If there was one substantial change that the arrival of Kate Middleton wrought when she breached the walls of Buckingham Palace in 2011 it was to launch the era of The Zara Royal.
While Diana, Princess of Wales, had pioneered an empathetic, hugs-all-round version of royalty that was deeply human, she still did it clad head-to-toe designer gear that cost more than a Ford Fiesta.
Instead, Kate, newly throned as the Duchess of Cambridge, swiftly established a wardrobe that relied heavily on pieces from high street brands like H&M and Zara. It was a strategic move that carried with it the sort of democratic symbolism necessary for a monarchy trying to survive in the 21st century. (Someone should have told Marie Antoinette about the power of off-the-rack.)
That style standard was one that the next civilian-turned-HRH, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, initially deployed too – mixing affordable pieces with high-end designer duds.
If there was ever a moment that epitomised her shedding of that former life once and for all it was when she stepped out of a black Range Rover in New York on the weekend wearing a $10,741 outfit to meet students from a Harlem public school where 94 per cent of students are reportedly getting free meals.
Just let that sink in for a moment.
Specifically, the former actor chose a US$5840 ($8336) cashmere coat and US$1685 ($2405) pants from Italian label Loro Piana to meet with children from PS 123, a school that serves 12 shelters, including seven for women and children escaping domestic violence.
Clearly, she was not worried about jammy fingers or finger paint coming into contact with the eye-wateringly expensive ensemble.
Nor would she seem to have been worried about the optics of her rolling up wearing an outfit whose cost is nearly equivalent to two months' wages for the average household in Central Harlem.
Images of the royal exile, along with husband Prince Harry, hugging and talking to the students were jarring, the juxtaposition of such a blatant show of wealth in one of the city's poorer neighbourhoods and where 28 per cent of the population lives in poverty.
The maths on this is queasy. The New York Times has previously reported that school meals come in at a cost of US$1.75 ($2.5) per day, so the cost of Meghan's coat, pants, belt and shoes alone, never mind her jewellery, would equate to paying for more than 4000 meals for kids in New York.
Things get even more uncomfortable when we look at how Meghan, with Harry in tow, spent time with the students – namely by reading to the group of 7-year-olds from her very own book The Bench. (The prince perhaps made royal history after he ended up putting his blue undies unregally on display while sitting cross-legged in the front row with the kids).
Photos of Meghan holding her own title with the cover clearly visible soon hit the internet.
The choice of book, focused on fathers and sons, to a group that appeared to be made up predominantly of girls was ... curious.
With cameras and media attention trained on her, Meghan could have used the moment to highlight any number of children's authors, including women of colour, whose lives and careers would have been transformed by the exposure.
Instead, it was Meghan's book in the limelight.
(Also while at PS123, The Washington Post reported that "their Archewell Foundation, in partnership with [Oral B to Olay producer] Proctor & Gamble ... stocked the school's pantry with personal health and hygiene supplies. They plan to donate a washer and dryer to the school as well so more children can have clean uniforms." Thank you corporate America?)
Contrast what was going on in New York with events in London at the same time.
Earlier this month, primary school teacher Sabina Nessa was found murdered in a park in the city's southeast. On Saturday, the same day that Meghan was in Harlem, Nessa's sister led a candlelight vigil. Kate took the rare step of posting a personal message on the Cambridge's official Twitter account, writing: "I am saddened by the loss of another innocent young woman on our streets. My thoughts are with Sabina's family and friends, and all those who have been affected by this tragic event. C."
The Times' royal editor Roya Nikkhah revealed that flowers were laid on the duchess' behalf at the vigil.
This move came six months after Kate made a private trip to lay a bouquet, which she had picked from the Kensington Palace gardens, at the vigil for murdered woman Sarah Everard. At the time, the duchess' team made it known that, "She remembers what it is like to walk alone as a young woman in London."
The contrast between these two moments – two women married to princes, two women presented with moments to use their platform to support women and girls – could not be more removed from one another.
It's a surprising turn of events.
Kate, in her first years out of the royal gate, was largely written off as a bit of a feminist let-down and rightly so. She had shown zero appetite for any sort of career before getting Diana's weighty sapphire engagement ring on her left hand and then, once wed, seemed content to compliantly walk, metaphorically speaking, several paces behind her husband. She was fecund, fragrant and excellent at unveiling a plaque. (Emmeline Pankhurst must have been rolling over in her grave.)
But that image – all those crushingly conservative coat dresses and nude heels – belied a woman biding her time because the duchess we have seen emerge since 2017, when she and William became full-time working members of the royal family, has become a vocal and highly informed voice intent on tackling mental health, homelessness and addiction.
It might have taken the mother-of-three the better part of a decade to find and feel comfortable using her voice but by golly has she got the hang of it now.
Why do Meghan and Harry scupper themselves?
On Saturday night, Harry and Meghan took to the stage at the Global Citizen Live concerts, beaming and looking like they were tempted to bust out an impromptu rendition of We Are The World. They were there to bang the drum about global vaccine equity, telling the cheering crowd: "The way you're born should not dictate your ability to survive."
Too bloody right.
For this outing, Meghan wore a white crepe Valentino mini dress that cost US$4500 ($6422).
Or, to put it another way, an outfit that cost the equivalent of 1126 doses of the vaccine, based on the cost the US government paid, according to the British Medical Journal, for each dose of AstraZeneca.
Why do they do this? Why, time and again, do the Sussexes emerge from their vinyasa-loving, vitamin D-dappled lives to take up the cudgel on truly important issues and then sabotage themselves by doing it while Meghan is dressed like Imelda Marcos' shopaholic cousin?
That no one on Team Sussex saw an issue with their philanthropic work butting up against Meghan's extravagant wardrobe is befuddling.
She can't, nor should she, pretend to be normal – Meghan is the only self-made millionaire to have married into the royal family. But there is an ocean of difference between being true to yourself and rolling up dressed like you are off for a degustation lunch with the Rothschilds during Davos. Even more so when you are surrounded by children in a neighbourhood where more than one in four residents is suffering from food insecurity.
The couple are now back in California, having done nothing to shy away from lingering accusations of hypocrisy over their "do as we say, not as we fly" approach after reportedly travelling home via private jet.
While it has largely been discounted by scholars that Marie Antoinette ever uttered that infamous line, "Let them eat cake", the former Austrian princess found out too late that being out of touch came with a very heavy price tag. If there is one lesson though, that the doomed Queen might be able to teach Meghan though, it could perhaps be, "Make her wear Zara". At least sometimes.
• Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of leading media titles.