It is hard to get more quintessentially LA than Gracias Madre. It’s not only a Mexican restaurant which serves ‘Mother Earth-friendly’ fare, it’s organic, vegan and located only a stone’s throw from the chi-chi boutiques of Melrose Place and a crystalarium. I kid you not.
It’s exactly the kind of haunt where you might expect to find a designer-clad woman with a Chanel bag in her manicured hands; a woman who looks like the absolute pinnacle of pampered privilege.
It could not be further away, in almost every sense, from a brightly lit west London community centre where I’m guessing there was not a single dish of ceviche or cashew queso in sight.
This week, it was at these two locations, in California and the UK, that King Charles’s daughters-in-law stepped out, the former obviously Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex and the latter Kate, the Princess of Wales. Two royal brides, two lots of titles, two borrowed tiaras.
And two women who approach their public lives very differently.
But, only one of them seems to have gotten the hang of being a royal WAG.
And I’m not just talking about passion or zeal or commitment or how devoted Meghan and Kate might be to making the World a better place.
It’s about what they wear while they’re doing it.
Specifically, conspicuous displays of wealth.
Take the duchess, who was caught on Wednesday by the paparazzi leaving Gracias Madre, where she hosted a lunch in support of Harvest Home, an organisation that helps pregnant women facing homelessness. The duchess, for her International Women’s Day outing, chose $977 Valentino Rockstud mules, a $10,844 Chanel black and white purse, a $5975 Max Mara coat and $325 Valentino sunnies.
Later, shots appeared on the charity’s Instagram page and on the Sussexes’s Archewell website, taken on the same day, showing Meghan hugging someone in a Harvest Home T-shirt while wearing that expensivo cashmere coat.
In another, she can be seen holding baby clothes with her $32,236 gold Cartier watch and gold bracelets, including a $9055 number from the French jeweller on display.
Chic? God yes. A tad icky? Sadly, yes.
Contrast that with Kate who, back in the UK, was wearing what appeared to be the exact same dark outfit (a Catherine Walker coat and a $3642 Alexander McQueen dress) as she wore during an outing after Queen Elizabeth’s death last year, with the addition of a dupatta (a traditional headscarf) that she first wore during a tour of Pakistan in 2019. Rounding out the look was a $130 pair of pearl earrings she has busted out repeatedly of late.
So one hand here we have a member of the King’s family whose look screamed ‘money’ while out helping women who cannot afford a roof over their heads, while the other donned a recycled look that could not have been more unremarkable.
Ironically, their financial situations are diametrically opposite.
When Kate’s husband Prince William became the Prince of Wales last year, he not only picked up a 14th century title and the responsibility of keeping an entire duchy’s worth of hedgerows in tip-top condition but an estate worth just shy of about $2 billion. Which is to say, the Waleses are today stratospherically rich, pocketing about $39 million every year that they can spend willy-nilly.
If Kate wanted to fly to Paris monthly to be fitted in head-to-toe couture while poutily sipping on Perrier kept at exactly her preferred temperature she could; if she fancied buying rare emeralds as regularly as she stocks up on Yoplait it would be no biggie; or if she wanted to start emptying out portions of Harvey Nichols when the whim took her, she could and still have change left over for a Cadbury Creme Egg on the way home.
She and William are much, much wealthier than Meghan and her fella, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, a man who has been busily acquainting himself with the various indignities of paid work in recent years.
However, you would never know it based on looking at our two royal women.
What sets them apart is that one seems astutely aware of the sensitivities of her personal circumstances versus her role as someone busily trying to big up charities, community organisations and the good-hearted sorts helping those on the margins of society.
The other is Meghan.
It is, in my opinion, an indisputable fact that the Duchess of Sussex is the most chic woman to ever get to, for a while at least anyway, slap an HRH in front of her name. The former Suits actress has the sort of style that would make the heart of every Vogue editor soar with joy to see her donning Swedish It label Toteme.
However, the thing that the 41-year-old hasn’t quite twigged is that just because she can now afford to dress like the 0.1 per cent, all $2000 jumpers and Cartier baubles, to pop out to the shops doesn’t mean she should.
Take this week’s LA outing. There is something deeply uncomfortable about a woman wearing a bag that is worth nearly five figures while she is helping mums-to-be who face ending up on the streets.
This is not the first time the duchess has demonstrated this particular blind spot.
In 2019, she was photographed in her guest-edited issue of British Vogue wearing a $4167 Gucci dress while volunteering at a charity that helps outfit unemployed women for job interviews.
Then in 2021, she and husband Harry visited a Harlem school where 94 per cent of kids receive free meals wearing $12,927 worth of Loro Piana cashmere.
It would be totally disingenuous for her to cos-play as poor but where is the sensitivity? The soupçon of restraint?
One of the strange, fundamental contradictions of royal life is that generally speaking members of the royal family dress like moderately successful home counties accountants when on the clock. Sartorial showiness is about as anathema to the royal family as veganism and paying their full whack of taxes. It’s just not the done thing old sport.
Part of this approach is about keeping the focus on whatever cause the royal in question has ventured out to support and part is about being extremely careful to not rub their extreme wealth in poorer people’s faces, which really, is just about everyone whose surname is not Bezos, Musk or Winfrey.
However, as we approach the five-year mark since Meghan became a duchess, she still seems unwilling to abide by what just seems like good taste.
Kate, meanwhile, has been busy staging something of a quiet revolution of her own, fashion-wise. Nearly every time that she has stepped out in public this year, it has been in a look that contains a significant number of recycled pieces, if not all, including her clothes, shoes and bags.
Whether it’s the princess heeding William’s green message or it’s her demonstrating a high degree of awareness of the current cost-of-living crisis that has the UK in its grip or she simply could not be arsed to spend another solitary minute stuck inside the Emilia Wickstead showroom having pins stuck in her, who knows.
You would never know it by looking at Kate in her slightly drab outfit that she and husband have billions to their name, while Meghan tends to dress like a woman who looks like she should have a minimum number of private jets to her name.
However, there is one aspect on the charity front where the Sussexes are showing up the Waleses, and it comes down to putting their own money on the line. While Kate paid tribute to the unbelievable fundraising efforts of the Turkey-Syria earthquake appeal, Meghan and her charity Archewell donated an unspecified amount to support Harvest Home’s pop-up boutique.
Let’s hope it was at least more than she had spent on that Chanel bag eh?
Daniela Elser is a writer and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
Originally published at www.news.com.au