Whenever the team at Who What Wear UK require accurate information about anything related to Kate Middleton or Meghan Markle’s style, there are only two places we look: the websites What Kate Wore and What Meghan Wore. These are the sources so many fashion journalists rely upon each time either of the glossy-haired royal family members are seen in public, and with Harry and Meghan’s nuptials only a few days away we knew that a) the teams at these websites were going to be crazy-busy, but that b) we wanted to know more about the brains behind the precise blog posts and what is surely a burgeoning online business—you can even shop Kate and Meghan’s key pieces from these platforms… should the items still be in stock, that is.
So I got in touch, not knowing what kind of fanatics I might stumble upon: Instead, I was happily surprised to discover two powerful, wonderful women at the helm of these popular sites. Women who have journalistic and marketing backgrounds and who, almost out of nowhere, have become some of the most trusted royal fashion gurus on this here planet. Introducing Michigan-based Susan Kelley (the founder of What Kate Wore) and New Jersey-based Susan Courtner (founder of What Meghan Wore). The pair first met via meet-up plans that were arranged thanks to the interconnectivity of Kelley’s dedicated WKW fan-club, they became friends and a few years later—when rumours of Meghan dating Harry first started to circulate—Courtner fired up an off-shoot site dedicated to Markle, and running in tandem with Kelly’s digital empire, which she now works on full-time while Courtner looks after Meghan’s site before and after her regular day-job, as well as on weekends. The rest, as they say, is history. But I think you’ll be fascinated to know more about how they dedicated their time to documenting the A-lister’s style movements, what they think of the “Meghan effect” and how they’ll be spending the royal wedding day. Keep reading to read our exclusive interview with Susan and Susan…
Can you tell me a little bit about yourselves?
Susan Kelley: I am a journalist, I’ve had 17 years in television, most of it in news. I started out as an intern and then worked my way up the ladder, ultimately I was a news director in Oklahoma City covering the bombings, among other things, in Michigan and then in my last position I went to what some would call the dark side—I was a general manager running a CBS station in Oregon. I left that in 2003 and we moved back to Michigan and my husband and I started an online retail store selling preppy, kind of Sloane, merchandise. Jewellery, accessories bags, personalised stuff. I started the Kate blog in 2011 and it just kind of exploded—I mean it really transcended anything I thought it would do. It became such a big thing that we had to make a decision about whether I was going to do that or whether we were going to continue to do the store because it was consuming so much time and energy. So we had to make a decision and we ended up selling the company. And I’ve been doing Kate’s site ever since and then added What Prince George Wore when he was born, and then when Charlotte came along we changed that to What Kate’s Kids Wore. And I was kind of following the Meghan thing but I have to say that Susan Courtner was way ahead of the curve because when she first approached me in October or November 2016 I was kind of like you know, unsure, “do you think she has staying power?” showing how little you know I was plugged into things, and Susan’s instincts were just spot on.
Susan Courter: I have a fine art background and a little bit of marketing, and that’s what I bring to the table around the blog. I do some of the reviews on products and things like that, contribute to some of our posts and I actually started the blog—or What Meghan Wore—when there were rumours circulating that Meghan and Harry were dating. From there I spoke to Susan Kelly who I’ve been friends with for some time about starting the (social) accounts and the blog and naming it What Meghan Wore. I felt that there was going to be this huge effect with Meghan—and most likely surpassing the Kate Effect—and that was very, very early on.
Do you actually both get inspired by Kate and Meghan’s style yourselves?
SC: I do own some of Meghan’s pieces and I’d already owned them because she wears a lot of, you know, maybe J.Crew or Madewell and Aritizia and those types of brands. And those were the pieces and styles that I can relate to, both in a relaxed casual way and then in going to the office as well. So I began following her probably a little earlier, when she was on Suits as well—her style was a nice influence for office looks.
SK: I like and respect both of their styles. Kate is maybe a little more what my style was, or how I was raised. But because I’m a little older and I work out of my home now I don’t have the same need for office attire that I did, but some of the brands that Kate wears I was wearing a lot time ago, you know, growing up or in my 20s or maybe 30s: like a Barbour jacket.
I also like Meghan’s style because she has this classic look (and she also likes clean lines and tailored pieces) but she can, because of her position, be a little trendier—and she has been in the past when her position as not an issue at all. She can experiment more and she can do things that because of Kate’s position Kate can’t really do, so it’s a nice refreshing change. It doesn’t change how much I enjoy Kate’s style, it is nice to see the contrast though and to be learning about more new brands, more new retailers, more style tricks. Whether it’s a messy bun or a different shoe or just something I’m not as familiar with.
