If there’s one thing you should know about Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, it’s that they’re so much more than pretty faces. The two women have fundamentally changed British monarchy forever in the last decade, and the shifts are certainly for the better.
The Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex are leaders, members of the royal family, wives to Prince William and Prince Harry, mothers and role models, and have built their own paths to mold the monarchy for a new generation.
Here are some key ways in which their impact has been prominent in their time as royals:
1) Fashion Forward
For the two duchesses, fashion is so much more than looking good. It started with Kate and continued with Meghan; both women transitioned their wardrobes to suit their styles and fit in with the royal family. One common theme between the two duchesses has been recycling previous ensembles, showing that though they do live in wealth, they can also be cost-efficient. Kate has donned budget-friendly ensembles from J. Crew, Zara, Gap, ASOS and Topshop, showing she can truly dress like a woman of the people. Meghan has embraced Kate’s trend of recycling looks, even rewearing the dress she wore for her engagement announcement after giving birth to her first child. Throughout her Royal Tour of Africa in 2019, Meghan rewore several pieces, trying to move the focus from her fashion to her message. Meghan and Kate both have also highlighted designers from underrepresented countries and places not necessarily known for fashion. This year, Meghan also launched her Smart Works capsule collection, featuring business casual pieces for women to help them prepare for job interviews.
2) Mental Health Focus
Starting in 2009, the younger core members of the royal family teamed up to work on their Royal Foundation. After tying the knot with Prince William in 2011, Kate Middleton joined the organization, alongside her brother-in-law, Prince Harry. As a part of the Royal Foundation, the trio founded and championed the Heads Together mental health initiative, with a focus on mental well-being for people all over Britain. In working with this organization, the family has made mental health a priority, working with veterans, children, those suffering with illness, parents and more. When Meghan joined the family, she and Harry first teamed up with the Royal Foundation before the Duke and Duchess of Sussex decided to branch off on their own and create the Sussex Royal foundation, which will officially launch in 2020. Though they are working separately, that hasn’t stopped the fab four from keeping mental health at the forefront of their work.
3) Setting Wedding Dress Trends
In the past decade, there have been two glamorous and historic royal weddings, thanks to Kate and Meghan. As the weddings approached, the No. 1 question everyone was dying to know was who would be designing their iconic gowns. Kate put herself in the wedding dress Hall of Fame with her stunning Alexander McQueen gown, designed by Sarah Burton. The long lace sleeves and long full skirt sparked a trend in wedding gowns that lasted for years. Then, in 2018, Meghan made a statement of her own, donning another long-sleeved gown, this time by designer Clare Waight Keller of Givenchy. The wide neckline exposed her collarbone and shoulders, and Meghan’s veil was embroidered with flowers from the Commonwealth.
4) College Educations
Brains and beauty pervade in William and Harry’s choices for brides. Though neither Queen Elizabeth nor Princess Diana were college educated, both Kate and Meghan proudly emphasize their time in higher education. William met Kate while they were studying at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. The Duchess of Cambridge studied art history, and her passion is still present in her charity work, as she has a longstanding relationship with the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and often brings attention to the arts through her work. Prior to meeting Prince Harry, Meghan Markle attended Northwestern University. She has spoken several times about the importance of higher education, specifically for women. In early 2019, Meghan was announced as the patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, which represent higher education across all 53 Commonwealth countries.
5) Redefining the British Class System
Until Kate entered the British royal family in 2011, no “commoner” had married a core member of the family since the 1660s. And though stories of Kate’s coal miner grandfather were amplified to make the upper-class Brit appear more “of the people,” her presence in the monarchy did change things. The Middleton family have remained closely involved in Kate’s life, especially after the couple had children, playing key grandparent roles to the future king of England, Prince George. And if Kate’s entry to the family wasn’t bold enough, Meghan’s romance with Prince Harry was downright shocking. As a self-made actress and woman of color from America, the likes of Meghan had never been seen before in the royal family. But Meghan has been welcomed “warmly” into the royal family, sources have told ET, with her father-in-law, Prince Charles, particularly taken with her.
Shortly after her wedding to Prince Harry, Meghan even went on a solo public outing with Queen Elizabeth, where the two were spotted laughing together multiple times. This warmth toward clear outsiders has been prevalent in the two duchesses’ inclusion into the royal family.
