The day before Buckingham Palace told the world in 1981 that Prince Charles had managed to dragoon a suitably aristocratic and pliable woman into the royal ranks, Lady Diana Spencer and her mother Frances Shand Kydd went shopping.
After first stopping at '80s style perennial Bellville Sassoon, where she was reportedly "treated with such snotty disregard" a la Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, the duo zipped over to Harrods where they chose a dowdy, dumpy off-the-rack blue suit, several decades too old for the 19-year-old.
For her first official photo shoot as a future princess, the teenager chose a white chiffon blouse by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, who would later design her wedding dress.
Exactly 30 years later in 2011, when uber snapper Mario Testino arrived at St James's Palace to take Prince William and Kate Middleton's official engagement shots, the bride-to-be wore a $280 white Reiss dress. (Touchingly, Testino played the same French music for them as he had when he took his iconic series of shots of Diana in 1997 not long before her death.)
Sarah Ferguson, pre-Duchess of York, wore a checked beige suit to pose for her official engagement shots while Sophie Countess of Wessex opted for a grey suit for her engagement photo call. (If she and Prince Edward actually sat for a portrait to mark the happy occasion it has been sadly, cough, lost to history and the bowels of the internet.)
You get the vibe – women prepping to join the Windsors go for mid-priced pieces in muted colours with suitably demure hemlines, the sort of dull numbers that would not raise an eyebrow among the Chelsea Women's Institute.
However, when it was Meghan Markle's turn in December 2017 to mark her engagement to Prince Harry, there was not a frumpy high street rayon number in sight.
Rather, when Meghan and a besotted Harry posed for photographer Alexi Lubomirski at Frogmore House, she hauled out a showstopping number featuring a sheer, beaded bodice and cascading tulle skirt from couture house Ralph & Russo. The dramatic black getup was less-job-interview-at-a-Slough-accountancy-firm and more Met Gala ready.
The reported price? A cool $99,000.
(At the time, Kensington Palace confirmed the frock was "privately purchased." No freebies are allowed in the royal family. No matter though, Meghan is the only self-made millionaire in the royal family.)
In the months and years since the Lubomirski shots were taken, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's status quo-busting ways have sent a nation of OAPs eyebrows skyward (and perennial Meghan critic Piers Morgan into chuntering paroxysms) with messages scrawled on bananas, an A-list baby shower and all those private jets.
Looking at the images of the beaming couple today, how were we all quite so blind at the time? How did we not get the message she, whether consciously or not, was sending the world back then with that stunner of an engagement dress?
We might not have realised it at the time but that Ralph & Russo creation symbolised what would be her comparatively emancipated approach to palace life.
In hindsight, it was sheer lunacy to think, even for an iota, that the LA-native would let the considerable weight of royal expectations ever see her meekly collapse herself to fit into the proforma Windsor mold, her integrity and beliefs be damned in the service of the monarchy.
What we all missed at the time, swept up in the romance and sublime magic of the couple's relatively whirlwind courtship, was that Meghan was never going to be a Stepford duchess, all nude hose and archaically abstaining from crossing her legs in public.
Here's the real kicker: The biggest problem wasn't just that the punters, the press and the commentariat missed this crucial detail at the time but that the men and women charged with shepherding her into the royal fold aka courtiers and palace staffers did too.
"If they had sat down with her at the start and said, "Let's talk about the things you are interested in", things might have been different," veteran royal biographer Robert Lacey told the Daily Mail last year.
"They just sent her off to watch the Queen opening the Mersey Bridge. There is nothing wrong with that, but they made the mistake of dealing with the spare's wife thinking she was just a routine royal. She was never going to be a routine royal."
I wonder if part of the fault lay in that courtiers couldn't quite metabolise the fact that a woman, having achieved royal status, wouldn't be grovelingly grateful and therefore would instinctively toe the line, a line it should be pointed out that has not changed since Diana's day in 1981 – wave, smile, accept bouquet, and repeat. Ad nauseam. For the rest of your life. You're welcome, now get on with it.
Which is not to say the Suits star barrelled in from day one intent on getting palace staffers to bend wholly to her ways. As legendary Diana biographer Andrew Morton put it when we spoke pre-Megxit, "What more could Megan do?"
"She helped write a best-selling cookbook. She's made the Queen laugh in public. She's undergone over a hundred engagements. She's visited Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific. She's had a baby. She's converted to the Church of England. She's become friendly with the Archbishop of Canterbury and I'm sure she discusses spiritual matters with Prince Charles."
Still the palace, faced with a woman who had not only a career – yes a real one, not just a part-time gig helping out as an accessories buyer – but also had a point of view, they instead just tried to shoehorn her into the prefab, beginner HRH model and be done with it.
Still, what she did sacrifice in her ultimately futile quest to win palace approval seems to have come at too high a personal price.
Reflecting on the Sussexes' bombshell decision earlier this month to do a 90-minute sit-down interview with Oprah Winfrey, a person who knows the couple recently told the Sunday Times: "When they first started dating Meghan felt she had lost her voice. She had a platform as a moderately successful actress, and when she was told to stop using her social media and be careful what she said, I could tell that loss of voice and independence pained her. Having an institutional voice within the royal family wasn't enough. This interview will be the loudest way she'll get her voice back."
What no one seemed to quite realise when Meghan slipped into that black beaded Ralph & Russo number back in late 2017 was that she was signalling, again intentionally or not, she had no intention of blindly conforming or prostrating herself, personal values be damned, in the name of the monarchy.
Meghan was never going to hide her light – and her talents, creativity and passion – under a bushel, let alone under a neutral, knee-length Reiss dress.
• Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years' experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.