Is The Meghan Effect reaching same heights as The Kate Effect?
SK: I don’t think it’s stronger right now but by the time of the wedding or shortly thereafter it really will be. And there’s a couple of reasons: 1) I think Meghan reaches a differen demographic. There are a lot of Kate fans who are also Meghan fans, but there is also a segment of the Meghan’s audience that is a little young and a little hipper, a little edgier and Meghan is still wearing more brands that are accessible to people. Kate initially did, but whether it’s because of her schedule or the type of engagements she’s doing or because of her position and moving towards a more conservative style, not many of us can afford Catherine Walker or Jenny Packham or any of her go-to designers.
SC: I have to agree with Susan Kelley, I have a lot of Kate’s pieces as well—especially when I was going to the office a lot more and now it’s nixed for me as I do some remote work and some office work—but I’ve seen this change with Kate over time and her style and choice of clothing and brands. It’s gotten kind out of reach for many people who follow her and that’s where the replicating may come into play. So with Meghan it has been a really nice change and to push that trendier, edgier feel into fashion between the two of them, or what’s in the royal family.
Do you Meghan has had to chance her style much to abide by royal protocol or traditions?
SK: You know I don’t think it’s been a lot—I think there’s been some refinement. It’s some reaction publicly that oh my goodness she’s gone, I don’t know, like she’s dressing old or she’s gone conservative but I don’t really think that’s the case when we look at what she’s worn. Longer hemlines in some cases, well sure you know, if you’re at a memorial service you’re going to wear a longer hemline. That’s different from going to a radio station. Wearing nude hose, sure, again on some occasions she does but I don’t expect to see her doing it all the time, I expect to continue seeing her in trousers for certain engagements. I think she’s just in a position where she can do more of that, she’s also now moved into a zone where she has so many people watching her: the fashion industry, the entertainment industry, the media complex… she’s moved to that place now where she really can’t win. People who think she was too trendy or disrespectful in some regards then you have the people saying “oh boy, she’s gone with the longer hemlines already and the nude hose and jeans, what a shame.” I think it’s terrific that she’s had this background as a celebrity—while nowhere near the scale of being in the royal family—but it means she does have some experience in being able to kind of slosh off the comments and the reaction and the judgement of what she wears.
We’re clearly Meghan-obsessed, especially this week, but how do Americans in general feel about her?
SK: I think not only is it the same but it’s much more over here than it is over there, and I know, we have a sense of how popular they both are [in the U.K.]. And here I think you just have that added element of that we don’t have royalty—and even though we parted company with you guys under difficult circumstances there is that fascination of that fairytale. I think in particular for Diana’s two sons, there is this really fervent desire to see them be happy and to see them have a happy ending that Diana never had.
Have you noticed particular Meghan blog posts that are more popular than others?
SK: I think one of the most popular ones was the Represent Radio appearance because that was early on and it was a little edgier. I also think the Alexander McQueen separates worn to the Endeavour Awards—that was an enormous change and people were so stunned. You could tell on Twitter that they were just very much taken aback because everyone’s expecting a party frock or just a dress and here she was in these separates.
SC: Absolutely, I think the Endeavour one was very big. It was such a change when everyone was kind of saying “oh she’s always in black, or her hair is down, or she’s very casual” and here she was walking out in this McQueen outfit and looking very businesslike and that drew a lot of attention and brought a lot of conversation to the post. Then more recently this past week when she wore Emilia Wickstead and Smythe for the memorial service that also brought in a lot of attention.
SK: The Emilia Wickstead really provoked almost universal positive reaction on Facebook and blog comments, on Twitter… people really liked that look. I think it was showing Emilia Wickstead to people who had never heard of the designer but also to Kate followers who at time thought maybe Kate’s Wickstead pieces were too conservative—you know full skirts—here was Meghan in a tailored Emilia Wickstead skirt and people just loved that look.
And what about products that sell the most when spotted on Meghan? I assume you use tracking links?
SC: Yes we do. A lot of times she may wear something and there may be a frenzy to buy it and it sells out, the reason it sells out is that there may only be one or two pieces left, you have that on occasion. I would say the items that are more maybe in reach like Everlane’s Day Tote bag [unfortunately unavailable in the UK] was a big one they sold out of that very quickly, they got back in stock they sold out again. So I would say smaller accessory items or things like that.