6) Changing the Line of Succession
In 2015, Kate welcomed a baby girl and unwittingly made history, changing the line of succession within the British monarchy forever. After the 2018 birth of her younger brother, Prince Louis, Princess Charlotte became the first royal child to break the gender rule in England. Until then, male heirs had priority over female, but thanks to a new law in 2011, Charlotte became fourth in line to the throne, with Louis as fifth.
7) Bringing Diversity to the Royal Family
Though she has faced much adversity and racism since beginning her romance with Prince Harry, Meghan has also become a beacon of hope for people of color. Her 2018 royal wedding highlighted a variety of culture and traditions, featuring the Kingdom Choir gospel group, the spirited Bishop Michael Bruce Curry, the first African American head of the Episcopal Church, and a cello solo by Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the first black musician to win the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year Award.
During their 2019 Royal Tour of Africa, Meghan proudly referred to herself as a “sister” and “woman of color” for the first time since joining the royal family. But the road hasn’t been easy for the duchess. In fact, Prince Harry initially confirmed his romance with the former Suits star in a passionate statement after she had received racist and threatening messages. In November 2016, Harry released the statement through the Palace calling Meghan his “girlfriend” for the first time.
“His girlfriend, Meghan Markle, has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment,” the statement read. “Some of this has been very public -- the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments. Some of it has been hidden from the public -- the nightly legal battles to keep defamatory stories out of papers; her mother having to struggle past photographers in order to get to her front door.”
8) Standing Up to the Tabloids
After decades of choosing not to respond or comment on tabloid stories regarding the royal family, the new wave of royals have taken a stand. Following the 1997 death of Princess Diana, both of her sons, William and Harry, have taken a no-nonsense attitude when it comes to invasions of privacy. So in 2012, when topless photos of Kate sunbathing in France surfaced, the Palace immediately sued. Though the magazine that published them, Closer, claimed the images were perfectly normal at the time, they lost, paying 100,000 euros in damages with additional 90,000-euro fines for the two staffers involved in running the shots. Flash-forward to 2019, when Meghan and Harry announced their intention of suing Associated Newspapers, owners of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday for allegedly printing false rumors about Meghan and her family.
9) Shifting the Focus to Girl Power and Female Education
"Everyone should be afforded the opportunity to receive the education they want, but, more importantly, the education they have the right to receive. And for women and girls in developing countries, this is vital," she said at the time. "When girls are given the right tools to succeed, they can create incredible futures, not only for themselves but for all of those around them."
Meghan has also spoken about women helping women to put their best foot forward with her Smart Works charity, which helps dress women for job interviews.
"It’s not just donating your clothes and seeing where they land, but really being a part of each other’s success stories as women, right?” Meghan told the group in January. “It’s not just hand-me-downs, it’s saying, ‘This is the blazer I wore that helped me win that interview'… So to know, as a woman coming in, that you have so many other women believing in you on all the next phases is the piece that makes it so special.”
Kate’s focus tends to be on young mothers and their children. Through her charity work, she has focused on helping parents to help their children through both mental health awareness and by offering resources to families.
10) Meghan and Harry’s PDA
Gasp, a kiss?! Holding hands?! Might seem silly to us, but the royal family is known for keeping their physical distance during public outings. That all changed with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who have no problem showing off their PDA on outings together. Though Kate and William tend to be more reserved when appearing at joint events, Harry and Meghan regularly hold hands and put their arms around one another, and have been photographed kissing several times.
11) Bringing in New Charities
Much of the royal family’s patronages have to do with pre-existing charities that Queen Elizabeth championed. As the monarch gets older, she has handed down some of her responsibilities to the younger generation. But with the addition of Meghan into the family, the Duchess of Sussex has brought along some of her own causes that she was passionate about before becoming a royal. In 2019, Meghan attended the One Young World Summit for the third time, but her first time as a royal, bringing together the organization of young leaders with the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust.
“It just felt like the perfect medley to have these two worlds come together,” Meghan told the group in October 2019.
12) Going Public With Vulnerability
Though Princess Diana was known as the “People’s Princess” and adored for being public with her battles with eating disorders, depression and more, no member of the royal family has been quite so publicly candid about their feelings as Meghan. In the new documentary special Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, the duchess opened up about her struggles in her new role as a royal.
"Any woman, especially when they are pregnant, you are really vulnerable, so that was made really challenging," Meghan said in the special. "And then when you have a newborn, and especially as a woman, it is a lot… So you add this on top of just trying to be a new mom or trying to be a newlywed, I guess thank you for asking, because not many people have asked if I am OK. But it’s a very real thing to be going through behind-the-scenes."
For more from the royal family, watch the clip below: