics called frumpy, Holmes said. “That was right when Diana was coming on the scene, and I can imagine the comparisons [were] between her and her flashy daughter-in-law.”
Missteps for Middleton
Kate Middleton is known for her flawless fashion, and how she plays the role of duchess, mom and style icon perfectly. But that doesn’t mean she never misses. During a 2011 visit to Canada, her frothy yellow Jenny Packham dress was picked up by wind while on the tarmac — and she accidentally flashed the cameras. “She was wearing nude pantyhose, so there was nothing to see but it was a reminder that it’s a working wardrobe and you have to test it against the elements,” said Holmes, adding that the queen, an expert, has tiny weights sewn into her hems.
Another one of Kate’s mistakes was more subtle, and speaks to the way that wardrobe choices can resonate beyond just the typical malfunctions.
A floral dress that she wore during the 2012 Diamond Jubilee tour in the Solomon Islands nearly caused an international incident. “[William and Kate] got to their hotel and there was a dress, so she assumed it was from a local designer,” Holmes said of Kate’s pick. She ditched her original outfit and stepped out in the purple, strapless frock. The problem? The designer was from the Cook Islands, not the Solomon Islands. “There was a big flap about it, and they issued an apology,” said Holmes.
For her first public outing with Prince Harry in 2017, Meghan Markle sent a clear message by stepping out in a shirt and ripped jeans. “There was a lot of discussion at the time about what was appropriate,” said Holmes, adding that unlike Kate, who had known Prince William since their university days, Markle was established when she met the younger prince, and brought her own influences and connections to the table.
“She knew this language of fashion long before she joined the royal family. Meghan had been to fashion week, worked with a stylist and came in with a savvy of knowing what it all meant. She knew exactly what she was doing,” said Holmes. She was also a bit sassy: She paired the ripped jeans with a white shirt from Misha Nonoo called the “Husband shirt.”
Despite a bit of backlash, Holmes said the rule-breaking jeans worked for many royal watchers. “If you hadn’t seen yourself in Kate who is classic and feminine . . . suddenly there was Meghan who was much more modern and casual in a sophisticated California way,” said Holmes.