SK: Some of her jewellery pieces: there have been some that are in the $40 price range and that’s something that anybody can look at and go “wow, I can afford that” and there is tremendous cache and appeal to think that I can wear a bracelet or a charm or something that a future princess (and over here it’s a princess, even though technically she’s going to be a duchess) wears.
SC: And another thing too is when she’s worn [pieces from] some of these small brands, like when she was in Cardiff and wore the jeans from Hiut Denim they are now so backlogged! I had ordered a pair and I still haven’t received them and that was in January. So it’s brought such attention to these smaller business which is great for them and I love that, and that’s one of the things I think is fantastic—whether it’s here in the United States or overseas she’s still supporting small business and looking into the small businesses, maybe they’re sustainable or they donate a certain amount of proceeds to a charity. Meghan looks for those particular things. A matter of fact, the night before she was going to that Cardiff engagement I said to Susan Kelley, “you know, here’s this local denim company I wonder if she’s going to wear this brand tomorrow” and she did!
So do you do a lot of research before each engagement rather than just wait for the outfit credits to leak out?
SC: I do. I tend to research: you know if she’s going to a certain location and look into local small businesses brands and zone in on ones that either have a background behind them of sustainability or maybe they do some charity work and see what the products are that they produce. Just this past weekend for the Queen’s birthday concert I found the Shaune Leane earrings and I reached out to the company and I’ve been speaking with them to confirm, but I had noticed too when I read on their site that he had worked with Alexander McQueen so there was this connection right away. I knew that it had to be this designer and brand that she was wearing.
SK: I think that’s part of what Meghan followers do like—the younger part of that demographic is more in touch with ethical fashion, sustainable practices, how the labour force is treated, and I think they are in tune with that in a way that a part of the Kate audience is not. It’s not that they don’t care at all, but I think that there’s a greater sensitivity to it with younger people and they like knowing that that is important to Meghan and that it’s reflected in what she chooses to wear.
Do you feel the pressure to announce Kate and Meghan’s clothing credits before everyone else?
SK: No, not at all. We probably publish last. We go to a lot of detail and want to verify everything is correct and some of it is just my journalism background, you know. I’m a slow writer. Neither one of us is a really super-fast writer, there are a number of bloggers who are really quick and I have just all my life been a slow pedantic writer, I wish I was speedier. I’m sure Susan Courtner wishes at times that I was speedier!
SC: No no! I was just going to say that we are very particular about being accurate in what we’re reporting—particularly around the items and identification of those items. We want to bring to our followers and readers you know, the most accurate information we can, not just throw something out there that we think or it might be and then find out it’s wrong. It’s almost like someone supplying false information and then that reader is running out—and they really are—and buying that product. And then they buy the wrong thing and they’ve spent the money—maybe hundreds of dollars on the wrong item—and we don’t think that’s fair. So it may take us a little longer but we’re focusing on the engagement and the event: why they’re there, the info behind a charity that might be involved as we want to be supportive, and then what she’s wearing.
How do you actually work out what she’s wearing then?
SC: Oh boy! It can be a very intense day. So Susan and I are in two different states. I live in New Jersey and we tend to pick up the phone and connect that way, as long as I have the time, usually it’s before I have to go to work because of the time difference with the UK and the US and we start connecting early on. We follow on Twitter (a lot of times the reporters will tell us maybe the brand or the designer that she’s wearing and that’s very helpful) and then we zone in on the smaller details: jewellery, shoes, that sort of thing. But having been familiar for so long with what she’s worn, you know a lot of times I can look at some and say “I know what that is” from a small details. In particular one item that jumps out at me is a Manolo Blahnik shoe, for example.
SK: Susan’s research skills and familiarity with the brands is phenomenal, and then we’re also benefitting from social media. There is this group of people on Twitter who are extraordinary identifiers of clothing items that Kate, Meghan and other people wear.
The practice is that one reporter is generally given the information [via correspondence from the palace] and it’s their job on that particular engagement to tweet who the designers are. And within 3 minutes these people quickly find and identify and post a photo of an item that’s been worn. Then there will be these other things, like Susan mentioned the earrings worn for the Queen’s birthday concert or a pair of shoes…
We pay for all our photos, we only use licensed photos on the site so you look for the best high resolution photos and kind of become consumed with the details and trying to ascertain if this really looks like what she has one or can we see the shoe manufacturing name on the soles of the shoe. And that’s where Susan’s experience kicks in.
As two royal fashion gurus, we of course tapped them both for Meghan’s wedding dress predictions.