· The Enduring Influence of Royalty on Fashion ·
Have you ever looked at modern royalty and wondered where their influence lies in our democratised world? Have you ever watched period films and TV shows such as The Tudors or Victoria and wondered how far removed we are from that world? Well, though times have changed, and monarchies no longer carry quite the weight they once did, there is one area that seems to have had an increasing influence since the dawn of social media: royal fashion.
Throughout the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, fashion became increasingly democratic. The shift to more egalitarian dress reached its height in the 1920s and we have yet to turn back. Read any fashion history of the 1920s, and it will pinpoint this democratisation of fashion as a hallmark of the period.
What was this “democratisation of fashion,” you ask? It marked a shift from the “top-down” idea of fashion – the idea that fashion came from the elite and was copied by the middle and working classes. As the world itself was becoming more democratic – think how the American and French Revolutions did away with monarchies in those countries – so was fashion. Instead of looking to royalty, the aristocracy, and the wealthy elite, fashion started to come from the common people. Coco Chanel is the most famous example as her popular 1920s fashions were aimed to make “The rich girl look like the girl on the street” – despite their price tags.
Where fashion was once dependent on what the elite deemed fashionable, as consumerism has risen, it’s been dependent on the whims of consumers. With the rise of street style in the 1990s, it seemed that there was no returning to a world where fashions were dictated by the elite.
And so it would be safe to assume that royalty is irrelevant when it comes to fashion. Indeed, when the Queen was a young woman, she stuck to “anti-fashion” – clothes that took from current fashions but that maintained a distance from trends. Clothes that paid homage to her enduring and immortal status as queen.
However, since at least the 1980s when Lady Di became Princess Diana, it seems that royalty has seen a resurgence as fashion influencers. Princess Diana’s style was coveted and copied all over the world and she continues to be a style icon to this day. And indeed, there’s been another surge since Kate Middleton’s engagement to Prince William in 2010. Undoubtedly you’ve heard of the “Kate Effect” in which almost anything she wears sells out within hours of her wearing. It helps that the Duchess of Cambridge often wears clothing from high street stores, or mixes designer with the same, making her wardrobe a bit more attainable than royals before her.
But it’s not just the Duchess of Cambridge that enjoys icon status. A quick look through Instagram and you’ll find accounts dedicated to royal fashion around the world. Besides Kate, other fashionable royals include Princess Mary of Denmark, the women of the Swedish royal family, and Queen Letizia of Spain – the latter saw a spike in popularity after she made a state visit to the Queen over the summer. Her elegant and tailored clothes on that trip, and its high profile coverage as she met with the beloved British Queen, saw her gain an even bigger following.
Then, of course, there’s the newest (almost) royal, Meghan Markle. She’s been popular among those who follow Kate since she became official with Prince Harry, but she became a true inspiration upon their engagement. Much like the spike in Queen Letizia’s popularity, Meghan Markle’s spiked as she and Prince Harry announced their engagement, she in a dreamy white coat and spiky stilletoes. Royal fashion followers expressed their excitement to see how her royal style will develop.
While Kate, Letizia, Mary, Victoria, Madeline, Sophia, and Meghan may not have the entire fashion world at their beck and call as royalty once did (hundreds of years ago royalty made sumptuary laws that dictated what people were allowed to wear), they have enough of an influence to make a difference. There are hundreds of Instagram accounts dedicated to women who emulate the Duchess of Cambridge’s style. While Kate is their go-to, many of them occasionally deviate with inspiration from the other royals and even Kate’s sister Pippa who seems to have been deemed royal by association. To these women, there is something about royal women that they are drawn to and still want to copy.
Perhaps it’s due to media coverage, or the rise of social media, or something else, but it seems that royal fashion is having a resurgence in influence. Despite fast fashion (or perhaps because of it) that allows for popular styles to be available to people of any status and income, there is something enduringly appealing about these modern royals and their polished wardrobes. If last month – with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s engagement and the popular release of the second season of The Crown – is any indication, it seems that royal fashion is here to stay.