Most of the jubilee audience tuned in not for trooping the colour, but to watch the royal family observe the proceedings. While the bunting and high-stepping horses trumpeted an official message of unity, the optics of the royal family were closely scrutinised for what they tell us of fraught Windsor family dynamics, of the health of the 96-year-old Queen, and of the messaging “the firm” plans to broadcast during its weekend in the spotlight.
Watching the military flypast from a Buckingham Palace balcony, the Queen wore blue and white, two of the three colours of the union flag. At the Royal Windsor horse show last month, she had dressed for comfort in a woollen shawl in place of a coat, but here she was in her customary crisp, no-nonsense, boxy tailoring.
An ice-blue coat dress designed by her longtime righthand woman, Angela Kelly, was finished with a Wedgwood icing of crystal and pearl embroidery, and worn with a matching hat and formal white gloves. A walking stick was the one visible concession to mobility issues.
The first day of the platinum jubilee weekend had its equivalent of the moment when the chief bridesmaid Pippa Middleton stole the show at a royal wedding – when Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, stood close enough to the window of the Buckingham Palace room where a family gathering was taking place to be captured in long-lens photos.
Even with the addition of a tiny Prince Louis in a miniature sailor get-up, the formal lineup of straight-backed senior royals on the balcony could not compete, for intrigue, with the first sighting of the Sussexes in Britain since their dramatic departure for California. The Duchess of Sussex was seen laughing and joking with children in the royal party, dressed in an off-the-shoulder navy dress and a wide-brimmed white hat with a navy bow.
As a fashion choice, it was pointedly similar in silhouette and style to the blush-pink outfit she wore for her first balcony photocall in 2018, when she was a newlywed at the peak of a short-lived honeymoon period with her in-laws and with the British public. The navy colour was in keeping with the blue-and-white colour scheme in which the women and children in the inner circle of royals were dressed. The Duchess of Cambridge wore white and the Duchess of Cornwall pale blue stripes, while the three Cambridge children also wore blue.
The message of Meghan’s outfit seemed to be that the Duchess is still very much a royal. The wide neckline echoed the shape of her Givenchy wedding dress, while the sleek Audrey Hepburn-esque tailoring was a deliberate return to how she dressed during her time as a working royal in Britain, in contrast to the more relaxed look she has adopted in California. And whether by accident or design, the choice of blue placed her, visually at least, in harmony with her grandmother-in-law and sister-in-law.
The style message from the Duchess of Cambridge was one of fashionable sustainability, with a repeat outing of an Alexander McQueen coat dress worn for last year’s G7 summit in Cornwall. Until recently, such a high-profile occasion as the platinum jubilee would have merited a new dress. The Duchess of Cornwall also dressed from her existing wardrobe, in a Bruce Oldfield coat dress and pearls.
Royalists critical of the Duchess of Sussex were quick to note disapprovingly that her Stephen Jones hat dwarfed the saucer-style worn by the Duchess of Cambridge. Prior to the jubilee, the two women were not believed to have been together since last year’s Oprah interview.
However, the sight of the Duchess of Cambridge in sapphire earrings which once belonged to Diana, Princess of Wales, while riding wreathed in smiles next to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall in the carriage procession, was a reminder that even the most fraught of family dramas can fade over time.