12 Royal Rules Meghan Markle Got In Trouble For Breaking But Kate Did Not

There's no doubt that Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, has been treated differently by the press than her sister-in-law, Catherine, Princess of Wales. During her time as a royal, it seemed impossible for Meghan to make the right step, no matter what she did. Say what you will about her and Prince Harry's later interviews and memoir, but she certainly got bombarded, even dog-piled, by the press. Media attention seemed fixated on how Meghan broke royal rules, and how she was subversive to tradition. However, as we'll see here, when Catherine did the exact same things, she was praised by the media. She was reinventing the monarchy! She was bringing the royal family into the modern era! Whereas Meghan was dragging the whole crew down with her rebellion.

Meghan allegedly spoke up about this. A friend of hers told the Daily Mail that Meghan was well aware of the different treatment of the two women by the press and she found it, understandably, very unfair. "[Meghan said] no one would have put up with it, and the broken and outdated system would have been revised," the friend said, had Catherine been treated the same way. "Those outlets responsible for their vicious attacks would have been shut out." She claimed that the palace would have put its foot down if Catherine had been targeted in the same way. Would Harry and Meghan have stayed if she had been protected by the royal family? Maybe so. But the discrepancies in tabloid coverage certainly are glaring. 

Different reactions to off-the-shoulder dresses

Shortly after her wedding to Prince Harry, Meghan Markle wore an off-the-shoulder dress by Carolina Herrera to the Trooping of the Color in 2018. The pale pink dress sparked a media frenzy because Meghan, apparently, broke protocol with this sartorial choice. The Sun delivered a heading that read: "Meghan Markle breaks Royal rules." The article went on to say that royal women typically don't expose their shoulders, and established a tone of willful independence on Meghan's part. Here she was, new to the royal family, and she was already rocking the boat. To be fair, The Sun also said that she looked "effortlessly trendy," but it was under the umbrella of rebelliousness. Teen Vogue delivered the heading, "Meghan Markle Is Getting Dragged for Wearing an Off-the-Shoulder Dress." In the article, they noted how the internet was roasting Meghan for her "inappropriate" wardrobe choice. 

Meanwhile, Catherine, Princess of Wales, wore an off-the-shoulder red dress by Alexander McQueen in 2017 when she visited Berlin, and the response could not have been more different. This was back when Catherine was the Duchess of Cambridge, and Glamour served the headline: "Kate Middleton Wears an Off-the-Shoulder Dress, Because Duchesses Love Summer Trends, Too." In the article, she was praised for stepping out of her usual, more conservative style. Cosmopolitan also covered Catherine's dress with the headline: "Kate Middleton Is Red-Hot In This Off-The-Shoulder Dress." They said the look had "a sharp, chic neckline." There wasn't a peep about Catherine's departure from royal rules.

Double standards around hats at Wimbledon

There was a hat situation at Wimbledon. In 2018, when Meghan Markle was still new to the royal family, she brought her hat to the famous tennis match but carried it the entire time. The Daily Mail, and nearly every other news publication, noted this. "Why Meghan was HOLDING her hat at Wimbledon: Duchess had to remove her [favorite] panama because headgear is banned in the Royal Box," the Daily Mail wrote in its headline. As the outlet noted, it's customary for those seated in the royal box to refrain from wearing hats in order to avoid obstructing the view of those behind them. The outlet also noted that Meghan "opted to observe" this rule while watching the tennis game. Marie Claire noted that Meghan had worn the same hat to the tennis match back in 2016, but that was because she wasn't seated in the Royal Box. They added the headline that she wasn't "allowed" to wear the hat in 2018. 

However, in 2022, Catherine, Princess of Wales, did wear a hat at Wimbledon and became a style icon. And it was no tiny hat. She opted for an oversized sunhat by L.K.Bennett with a wide brim. Hello! Magazine served the headline: "Kate Middleton channels old-school Hollywood glamour with £55 accessory. The shade-seeking royal looked effortlessly chic at Wimbledon." It's worth noting that Express was in on the double standard: "Kate breaks style protocol at Wimbledon – but Meghan forced to follow the 'fashion rules,'" they wrote in their more even-keeled headline. 

