The Secret Message Behind Princess Diana's Manicure

The royal rebel put a message for the Queen right on her fingers.

For all the breathless anticipation that Meghan Markle would become a royal fashion rule breaker and shake up "The Firm" once she married Prince Harry, the newish Duchess of Sussex seems to be toeing the royal line wearing hosiery and hats, as per the dictates of the unofficial royal dress code that Windsor women have been following for centuries.

Another subtle sartorial sign that Meghan is all about fitting in, rather than standing out, is her understated manicure. If you haven't yet heard, all members of the royal family are prohibited from wearing dark polish, and are instead required to wear only natural looking shades. Ever since getting engaged, Meghan has worn sheer, pastel pink polish that mirrors Queen Elizabeth's favorite shade—Essie's "Ballet Slippers"—a classic white-pink shade. During her days as an actress, Meghan frequently sported dramatically dark polish on the red carpet. Kate Middleton hardly ever wears any polish at all.

"Meghan very much wants to show the Queen that she has fully embraced her life as a member of the royal family and she understands the little details mean a lot to Her Majesty," my royal source told me. "Catherine has always been very sensible and has never fussed too much with her looks. She follows protocol to the letter."

It was Meghan and Kate's late mother-in-law, Princess Diana, who showed her penchant for rebelling against the royal rule book by choosing to wear bright red nail polish once her disastrous marriage to Princess Charles started to crumble. Up until that point, Diana never wore bright shades, per the Queen's preference. But when she believed the family had closed ranks against her, she often looked for little ways to telegraph she was standing up to the system.

"I remember when she decided to wear that stunning short black dress to the Serpentine Gallery party in 1994 on the same night Charles was on television confessing to his affair with Camilla," said a friend of Diana's. "She purposely chose to wear fire engine red polish. We all thought the message was clear—she was this young, beautiful and vibrant woman wanting to break free. She wasn't going to be told what to do. She wanted the Palace to sit up and take notice."

After news of her separation with Charles became public, Diana wore red nail polish constantly—unless she was giving a speech on humanitarian issue or visiting AIDS patients or landmine victims.

"It was a small sign of rebellion, but it made her feel good," said my royal source. "Diana was very aware of the power of style. Her emotional life was always mirrored through her appearance."

Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.

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