Meghan sported a tuxedo dress with a daringly high hemline teamed with sky-high stilettos for a gala performance of the musical Hamilton. Was the dress length decorous enough for an official occasion? Just
Head-turning as ever — and only just skimming the right side of royal protocol — the Duchess of Sussex displayed her enviably slim legs at a public engagement in London this week.
Meghan sported a tuxedo dress with a daringly high hemline teamed with sky-high stilettos for a gala performance of the musical Hamilton. Was the dress length decorous enough for an official occasion? Just.
Meghan, who has reverted to the pre-wedding sobriety of her trademark black, carried off the sassy take on a formal look simply because her legs are as slender as willow wands. Had she less shapely pins, we might have blenched at her audacity.
Before she married Prince Harry, Meghan loved to show off her super-slim legs — in shorts, in thigh-skimming skirts and, of course, in body-hugging dresses, courtesy of her role as Rachel in the TV show Suits.
Then she became a royal duchess and, at first, espoused a more demure look — calf-length dresses, formal maxi skirts and, occasionally, ankle-skimming fitted trousers.
But, on Wednesday night, she assumed her trademark style once again and chose to go thigh-high in a £327 tuxedo cocktail dress by Canadian designers Judith & Charles. And, of course, she looked absolutely stunning.
But she isn’t the first royal to flash a leg. Even the Queen, a paradigm of sartorial elegance and impeccable taste, dared to reveal a glimpse of knee when short hemlines were fashionable in the Sixties and Seventies.
She had her dresses altered by her couturier Ian Thomas, from Norman Hartnell, when the fashion demanded. He told me he received a call from Her Majesty’s dresser, Bobo MacDonald, requesting that the hems of the royal gowns be raised to a more up-to-date length.
The result, as can be seen from photographs of the time, was a success. For the Queen, like all the female members of her family, is blessed with shapely, slender legs. Dressed in daffodil yellow, her smile as sunny as the Antipodean day in 1970 when she joined the Lord Mayor of Sydney during a tour of Australia, she wore a coat that showed just a glimpse of her knees.
Not that Her Majesty has ever come close to flouting the rules of good taste: even her shorter ensembles set precisely the right tone.
The same can be said of her sister, the late Princess Margaret, a fashion icon in her time. Together with her then-husband, the Earl of Snowdon, they were very much the toast of the town: she in her mini-skirts and he with his roll-neck sweaters and safari jackets.
Even Princess Anne, as a teenager, enjoyed dressing daringly, choosing to wear very short skirts, much to the chagrin of her grandmother, the Queen Mother. Although she didn’t mind their scantiness, the Queen Mother was of the opinion that it was an unflattering look for a woman of any age to show too much thigh and professed knees ‘so ugly’.
Not that Her Majesty has ever come close to flouting the rules of good taste: even her shorter ensembles set precisely the right tone. The same can be said of her sister, the late Princess Margaret, a fashion icon in her time
But it was Princess Diana who was the first really to challenge the regal dress rule book.
Although she hated her stomach and was not that keen on her bust, she was very proud of her ‘Spencer Pins’, as she called them. Standing almost 5ft 10in, Diana had the ability to look good in anything.
And, once she was a free woman — after her divorce from Prince Charles in 1996 — she felt able to wear shorter skirts as a message of emancipation and defiance.
She started wearing higher and higher heels, too, as she no longer had to worry about towering over Charles, and worked hard to hone her body in the gym, with the help of her one-time lover, the former England Rugby captain Will Carling.
He showed her how to build up her shoulders using weights and develop her thighs and calves so that she had more of an athletic body — quite different from the extreme thinness that defined her as a younger woman.
It was Princess Diana who was the first really to challenge the regal dress rule book.Although she hated her stomach and was not that keen on her bust, she was very proud of her ‘Spencer Pins’, as she called them. The one royal who has suffered more criticism than any other for her choice of clothes is Fergie
Diana was delighted with her new look and took to showing it off.
