Clothing conveys rank and position; in September, at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, the scandal-ridden Prince Andrew, who was stripped of his military titles, was forbidden to wear the traditional ceremonial military costume. Clothing conveys respect and formality: As Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, revealed in the Netflix documentary “Harry & Meghan,” during Elizabeth II’s reign, members of the royal family were not allowed to wear the same color as the queen at public events. The clothes even caused visible rebellions when they were underway: Princess Diana famously broke palace dress and grooming rules – wearing plunging necklines, un-British clothing and red nail polish – when she dated her in-laws.
So it’s also important when the estranged prince declares that he just never cared much for clothes.
Prince Harry’s new book “Spare” made headlines this week for its revealing descriptions of his life as a misfit royal. In one anecdote, Harry mentions that he used to shop for his everyday clothes at discount store TK Maxx (subsidiary of US TJ Maxx, slightly changed name to avoid confusion with pre-existing British retailer TJ Hughes). Harry too reveals that when he was a student at Eton College, he often ended up nervous and late for class thanks to his elaborate school uniform, and that growing up he was often scolded into changing his shoes when he continued to wear a worn-out pair. “As a rule, I didn’t think about clothes. I basically didn’t believe in fashion and I couldn’t understand why anyone would,” he says in the book. “Writers would tag my photo and wonder why my pants are so long and my shirts are so wrinkled. … Not very princely, they would say. You’re right, I’d say.”
Arguably, male members of the British royal family face less pressure to look eternally chic than, say, their female counterparts. But still: Prince Philip could always be counted on to sort out misunderstandings spezzato a suit. King Charles III has his trusty double-breasted buckles. Even Prince William, whose personal style is relatively conservative, put his signature on the summer linen shirt.
In contrast, who among us can remember the details of any the one outfit Prince Harry has chosen to wear in public other than a Nazi military costume for Halloween which famously got him into trouble in 2005? Compared to those of his royal cousins, Harry’s choice of clothing seems almost conspicuously inconspicuous. A visual sign that he sees himself as different from his family? Safe. And lately, it seems to be another sign that he won’t be participating in the tradition of letting the clothes do the talking.
In his press tour for “Spare” — and in the last few years, for that matter — Prince Harry’s wardrobe was decidedly subdued, devoid of many attractive touches of good or bad variety. The “What Meghan Wore” blog, which followed Harry’s wife’s wardrobe choices and informed consumers where they can buy identical or similar pieces, now operates mainly on Instagram. However, a page called “What Harry Wore” can still be found on the website. In stark and almost comical contrast to Meghan’s bespoke Manolo Blahniks and Louis Vuitton, the site lists the affordable and mildly tasteful Everlane shirts, Adidas Gazelle trainers and 7 For All Mankind chinos that Harry wore in the late 2010s.
In the years since Harry and Meghan “retired” from their royal duties and moved to the United States, Harry’s rebellious normcore tendencies have become even more pronounced. For his “60 Minutes” interview with Anderson Cooper on Sunday, Harry wore a dark crew-neck sweater over a white Oxford shirt. On “Good Morning America” and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” later this week, Harry wore smart gray suits and unbuttoned blue shirts — just slight variations on the ensemble he wore in his explosive 2021 interview alongside his wife at Oprah Winfrey. (Unlike his father and brother, who usually wear ties to TV appearances, Harry went tieless for the whole thing.)
“Harry & Meghan,” released last month, shows Harry sitting for interviews in a crew-neck cotton T-shirt and a logo-free, long-sleeve polo shirt, both black. In the smartphone snap taken at the Sussexes’ home in coastal Montecito, Harry wears a completely nondescript outfit – baggy monochrome T-shirts paired with jeans or simple light-colored athletic shorts – as he walks his dog, works on a laptop and plays a soccer ball (sorry, soccer) around with his son riding on his shoulders.
“If you’re looking for fashion statements, look elsewhere in my family,” Harry’s clothes always seemed to say; lately they come with an additional “Really. Now I’m just a regular California dad.” In a quietly astonishing way, Harry looks like many other men in the Western world who work office jobs and hang out with their kids in the backyard on weekends. And for a guy who grew up in an environment almost completely opposite to that ideal, that’s a statement in itself.
Harry, of course, is no ordinary California dad. But dressing like one, wearing clothes that almost stick out Not message on its own, Harry creates the ideal conditions for a book like “Spare” to achieve its goal — which, he told Colbert Tuesday night, is to finally show “the other side of the story, after 38 years.”
In the interview, Harry emphasized that in his family, where the motto is “Never complain and never explain”, the traditional way of conveying a message is indirect; instead of telling the truth directly to the press, members of the royal family could plant stories with unnamed sources or leak them through their press offices. Or, perhaps, convey it through your body language – or your fashion choices. The book itself is Harry’s rejection of that tradition. “I’m the source of that book,” he told Colbert. “Instead of hiding behind unnamed sources, these are my words, from my own lips.”
Harry’s wardrobe choices, in other words, successfully ensure that his clothes are not the story. Instead, his story remains a story.