On January 12, the Prince and Princess of Wales arrived together in lockstep for an engagement in Merseyside, England. She wore a navy-and-hunter green tartan coat over a navy blue dress; he, a navy blazer over a hunter green sweater.

The meaning behind their coordinated looks was easy to parse. Two days earlier, Prince Harry had released his memoir Spare. It included an avalanche of accusations against his brother and his wife, some benign—Kate, he alleges, wasn’t a fan of sharing lip-gloss—but featured plenty of bombshells, too. The Waleses, Harry said, were complicit in planting negative stories about him in the British press. One night, William even physically assaulted him. (The Times of London went on to call the book a “character assassination on the Prince of Wales.”) Now, here Will and Kate were, wearing a de-facto uniform; a decisive visual statement that they were on the same team.

Which was likely, and precisely, the point. While most people—especially public figures—are aware of the power of what they wear, the fallout from Spare only confirmed the great lengths the royal family goes to use clothes to curate their image.

Harry’s memoir is dotted with these kinds of sartorial anecdotes. In one chapter, Harry writes that he was angry at the headlines that said Meghan “broke royal protocol” when she wore ripped jeans during her first public appearance at the Invictus Games in 2017. In reality, they had to check every item of the outfit with royal higher-ups: “Everything she wore, down to the flats and button-down shirt, had been pre-approved by the Palace,” Harry recalls. Later, he brings up Meghan’s first appearance with the Queen. “The Palace had specifically directed Meg not to wear a hat,” he writes of her carefully considered aesthetic.

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So sure, drama over bridesmaids’ dresses and hats may seem, on the surface level, trivial. But when a family routinely and intentionally uses fashion to express support, respect, and allyship, it makes sense that when it comes to clothes, the stakes feel high. Optics, to the royals, are almost all they have.

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