In the span of a decade, the House of Windsor threw two historic fairytale weddings — with subtle differences. The celebrations for two very dissimilar couples reflected their own tastes and styles — within the scope of royal tradition, of course. But with one pair on the pathway to taking over the throne and the other breaking off on their own, how do their big days reflect two sides of the royal coin?
Fit the bill
The first of the two women who signed up for the monarchy is Kate Middleton. A daunting prospect, no doubt, but it wasn't entirely outside of Kate's realm.
Coming from a wealthy upper-class British family with ties to the aristocracy, the future Princess slipped seamlessly into the traditional atmosphere. But the reality of what royalty really means is something most outsiders could never fully understand.
So for Hollywood actress Meghan Markle, it might've seemed like experiencing some level of fame could've prepared her for the juggernaut of royalty. Still, Meghan hadn't grown up in extremely rich circles.
Her father, who was well-off and worked in television, and her mother, a social worker and yoga instructor, divorced when she was six. As you can tell, Markle's upbringing was more modest than others who've married royals.
In an iconic fashion moment, Kate Middleton emerged in her $450,000 classically elegant Alexander McQueen gown. With a nine-foot train and intricate lace, the dress was one to remember. While Meghan's gown isn't as lauded, it was just as elegant.
Her boatneck silhouette and 16.5-foot long veil balanced simplicity with royal grandeur. Not to mention, she included something blue, a piece of the dress worn on her first date with Prince Harry.
For the rings, Harry and William chose jewels that belonged to their mother. Kate's engagement ring is set with a 12-carat blue sapphire, with a price tag of $400,000. As for Meghan Markle's $350,000 ring, her framing diamonds were once Diana's.
And if that's not sentimental enough, the center was selected by Prince Harry in the place where their romance all began, Botswana.
Which prince was the better groom? Well, we'll let you judge. On their wedding days, both William and Harry donned their military regalia. William stood out in his red Irish Guard uniform, designating his rank as a colonel.
Rather, Harry, who reached the rank of captain, wore the more common Blues and Royals uniform designated to the rank of major.
Just when you thought the royals couldn't sneak any more symbolism into every single element of the wedding, they proved you wrong. The bouquets, for example, were designed with a specific intention. Kate's was composed of all-white flowers, representing steady love and happiness.
Meghan's, on the other hand, symbolized dedication and love. Plus, it even included some flowers handpicked by Harry himself!
The Queen's ensemble
Always one to rock a bit of color, the Queen looked radiant in the primrose yellow she wore to William and Kate’s wedding. And the same could be said about her in the pastel green number chosen for Harry and Meghan’s, too.
Staying true to her signature style, she paired her looks with white gloves, bold hats, and her trademark handbag. No favoritism at play then, or so it seems...
No, "waving" doesn't refer to the fun activity crowds do in arenas, but rather, the gesture the newlywed royals have to do to the crowd and millions of viewers across the globe.
After saying “I do” one of the first duties is waving to crowds appreciatively in the carriage after the ceremony. Kate opted for a close-fingered wave, while Meghan kept things casual and natural.
Who carried the train?
Carrying the train is an important job that comes with added pressure. Pippa Middleton was in the hot seat for the first royal wedding of the decade as Kate's Maid of Honor. The second couple did things differently, though.
Meghan ditched the Maid of Honor entirely and instead asked her close friend's twin sons to be her page boys on the big day. Aww!
Not every bride wears a tiara, but in the royal family, that's a non-negotiable. Kate's was borrowed from the late Queen. It's worth noting that the tiara was gifted to Elizabeth on her 18th birthday, so it's a big deal that she chose to share!
Luckily, the monarch had quite the collection of tiaras, so Meghan also donned one of the Queen's pre-loved pieces. Taking a modern twist on tradition, Meghan personalized it by swapping in a diamond center stone. They weren't the only ones who turned heads, though.
Mothers of the brides
Both Carole Middleton and Doria Ragland wore pastel shades with matching hats to witness their daughters marry into royalty.
In Middleton's case, her dress was designed by Catherine Walker, while Ragland wore a mint Oscar de la Renta creation. We're sure you'll agree — they both looked stunning.
