Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have posed for an official portrait for the first time since their engagement photos broke the internet in 2017—photographed by TIME for their TIME 100 portfolio. The picture, which features the couple in a strikingly similar set-up, has been picked apart by the internet since its release, with many viewing the side-by-side shots as evidence of how relaxed and care-free Markle looks since leaving the royal compound (she and Prince Harry relocated to Los Angeles in March).
For others, myself included, the most interesting point of difference in the two portraits was Markle’s choice of attire. It may seem frivolous (and occasionally sexist) to pay such close attention to Markle’s sartorial choice-making, but as her mother-in-law Princess Diana proved time and time again, fashion can be a powerful arsenal for royals to communicate with the public.
In her engagement portrait, Markle famously wore a reported $75,000 sheer embellished gown by Australians-in-London Ralph & Russo. Floor-skimming and delicate, the dress perfectly encapsulated the frothy, overly glamorous fairytale that the public saw Meghan and Harry’s whirlwind romance to be. This wasn’t an outfit built for function, but for communicating an unapologetic image of feminine beauty. And it was this limiting image that Markle ultimately bucked against during her first two years as a royal.
In this new portrait, Markle wears a sharply tailored suit by Alexander McQueen—a stark difference to the princess gown in every imaginable way. The new Markle, who suffered two years of racist and sexist media abuse only to come out the other side resilient and determined, is ready to go to work: no feathers, no sequins, no lace or tulle, only a sensibly-cut trouser suit in an equally sensible shade of charcoal. (It’s also worth noting that Markle’s sister-in-law Kate Middleton wore the exact same blazer to a public outing last week—perhaps this was a quiet statement of sisterly solidarity?)
This may seem like an unnecessarily detailed reading into things, but with the royals there are no mistakes—everything is strategised and then flawlessly executed. This image is an intentional piece of personal branding for the Sussexes, and everything from Meghan’s megawatt smile to her wearing Princess Diana’s $150,000 Aquamarine emerald on her pinky finger (oh so L.A.) is sending the message: Meghan is now free.