Meghan Markle is nothing if not a dedicated pupil.
As a student at Northwestern University, she tackled a double major in both theater and international studies. As a working actress, she honed in on the more technical details of her job, making sure to always find her light, thanks to the lessons once imparted by her lighting director father Thomas Markle. And as an activist she took the time to become well-versed on the inner workings of each organization she teamed with. When she visited Mumbai-based Myna Mahila Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving menstrual hygiene, for instance, “She came in and learned everything from scratch,” founder Suhani Jalota recently told People, “and then she backed that up with evidence that she knew and had researched.”
Now she’s turning that drive to her forever gig. As the newest member of The Firm, the name the younger royals have imbued on their family, it’s her job to serve as an official patron of the royal foundation alongside husband Prince Harry, find her own causes to champion and make appearances on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II. And it’s crucial that she do it all proper like, obeying the lengthy list of dos and don’ts that come with the title. Some of the rules required easy switches, say trading out dark nail polish for the Queen’s favorite neutral, Essie’s Ballet Slippers, but others, presumably some of the more old-fashioned edicts, she’s bristled at.
Meghan, a source told People, “has found certain rules in the royal household difficult to understand, like the fact that the Queen prefers women in dresses or skirts rather than trouser suits, and is often asking Harry why things have to be done a certain way. I think she finds it a little frustrating at times, but this is her new life, and she has to deal with it.”
Though, of course, some rules are meant to be broken. And if Meghan is the one, as some believe, destined to modernize the monarchy, she seems intent on starting with some of the more outdated parts of protocol. Take, for instance, the idea that royals are meant to keep public displays of affection to a minimum. For Prince Williamand wife Kate Middleton, that means indulging in a little light knee grazing every now and then, but Meghan, who held tight to Harry as they made their first public appearance at the 2017 Invictus Games, has made it clear she intends to be more hands-on.
And just a little mouthy. At last week’s Sentebale Polo Cup, on the heels of her surprise decision to link arms with Harryin Prince Louis‘ christening portrait, the duchess doled out both the trophy to her husband’s team and a congratulatory kiss. The smooch wasn’t without precedence—after all, Harry’s late mother Princess Diana kissed then-spouse Prince Charles during a 1987 trophy presentation—but it was Meghan’s most bold statement yet and a clear indication she intends to keep the romance in her royal relationship.
“While Prince Harry and Meghan holding hands is atypical for royal engagements, it is a seemingly welcomed gesture to show unity and celebration of their engagement period,” royal etiquette expert Myka Meier, founder and director of Beaumont Etiquette, told People. “There is no protocol that says they can not show affection on official engagements, and this gesture makes them relatable and lovable to the public.”
And if the fans like that, they’re sure to love the duo’s other small acts of rebellion. For instance…
So while Meghan can give a nod toward her views, proclaiming she’s proud to be a woman and a feminist on her page of the official monarchy website, and anyone paying just a modicum of attention can fill in the rest, she really shouldn’t have indicated to Irish senator Catherine Noone that she was pleased to see the country overturn a law that banned abortion. Though, in her defense, she probably didn’t think Noone would tweet the exchange out to her 8,000-plus followers. “That’s an example of her naïveté,” The Crown historical consultant and royal biographer Robert Lacey told People of the slip at a July 10 garden party. “Within the royal family they talk freely, and everyone knows the rules. She’s learning the hard way that you can’t trust anyone outside the narrow circle.”
That being said, she certainly knew people were listening when she took the mic at the first-ever Royal Foundation Forum this winter and delivered her viewpoints on the current social climate. “I hear a lot of people speaking about girls’ empowerment and women’s empowerment; you will hear people saying they are helping women find their voices. I fundamentally disagree with that because women don’t need to find their voices, they need to be empowered to use it and people need to be urged to listen,” she shared at the Feb. 28 event. “I think right now in the climate we’re seeing with so many campaigns, with #MeToo and Time’s Up, there’s no better time than to really continue to shine a light on women feeling empowered and people really helping to support them—men included in that.”
“We loved that she was still very much Meghan while also still embracing her role as the Duchess of Sussex,” Amanda Dishawof Meghan’s Mirror told E! News. “Meghan’s new role in the Royal Family is one that she’s carving out for herself—and seeing her skirt some of the unspoken rules of royal fashion (such as baring shoulders and clavicles) on the balcony at Buckingham Palace is just one of the ways she’s figuring out how to blend her personal style with the role in which she now occupies.”
Besides, she had already wriggled into pantyhose, what more do you expect?
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images
But according to royal commentator Victoria Arbiter, Meghan’s not skirting around any hard-and-fast rules. Kate has certainly worn pants in the past when the situation called for them (say, playing field hockey or leading a cub scout meeting) and Diana, Arbiter noted to Harper’s Bazaar, “ on several occasions.” Instead, it appears to be a standard the monarch has set for herself as she hasn’t been seen in pants at an official engagement since 1970. As such, it’s “believed that one does not wear trousers when one is with the Queen for an official event,” royal expert Marlene Koenig told the site.
Until then, however, Meghan seems keen to keep suiting up.
And neither has ever slung their purse across their body as Meghan is wont to do. The reason: having to hold onto a clutch with both hands allows them to avoid shaking hands with certain people as protocol dictates the member of the royal family must extend their arm first.
“She’s got her own way of doing things,” Grant Harrold, former royal butler to Harry and William, told E! News of Meghan. “You look at the energy of Princess Diana and she was very much somebody that would hug people. She was famous for it.”
Still, Meghan is careful not to outright break the more firmly established royal rules. When she encountered a young fan with an autograph book during a January outing in Wales, she didn’t hesitate to jot out a message. But instead of scrawling out her name as she has doubtlessly done for Suits fans in the past (autographs are strictly forboden because there’s a risk it could be copied and forged), the quick-thinking former actress wrote “Hi Kaitlin,” adding a heart and smiley face.
But the couple had no qualms about being trailblazers. A source told E! News at the time, “Both Meghan and Harry are really happy with how the Vanity Fair feature turned out. The photos are gorgeous and [photographer Peter] Lindbergh‘s office sent copies of the set to Meghan as a gift. She’s thrilled.”
But two of the more telling arrangements came from the pair themselves. First, was Harry’s choice to even pick out a platinum wedding band. While the palace has said the decision to don a wedding ring is a “personal preference,” neither his father, grandfather or even his brother have slipped one on the fourth finger of their left hand—a common choice amongst the aristocratic set. (Charles does wear a signet ring, although it’s on his pinky finger.) Penny Junor, author of The Duchess, opined to Vogue that his choice “shows, as if proof were needed, that Harry is the least conventional member of the royal family. Harry’s chosen to do what most married men do today. I like it.”
Because why shouldn’t a proud feminist, who once wrote about her desire to push through glass ceilings, stand on her own two Givenchy-clad feet?