What Charles wore
King Charles switched up his outfits for his son's weddings. The first time around, he went for a military look, wearing his regalia-covered royal uniform.
Then, he put on a dashing three-piece gray suit for Harry and Meghan's wedding, complementing Camilla's outfit perfectly.
What Kate wore
When it was her time to attend another huge royal wedding, this time as a guest, the Princess of Wales caused a bit of a stir with her outfit choice.
While the receipts say her Alexander McQueen coat was a shade of "primrose yellow," some felt Middleton came awfully close to committing the ultimate taboo — wearing white to someone else's wedding.
Down the aisle
Headlines swirled about the absence of Meghan Markle's father at her wedding and her partial-solo walk down the aisle.
But traditionalists were assuaged when King Charles met her halfway. In contrast, Kate was escorted by her father, Michael Middleton.
Every diehard royal fan anticipates the newlywed couple's first public smooch. William and Kate shared their first liplock as husband and wife on the balcony at Buckingham Palace.
On the other hand, Harry and Meghan chose to kiss right after their ceremony in front of the crowd gathered outside St. George's Chapel.
Only a select group of those packed into the church pews for the ceremony were invited to the royal receptions.
William and Kate's nearest and dearest celebrated in the lavishness of Buckingham Palace, while Harry and Meghan's guests popped bottles at Windsor Castle's St. George’s Hall. We'd have happily accepted an invite to either!
Slipping into some staggeringly expensive gowns for the reception, Kate and Meghan chose beautiful dresses that reflected their personal styles.
The Princess of Wales wore a classic and conservative Alexander McQueen number. While Meghan donned a sleek $157,000 Stella McCartney crisp-white halter gown.
When it came to the cake, William and Kate went all out. Their eight-tier fruitcake cost a whopping $160,000! But don't worry, there was a chocolate cake on standby for all the fruitcake haters in attendance.
In contrast, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex ordered a smaller lemon sponge with elderflower syrup and Almalfi lemon curd, with an estimated price tag between 60-75k.
What the Middletons wore
As old-school British elites, Michael and Carole Middleton were well prepared for their royal wedding fashions.
Michael wore a traditional suit and top hat on Kate's big day, and Carole sported a light blue tailored dress with a matching hat. And since it worked the first time, they wore almost the same thing to the next wedding!
What's the budget for a royal wedding?
Well, a lot. In 2011, the monarchy shelled out $34 million for the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Upping the ante, Harry and Meghan threw a $55 million bash, even though they had 600 fewer guests than Will and Kate.
When William and Kate married, it was considered the wedding of the century, so a lot more people flocked to witness that piece of history. A crowd of about 2,000 turned up at Westminster Abbey.
Far fewer people showed up to see Harry and Meghan wed, but then, they also had a much smaller venue. Numbers aside, the world still watched as they became official members of the royal family.
A royal loophole
From then on, Meghan and Kate were beholden to the slew of unwritten rules that go hand-in-hand with royal life. For instance, royals aren't allowed to sign autographs because of a fear that members of the public could forge their signatures.
Before Prince Harry and Meghan married, she found a clever way to connect with the public: she simply wrote, "Hi Kaitlin," in a young fan's notebook. Quick thinking, Meghan! Unluckily, that's just the start of the monarchy's bizarre — and downright absurd — rules members are forced to follow.
It’s a no-no to vote
While it isn’t against any written laws, it is simply understood that royals won’t cast votes in U.K. government elections. A shame since there is a personal interest here: the monarch has to endure a weekly meeting with the elected prime minister.
But it is understood that as ceremonial heads of state, the British royals have a duty to keep politics separate from royal life.
Watch out for the secret handshake
Well, perhaps not a secret one, but there’s definitely a specific handshake style that the royals are taught to use.
It involves grasping the other person’s hand firmly, looking them in the eye, and giving the hand one or two prim pumps. Smile and repeat…
There’s a right and a wrong way to tote your teacup
The royals are big fans of teatime and know there’s a specific etiquette around how to drink the stuff.