Meghan's maternity dress was too short, but Kate's wasn't

There was another discrepancy around maternity dresses. Even when Meghan Markle channeled Catherine, Princess of Wales' maternity style, she still couldn't get celebrated for her fashion taste. In 2013, Catherine wore a white, polka-dot maternity dress from Topshop while six months pregnant. Pairing the look with a black blazer, she wore it while visiting the the Warner Bros film studios with Princes William and Harry, back when Harry wasn't yet married. Coverage of Catherine's dress was all about the "Kate effect" and had nothing to do with the fact that the dress fell above her knee. "Kate's Topshop dress sells out within an hour of her wearing it to film studios," the Daily Mail wrote in their headline. She was praised for choosing an affordable garment, and the tabloid noted where one could buy the same dress. Naturally, the dress had already sold out. 

Meanwhile, in 2019, Meghan wore literally the same look when she attended a panel for women's issues. She paired a short, black and white dress with a black blazer. However, The Sun began their coverage with the tag: "Mini Error." Their headline ironically noted that Meghan was wearing a similar look to Catherine's and said, "Meghan Markle's Kate-inspired dress was 'on the short side' and she should have worn tights, says etiquette expert." Journalist Elizabeth Holmes told The Sun that Meghan's dress was too short "for this particular occasion." The claim was that Catherine's event was more casual, and therefore more acceptable.

Not wearing hats around the queen

In 2012, back when Catherine, Princess of Wales, was still new to the royal family, she visited the Fortnum & Mason department store with the late Queen Elizabeth II and the then-Camilla Parker Bowles. The three women took a tour of the store and then had tea in the newly renovated restaurant. What's interesting is that media coverage at the time made absolutely no mention of the fact that Catherine wasn't wearing a hat with the queen. Camilla wasn't either. In fact, only Queen Elizabeth II wore a hat. In fact, the Daily Mail was quite cheery in its coverage. "Royal tea party: Girls' day out for Kate, the Queen and Duchess of Cornwall on official visit to Fortnum & Mason," was their headline.

In 2018, shortly after her wedding to Prince Harry, Meghan Markle went on her first royal engagement with the queen and didn't wear a hat. The two women visited Runcorn, where they opened the Mersey Gateway Bridge and visited the Chester's Storyhouse theatre. The Daily Mail gave the title, "How Meghan lost her hat but found a bond with the Queen." To be fair, the two women looked like they were having a nice time. However, Robert Jobson wrote that Meghan was informed by palace aides that the queen would be wearing a green hat. This was meant to be a clue for Meghan, but since she was so new to royal protocol, she didn't catch it. The article claimed it showed Meghan's "lack of deference, even respect." 

The Duchess Slant scandal

Of all of the atrocities committed in the world in 2018, Meghan Markle crossing her legs was apparently deemed one of them. While at a royal event with her husband, Prince Harry, and Queen Elizabeth II, Meghan crossed her legs. Yes, that's it. ET served the headline: "Meghan Markle Breaks Royal Protocol by Crossing Her Legs!" The outlet called it "a big royal no-no" [0:13] and explained that custom for royal women is that they sit with their legs together or cross them at the ankle. Another popular way of sitting for royal women is to sit with both legs tightly together, and then leaning both legs to one side. This leg lean has been nicknamed "the Duchess Slant." Even Princess Diana was photographed doing "the Duchess Slant." Apparently, Meghan was expected to do this, didn't, and was punished. In a more equitable article, Harper's Bazaar served the headline: "Meghan Markle Crossed Her Legs at a Royal Function​—​But Other Royals Have Done It Before." 

Other royals have indeed done it before, including Catherine, Princess of Wales. In 2020, she met with mothers to discuss the coronavirus pandemic and she crossed her legs. The event was notably more casual. Catherine was in pants and sneakers and Queen Elizabeth II wasn't present. Nevertheless, Express gave the headline: "End of the Duchess slant: Kate Middleton abandons royal etiquette in latest public outing."  So when Catherine breaks the rules, she has the power to end an era, but when Meghan does it, she's just breaking protocol.

Their mutual fear around debuting their new children

Both Catherine, Princess of Wales, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, had a hard time with displaying their newly born children to the world. Who could possibly blame them? Catherine introduced her newborns on the steps of the Lindo Wing at St. Mary's Hospital in London. When she came out with her new babies, she had delivered them only hours before. Years later, Catherine spoke on the podcast "Happy Mum, Happy Baby" with Giovanna Fletcher in February 2020 and admitted that the experience was "terrifying." Catherine was praised for this vulnerability. "Kate Middleton describes 'terrifying' experience of debuting her three children to the world on the steps of the Lindo Wing just hours after giving birth," the Daily Mail wrote. 

