If you've been living under a rock at least this past weekend (like I have), Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got married in what has been touted as the biggest television event of the year, with more than 2 billion tuning in worldwide. I had been meaning to watch, but with two kids and a viral infection ravaging our household, I naturally forgot.
Saturday evening, and I logged on to Facebook as I normally do before bed, and I was astounded by the number of posts about the newly minted Duchess of Sussex’s Givenchy wedding dress. The Facebook pendulum swung wildly between "I LOVE IT!" and "I HATE IT!" Comments ranged from "simple, elegant, Audrey Hepburn-like" to "plain, ill-fitting, not suitable for the occasion."
Not to mention all those bothered (or tickled pink) by the stray hairs that fell out of the casual, messy bun from underneath her embroidered cathedral wedding veil.
Oh, and don't forget her makeup. Or, rather, her barely-there, I-woke-up-like-this look.
It's 2018, in the post-(post?) feminist, #MeToo era, and we're all focused on the dress, the hair, and the makeup. That wasn't meant as shade to all the comments—we all have opinions, right?—but they eclipse the fact that the woman wearing the seemingly anti-royal dress, and the anti-princess messy bun and the anti-bridal, no-makeup makeup, is bringing a quite significantly symbolic and physical change to one of the Western world's most influential and traditional (and white) institutions.
She wasn't there to be pretty in what society deems as princess- or royal bride-pretty. She didn't dress "for the occasion" just because we all expected her to.
I remember my own wedding, and how people reacted to my decision to just hire a mananahi to copy a peg for my attire. I was told to spend a little (they meant on a designer) for a dress that everyone—including my groom—would be holding their breaths for. I wondered, was the dress more important than the vows we would be making in front of everyone we loved?
That experience though, and practically every wedding I've attended, every wedding photo or video I've seen, all attest to the fact that the bride is meant to look her most beautiful on her wedding day. This is supposed to be the best day of her life. Isn't a wedding supposed to be about two people vowing to love each other, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do they part?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not completely anti-establishment. I'm not about to throw out all those wedding traditions that, in truth, not many know the meaning of.
But perhaps we should look into how our own comments still reflect the worldview that a woman remains the ornamental half of a wedded couple. That the wedding is the bride's most special day. That the wedding is where every woman has every right to feel she is a "princess." What does that even mean?
I am unfamiliar with the history of wedding traditions, and how it has become the stage for the bride to "shine." But the problematic thing remains is that people want to see how the bride looks, more than what a man and a woman (or two women, or two men) have to say to each other to cement their love in front of everyone.
I know it's idealistic of me to say that a woman will look beautiful to her partner, no matter what she wears. Everyone will have his or her own standard of beauty. There will be fashion pundits, there will be critics. And we all expected this focus on what Meghan Markle would be wearing, as many brides before her have experienced. All I wanted to highlight is the fact that this should be a normal thing. I'm not about to say that fashion should be disregarded completely.
In the same vein that some celebrities have spoken out about why only women are being asked about what they are wearing on the red carpet, while their male counterparts (who look good in their own sartorial choices) are asked other "less trivial" questions, I wanted to create dialogue around the idea that brides are expected to look breathtakingly good, while the grooms' outfits are relegated to the background.
It's the scrutiny at what a woman—and not a man—wears that stands out for me. It's not a crime to know who or what one is wearing, but if a woman's importance hinges largely on that fact, then all our efforts at making women more than just a pretty face (and a pretty dress) take a backseat.
So why aren't a groom's outfits scrutinized as much? Why is it okay to accept that it’s tradition for royal grooms to marry in their military dress? If Meghan Markle, or any other woman, had served in the military, would it have been acceptable as well for her to marry in her uniform? That would probably have been more the exception than the norm. The important question to ask here, is why.
Perhaps, all that scrutiny was a knee-jerk reaction to what everyone else initially saw during the live coverage. With Twitter and Facebook easily at one’s beck and call, it's convenient to quickly fire off a tweet or post about what one immediately sees. I won't be afraid to admit, that had I seen the wedding live, I would have probably published a similar post myself. But now that I’ve seen and read all the comments and critiques, it only dawned on me post-event, that what she wore seemed to play a much more important role than it should have.
Then again, maybe it did?
For the record, I did like Meghan's gown, her messy bun, her stunning natural features. Her dress choice actually made me want to know why she wore it. The internet is a minefield of information, as we already know, and it led me to pieces that talked about her past, her desire to bring women’s issues to light, her biracial history, her feminist cause. Everyone already knows who Prince Harry is, but who is Meghan Markle, and why did she capture the Prince's heart?
I loved how they, as a couple, made their causes a highlight in their relationship. I loved how her racial background—even though she did speak out about being disheartened that people wanted to focus on her ethnicity—was at the forefront in what is a traditionally white establishment. The fact that she is the first person of color in over a hundred years to become a member of the royal family (yup, she isn’t the first) is, in itself, mind-blowing.
But I also liked Prince Harry's wedding attire, his scruffy beard, and the age-appropriate bald spot that's beginning to show on his crown. I liked the fiery homily by American Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry, who talked about the redemptive power of love as well as the black spiritual tradition to St. George's Chapel (and which may or may not have ruffled some feathered fascinators and hats).
How apt as well this (commoner, African-American) woman's comments (in this New York Times piece) were to the whole occasion: "I just want to be here to observe the changing of the guard and the changing of the British Empire," she said. "Today is a day that history will never forget."
I loved many things about the royal wedding, loathe as I am to have missed it live. But what I loved the most about it is that it brings a breath of fresh air—the powerful, hopeful winds of change—to global events that, even until now, have only brought fear and (racially-sparked) hatred to the fore. Here’s to hoping that the same winds will reach our part of the world, fan the flames of love, of inclusion, and acceptance.
Well, what do you know, after all these thoughts, I have Meghan Markle's dress to thank.
P.S. Interestingly, I would love to see this period in the British royal family's life in later seasons of The Crown!