Last year, Meghan Markle was just settling into her royal role. At her engagements—and especially during her first tour with Prince Harry—the basic tenets of her style as a Duchess began to emerge: she preferred simple, delicate jewelry; she was a fan of neutral hues; she wasn’t afraid to mix bespoke fashions with off-the-rack garments. And even early on, Meghan knew what she could do for a brand just by wearing one of their pieces. She chose to step out in labels with a sustainable or ethical bent, often single-handedly exploding their sales overnight.
By the time 2019 rolled around, royal watchers largely knew what to expect from the Duchess—but this past year still brought some sartorial surprises. Here, how Meghan Markle’s style has evolved in the past 12 months.
Previously, Kate Middleton was the Duchess known for shopping in her closet—but this year, Meghan proved she could do the same. It’s possible that Meghan was only waiting until she accrued a critical mass of royal-approved clothes, so she could start bringing them out again.
Earlier this year—after Meghan recycled several outfits during her and Prince Harry’s visit to South Africa—Christine Ross, the editor of royal style blog Meghan’s Mirror explained to Town & Country that royals rewear when they “want to redirect the conversation, and it shifts that conversation from fashion to substance.”
2019 was such a whirlwind—inside royal circles and otherwise—it’s easy to forget that Meghan spent the first four months of the year pregnant. The Duchess embraced maternity style with grace, selecting both tailored and flowing silhouettes. Interestingly, she wore pieces from the maternity department relatively rarely, instead opting for loose clothing from regular collections and bespoke designs.
“I think what it comes down to is there is a mindset, especially among some in the fashion community, that maternity clothes can be frumpy or dowdy,” Elizabeth Holmes, the journalist behind the popular #SoManyThoughts Instagram series about royal fashion, told Town & Country earlier this year. “And I do think that there is a certain kind of pride that some fashion people take in being able to just avoid maternity clothes all together.”
Meghan’s ring finger got a serious upgrade in 2019. She first debuted her engagement ring—a custom piece featuring one diamond originally from Botswana and two smaller stones from Princess Diana’s collection—back in 2017, but Town & Country broke the news that she’d had it redesigned this summer. Prince Harry reportedly worked with jeweler Lorraine Schwartz to make Meghan’s new eternity ring (a band with diamonds on all sides) and resize and reset her engagement ring with new stones. The Duchess first debuted her updated jewelry at the Trooping the Colour parade.
Even last year, Meghan clearly understood how to send a message with her clothing—but in 2019, she mastered the technique. On her trip to South Africa, she wore a dress ethically made in Malawi, and a charity bracelet that spelled “justice.” She also wore plenty of off-the-rack clothing from Everlane and J.Crew.
Her real moment of sartorial genius, however, came when she and Prince Harry introduced baby Archie at a photocall in Windsor Castle. Some thought she’d opt for a piece from her designer-of-choice, Givenchy’s Claire Waight Keller; others predicted a nod to Princess Diana’s post-baby style. What she chose surprised everyone: a simple trench dress, from Grace Wales Bonner.
Wales Bonner is a much-celebrated young designer, who often blurs the lines between art and fashion. She’s also known for engaging with the African Diaspora, drawing inspiration from the likes of novelist Ishmael Reed, Nigerian writer Ben Okri, artist James Hampton, and 20th century Harlem acolytes.
Seeing Meghan, a biracial woman—and her mother, Doria Ragland—embraced by the House of Windsor became a symbol back in 2018, when she and Harry tied the knot. Seeing the now-Duchess step out with Archie, a mixed-race royal baby, clothed in designs by Grace Wales Bonner, it was hard to miss the message.
Before her time as a royal, Meghan had experimented with fashion design, helping to create clothes for Canadian retailer Reitmans—but 2019 marked her first collection for a cause. The Duchess noticed that her patronage Smart Works, a charity that helps prepare underprivileged women for the job market, often didn’t have an ideal selection of garments to loan for interviews.
So with a little help from fashion industry veterans—including her good friend Misha Nonoo—Meghan designed a capsule collection of workwear, sold at accessible price points. For every item purchased, one was donated to Smart Works; in 10 short days, the initiative had provided the charity with a year’s worth of professional clothing.
The Duchess wore pieces from the line to the launch event—and royal watchers wouldn’t be surprised if she continues to wear garments from her own collection now and then. The pieces embody a larger part of Meghan’s sartorial philosophy: that clothes have power.