Sometimes, perhaps, she went too far, as the scantiness of her outfits made alighting from cars a less than elegant feat. Just look at the daring black dress she wore for the film premiere of Apollo 13 in 1995. It was so short, she had to pull it down as she got out of her limousine so as not to reveal too much thigh or even a glimpse of underwear.
The one royal who has suffered more criticism than any other for her choice of clothes is Fergie. Yet, although the Duchess of York is always complaining about the ease with which she puts on weight, she has always had the most finely-turned ankles.
I imagine Kate is quite aware that her height and shape allow her to outshine almost any other female present
Her father, the late Major Ronald Ferguson, had them too and was so proud of them that he once went to a fancy-dress party as a woman, wearing a mini-skirt and fishnet tights. He did it, he told me, because he just longed to show off his perfect ankles, as no one had ever noticed them.
Fergie has inherited them. For, whatever her weight or choice of outfit, her legs absolutely never let her down — as the photo of her in a short, polka dot shirt-dress at the polo in 1991 shows. So, who wins the battle royal for the best legs? In my opinion, now that Diana is no longer with us, the victor must be the Duchess of Cambridge.
Kate’s long, shapely legs are the result not of hard work — although she is a keen tennis player — but natural good genes. Look no further than her mother, Carole Middleton, for proof.
Because of her 5ft 10in height and those legs, Kate can wear almost anything and look stunning. There have been only a few occasions that I can recall when she showed just a little too much leg. Most memorably at her arrival at Calgary airport for her 2011 tour of Canada when a gust of wind whipped up her yellow dress to reveal a flash of upper thigh.
But no one minded. They just envied. And, ever since, she has chosen to keep her legs largely under wraps.
I imagine Kate is quite aware that her height and shape allow her to outshine almost any other female present. When she does reveal her legs, the effect is simply stunning. It is a measure of her discretion and good taste that she makes those occasions a rarity.
Perhaps Meghan will do well and heed her wise example.
- Ingrid Seward is Editor-in-Chief of Majesty magazine and author of My Husband And I.
FEMAIL FASHION VERDICT
Yes! Meghan’s mojo is back
When the Duchess of Sussex bared her fabulous legs this week, it was as though she was paying homage to the woman she used to be a mere nine months ago, before her engagement to Prince Harry.
Remember that woman? The feisty, free-spirited activist who endeared us with her forthright manner and American openness. The bi-racial beauty who shook up the fusty royals with grace and confidence.
The stylish actress who, far from being a slave to designer fashion, had worked out her own look, favouring a pared-back style in a neutral colour palette, supporting little-known Canadian designers, rather than the usual red-carpet roll call.
Since the Royal Wedding, though, we’ve watched Meghan’s fashion choices being hemmed in by royal protocol. There were American tan tights and fussy shift dresses.
It seemed as though she was covering up her personality, as well as her body.
But now, Meghan appears to have done a fashion volte-face.
So, welcome back, Meghan, the original version, in the kind of chic and show-stopping outfit that won women over from the very start.
No! It’s just a tux too much
The Duchess of Sussex is writing the next chapter of the royal style guide, with her refreshing, confident take on contemporary fashion.
I adored the Alexander McQueen dinner suit she wore with such panache to the Endeavour Fund Awards back in February.
Yet this week’s tuxedo cocktail dress felt like an awkward throwback to the Eighties, with its precarious hemline, double-breasted styling and square shoulders.
The mini-skirted silhouette showcased her coltish limbs, but also emphasised how tricky it is to appear elegant when standing bare-legged.
The buttoned-up style of the dress pulled around the bust as she shook hands with the assembled cast of Hamilton, ruining the line.
Perhaps a pair of black opaque tights would have made this work better? Or if the dress had been cut from silk crepe with some stretch so it didn’t pull. Better still, a pencil skirt peeping out a couple of inches below the hem: details that add dignity matter.
But I do love Meghan’s youthful exuberance and she must continue to finesse royal style.
It takes time to find your fashion feet in the Royal Family and this was an unfortunate hiccup — not an insurmountable hurdle — on the path to being a fully-fledged 21st-century duchess.