On sleeves and social change: thoughts on the royal wedding
I overslept today and missed the royal wedding. Yet I would be lying if I told you I didn’t go straight to the BBC after my coffee finished brewing. Kate Middleton’s dress was a gorgeous piece of architecture by Alexander McQueen—which was then a timely choice given the tragedy of his death. As such, I was eager to see what Meghan Markle would come up with, which British designer she would patronize, or not, given her Americanness. And I was also curious as to what her dress would signify to the rest of the world and to American women at large.
Givenchy. I read the word before I saw the photo. I wondered how Givenchy could be related to Britain. Givenchy is by heritage a French house who shows in Paris. My confusion wasn’t assuaged until later when I learned that that the creative director of Givenchy is in fact British (crown, check) and also the first woman at the helm (feminism, check). I still had high hopes for the dress despite this rocky start. After all, Audrey Hepburn was Givenchy’s muse—an American and Frenchman—a fitting depiction of cross cultural chemistry not entirely unlike that of Harry and Megan.
But once I saw the dress I found it difficult to suppress the mixture of profound deflation and disappointment. At first glance, it felt somber, unsophisticated and matronly. Its skirt was shapeless, thick and bulbous. Its bodice seam lines wanted to be much sleeker than they actually were. Its sleeves were ill-fitting, loose around her arms and elbows. As a designer, I felt compelled to make the kinds of alterations (nip in the bodice, pin out the sleeves) that would warrant the assurance to her that she would only be wearing it for a couple hours—that good fashion is rarely comfortable.
And yet I warmed to my distaste, even watched it transform into a sort of fascination. I realized that the cause of my initial disappointment was rooted in increasingly petrified notions of pomp and circumstance, fairy tales, femininity, romance and glamour. I am glad Markle rather shook us out of our comfort zones with such an austere choice. It made the endeavor a very earthly, human affair rather than the inflated illusions of grandeur that royal weddings generally promote. As Vanessa Friedman of The New York Times wrote, it was a dress for a person, not a princess.
Still, we were not witnessing the death of the monarchy but rather a change in its tides. The dress didn’t communicate flagrant disregard for its rules and history. By way of the modest long sleeves and tiara made for Queen Mary in 1932, it signified a respect for the institution which she is now representing.
After several years of utter disbelief, embarrassment on the political and social front here at home in America, It was refreshing to witness abroad a progress born of the American sort. The progress of which I speak is the one that does not seek to break rules and laws, yet does refuses to defer to any authority greater than the one contained in one’s individual sovereignty—one’s own values, philosophy of life, capacity for self-government, inescapable personal responsibility.
And yet, despite all of the warm feelings emanating from this morning’s fete of progress, vision and hope—I do still wish her sleeves fit better.