Meghan did things differently with the birth of her son, Archie. She didn't debut him to the world hours after his birth. Instead, she introduced Archie to the world at Windsor Castle, two days after she gave birth to him in 2019. In their Netflix special, "Harry & Meghan," she explained that she wasn't sure if she'd need a C-section since she was older and tried to accommodate the press at Portland Hospital. Instead, they opted for Windsor Castle to give the press more space. However, coverage of how she handled this complicated decision painted her as conniving. "Meghan Markle 'misled public over Archie's birth to escape media attention', claims book," the Daily Star wrote. So when Catherine talks about the stress, she's praised for her vulnerability. Meghan was simply misleading. 

What was up with the car door double standard?

In 2018, the internet went wild when Meghan Markle closed her own car door after arriving at the Royal Academy of Arts. It was her first solo event as a working royal and all eyes were on her, so this small detail of every day life caught people's attention. "Meghan closes a car door and some people can't handle it," the BBC wrote. William Hanson, an expert on etiquette, told the outlet that royals don't typically close their own doors for security reasons. "Usually, if you are a member of the royal family or a dignitary, you have a member of staff to open and close a car door for you," Hanson told Radio 1. NPR also covered the media frenzy around this minor detail. "Meghan Markle Closing Her Own Car Door Excites Social Media Users," they wrote. 

Catherine, Princess of Wales, has closed her own door on many occasions, but it never became news until Meghan did it. "Kate Middleton Has Closed Her Own Car Door Before So Everyone Calm Down," Harper's Bazaar wrote. Part of the problem with this kind of coverage is that Meghan was being praised in some circles for closing her door. It showed that she was down to earth, according to certain viewers. Was this sudden interest in showing footage of Catherine closing her door from years before a reaction to this positive praise directed at Meghan? There was no way that Catherine would get omitted from that kind of praise. 

The queen's mixed reviews of pant suits

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, wore pantsuits a few times when she was a working royal. Allegedly, Queen Elizabeth II wasn't a fan of the ensemble, preferring royal women to wear skirts or dresses. In September 2018, People gave the headline: "Why Queen Elizabeth Isn't a Fan of Meghan Markle's Power Pantsuits." The article claimed that Meghan didn't have a "royal seal of approval" for this particular wardrobe repeat and added that Meghan was having a hard time adjusting to royal protocol. Meghan wore a black pantsuit when she attended the WellChild Awards, though this wasn't the only time she opted for the look as a working royal. However, the article noted that Meghan never wore a pantsuit when at an event with the queen.

However, when Catherine, Princess of Wales, wore a pantsuit, it sent a message of unification around Europe. The Daily Mail wrote in March 2020: "How the pink power suit has become a royal wardrobe staple: Kate Middleton followed Europe's queens and princesses for her visit to an NHS call centre – and a stylist says the [color] sends a 'message of hope.'" That's some high praise for a pantsuit! In May 2020, Catherine wore a dusty rose colored pantsuit, and the article claimed that she was channeling the style of other royals in Europe, like Queen Mathilde of Belgium and Queen Letizia of Spain, by choosing the outfit. Meghan got no unifying headlines like that. 

Both wear bright nail polish but get completely different reactions

Who knew nail polish would cause such a ruckus, but when you're talking about the royals, it does. Both the late Queen Elizabeth II and Catherine, Princess of Wales, famously wear either no nail color or favored Essie's barely-there tone in Ballet Slippers. Besides that, we never see royals wearing punchy, bright nail colors. However, when Meghan Markle attended the 2018 Fashion Awards, she wore a black, one-shoulder dress with black nail polish. Naturally, the news sparked more headlines about Meghan's lack of adherence to royal dress codes. "How Meghan Markle Broke Royal Protocol at The Fashion Awards," Marie Claire began their talk about it. People delivered the headline, "Meghan Markle Just Broke Royal Style Protocol 'Again' — This Time with Her Nails." 