The cup must be held with the thumb and index fingers looped through the handle, with the middle finger underneath. And, contrary to what you may have been told, no pinkies should be held aloft!
Always sit properly
A female member of the family must always sit with her legs together and her chin parallel to the ground.
Royals don’t cross their legs at the top, but keep their thighs next to each other and cross their ankles instead. They must also master the duchess-chin-slant, as to not seem unsure, but not cocky either.
Dresses should be weighted down
Kate’s had a couple of accidents when her skirt’s blown up in the wind.
In 2012 Jenny Packham, one of Kate’s designers, told the Evening Standard, “I had a little handwritten letter from a lady in Wisconsin passionately criticizing me for the primrose yellow shift dress I made for the duchess. She said didn’t I know about putting weights around the bottom of a hem, so it can’t blow up?”
Don’t engage in any PDAs
Married couples are not even supposed to hold hands, let alone kiss.
But before Harry settled down with his wife Meghan, he was known to kiss, boogie, and even grab a bottom!
Don’t share planes
A rule states that two heirs to the throne cannot ride on the same airplane in case of a fatal crash.
However, first-in-line William tends to take this with a grain of salt, as he and Kate often fly together with George (second), Charlotte (third), and Louis (fourth) as a family.
Add myrtle to your wedding bouquet
This custom’s origin dates all the way back to Prince Albert, whose grandmother once gave Queen Victoria a sprig of the myrtle in the 19th century.
Victoria later included some in her own daughter’s bridal bouquet, and thus a royal tradition was born.
Keep your hands to yourself
Technically, royals aren’t supposed to physically mingle with commoners — which technically rules out hugs with randomers.
However, the House of Windsor clearly isn’t too strict about this law, as William and Kate are often spotted embracing their fans.
Always wear tights
Royal ladies are never supposed to have bare legs, and it drew no small amount of comment when Meghan Markle appeared to be going without tights in her engagement pictures.
According to royalty expert Victoria Arbiter, speaking to the website Insider in 2017, “You never see a royal without their nude stockings… I would say that’s really the only hard, steadfast rule..."
Accept the name you're given
Upon tying the knot, royal couples are presented with a small hitch. Each is forced to take on a highfalutin new formal name.
So, William and Kate became the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, while Charles and Diana became the Prince and Princess of Wales. However, now that Charles is King, William and Kate have become the Prince and Princess of Wales.
Keep your coat on
No matter the weather or the temperature, a royal must always smile and carry on.
If you’re a princess who happens to have on a heavy coat when you enter a building, there’s to be no removing it until you’re completely out of view. It would be considered unbefitting to take a coat off in public.
Don’t show too much skin
Many of the royal ladies are known for their sense of fashion. Princess Di was a style icon, and Kate, while more conservative in her look, is also a trendsetter.
But there is one sartorial rule that all princesses must follow: no cleavage is to be shown.
Always accept gifts
It doesn’t matter if it’s a simple scented royal jelly candle or a life-size sculpture of Prince Harry made from butter.
If one of the royals is presented with a present, they are duty-bound to accept. It would be horrible manners to decline!
Attend etiquette training
Etiquette expert Myka Meier says the royal children all take etiquette classes “as soon as they’re old enough to sit at a table.”
Teaching five-year-olds how to curtsy and use “inside voices” sounds like a headache and a half!
Open Christmas presents early
All royal presents must be exchanged in the red drawing room with some tea on Christmas Eve. The family leans towards gag gifts more than serious ones.
For example, when Harry was still single, sister-in-law Kate gave him a “grow your own girlfriend” kit!
Wear shorts if you’re a young boy
Boys are required to wear shorts in public.
While you’d think a pair of snazzy trousers would be more formal, this rule stems from the fact that pants on young boys used to be viewed as... middle class. Heaven forbid!
Keep hair and makeup subtle
A royal woman should keep makeup to a minimum — and not try out any outlandish hairstyles. Many ladies would have to give up favorite things upon joining the royal family.
No black lipstick, no blue hair dye... the list goes on. Even a dressed-down royal would still be expected to look neat.