So the reason for the Duchess of Cambridge being reduced to tears during the run-up to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding has finally been revealed, more than a year after this nugget emerged as a key part in the Cambridge/ Sussex feud narrative.
It was a row about tights; Kate thought the bridesmaids should be wearing them, while Meghan - the bride - did not, according to a story in the latest issue of Tatler which declares that Kate is ‘Catherine the Great.’
We all know who won the squabble, as Meghan and Harry’s gaggle of attendants did not, in the end, wear tights. Though we must remember that Kate had given birth to Prince Louis less than a month before the wedding, tights being the straw that broke the camel’s back is a uniquely royal dilemma.
For all the modernising Instagram activity and engagements in trainers and skinny jeans, there remain some immovable royal protocols which apparently refuse to evolve with the times - and one of them is the idea that tights are necessary at even the most unexpected of times, like when you are an under-five on a hot day in a packed chapel.
Tatler’s story about the Duchess of Cambridge emphasises how she is working hard to cement the monarchy’s relevance and morale-boosting powers during the Covid-19 crisis, and her insistence on tights is just an extension of that sense of duty - continuity being just as much about looking modest and respectful as being a reassuring, comfort presence in good times and bad. The Cambridges’ bridesmaids wore tights at their 2011 wedding, though arguably that was very much in keeping with the ceremonial nature of the Westminster Abbey event - the marriage of a future King and Queen in one of the country’s grandest churches.
The tights debate perfectly encapsulates Meghan and Kate’s clashing style agendas. Kate has always been famous for toeing the line of respectability and wearing glossy skin-coloured tights at almost all times. Early in her royal tenure, she even sparked renewed dedication to hosiery; in 2012, Asda said it had seen a 500 per cent rise in sales of flesh-coloured tights inspired by the new Duchess of Cambridge. Selfridges also reported a 40 per cent rise. Kate is now reported to love John Lewis’s non-slip grip soled tights, yours for £5.
Meanwhile, Meghan - with her carefree California vibe - was never going to be much of a tights girl. Forget balmy May weddings, she even eschewed tights on the chilly November day when she and Harry announced their engagement, sporting bare legs with her white wrap coat and Aquazurra heels. Unlike Kate, she delved straight into wearing tailored trousers to royal engagements, a habit which would have chimed easily with millions of working women around the world but still felt a little shocking for a Duchess.
It’s for this reason that one of Meghan’s most surprising royal fashion moments was when she arrived for a Buckingham Palace garden party two days after her wedding wearing a pair of tights which appeared to be several shades lighter than her natural skin tone. We joked about her having been ‘duchessified’ and imagined a stuffy courtier handing her a spare pair of tights to pull on under her Goat dress.
Tatler’s new revelations throw fresh light on that moment though. Was it a subliminal dig at Kate so soon after the day when tights were not worn? Or a friendly gesture, an acknowledgment that Meghan understood and respected her argument that protocol called for hosiery? With many garden party guests choosing to wear tights to look as presentable as possible, perhaps it was a sign of solidarity.
Meghan is not the first person to be shocked by the royal requirement for tights. Tom Hanks’ wife Rita Wilson expressed her shock when she noted the directive on an invitation to a State banquet. 'Women must wear closed-toed shoes - and get this: stockings!,’ she told Harper’s Bazaar in 2011. ‘Sheer disbelief - I don't even own a pair of sheer hose.'
It’s understandable that Kate, as a future Queen, might be anxious to ensure that the Queen’s preferences were kept in mind for her grandson’s wedding and that there was a semblance of continuity and tradition. Equally, Meghan and Harry had always made it clear that they intended to be a breath of fresh air. Who’d have thought, however, that those differing agendas could be so perfectly symbolised by a fallout over tights which would probably have laddered before they arrived at church anyway.