Once again, it was only after Meghan was criticized for this that other news sites brought up the fact that Catherine has also worn dark nail polish, except when she did it, she wasn't lambasted by the media. Harper's Bazaar pointed this out and wrote, "Kate Middleton Has Also Worn Dark Nail Polish and We Barely Noticed." In May 2012, Catherine joined Prince William at London's The Thirty Club and wore dark nail polish on her toes. She also wore dark toe nail polish in the summer of 2012 at the Royal Albert Hall. It's worth noting that all of these events attended by both women weren't royal functions but rather fashion awards and celebrations. Surely it's permitted then!

The different reaction to hand-holding

It seems to upset people when Meghan Markle and Prince Harry hold hands in public. They've famously been more physically affectionate than other royals, when they were senior members of the royal family, and this garnered a lot of criticism. Even after they stepped down, they were criticized for holding hands. After Queen Elizabeth II died, Newsweek noted this uproar. "Meghan and Prince Harry Holding Hands at Queen's Vigil Divides Opinion," the headline read. An even more scathing form of commentary has cropped up on social media, with the hashtag "the Markle claw" gaining traction. People claim she controls him by touching him and holding onto him in public spaces. Other news outlet take their PDA as a sign of trouble brewing. "'Relationship is not smooth sailing!' Expert on why Meghan & Harry 'constantly hold hands,'" Express wrote in their coverage of Harry and Meghan. 

Meanwhile, on the rare occasions when Catherine, Princess of Wales, and Prince William hold hands, they get praised for it. While the couple was in Boston for the Earthshot Prize ceremony in 2022, they nearly held hands on the red carpet. "Watch the sweet moment Princess Kate and Prince William almost broke 'royal protocol,'" Hello! Magazine wrote of the nearly-there PDA. Marie Claire explained their lack of physical affection with the headline, "Why William and Kate make a 'deliberate' decision not to hold hands in public." So when Harry and Meghan do it, they're in trouble or she's controlling him. But when William and Catherine don't, they're professional. 

How a crossbody bag made headlines

There's a whole world of reasons behind royal handbags and clutches. Allegedly, royal women hold clutches for a variety of reasons. Princess Diana famously used her clutch to cover her chest when she bent down, thus keeping prying paparazzi from unwanted shots. The late Queen Elizabeth II allegedly sent coded messages by what she did with her handbag. Catherine, Princess of Wales, and other royal woman can use clutches as a way to avoid shaking hands with people. After all, the royal individual is supposed to initiate the handshake and this leaves the power in her court. 

Meghan Markle opted instead for a crossbody bag when she visited Scotland with her husband, Prince Harry, and this was a major departure. "Meghan Markle's Purse Just Broke With Royal Tradition in a Major Symbolic Way," Good Housekeeping wrote. While she might have broken protocol, the optics of a crossbody bag were much warmer. Her hands were free and she was able to greet people easily. Nevertheless, her crossbody bag made headlines in any collection of Meghan's royal slip-ups. 

However, Catherine also wore a crossbody bag when she attended a polo match with her family and there was no mention of a breach in protocol. In fact, the Daily Mail did a whole "Dress Like Kate" bit in their article, offering tips on where people could buy her look. Harper's Bazaar only mentioned the pink dress that Catherine chose, with no mention at all of her crossbody bag.

'Calculated' hugs vs. 'Sweet' hugs

Dishing out hugs has proven to be another divide in the media coverage that follows Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Catherine, Princess of Wales. Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Meghan and Prince Harry joined Catherine and Prince William on a walk to greet mourners who had gathered outside of Windsor Castle. A young woman asked if she could hug Meghan and told her that she was "welcome" in England. The hug got a lot of media attention, and many claimed that Meghan used the moment to build her own brand. "Just another 'photo op' for Markle. Further down the line people would have nothing to do with her. She is NOT welcome in the UK," someone tweeted. An article by The Mercury News claimed that the queen's death halted "Meghan Markle's media blitz to promote her new life in U.S." The article claimed that Meghan was promoting herself via calculated strategies, like the hug. 

However, Catherine has frequently been photographed hugging people, and doesn't get charged with calculated personal brand management. "Kids Couldn't Stop Hugging Kate Middleton at Her First Working Event After Maternity Leave," Harper's Bazaar wrote in 2018, calling the moments "sweet." In 2022, when Catherine hugged children in Denmark, the Daily Mail wrote: "The children's princess! How Kate Middleton showcased her winning ways with kids." The coverage claimed that Catherine showed her "winning ways" in her interactions with children. There wasn't a peep about ulterior motives, unlike the media's reaction to Meghan doing literally the exact same thing.