The Old Hollywood Reference Behind Meghan Markle’s Signature Boat Neck Style

meghan markle boat neck dress

by Katie Rosseinsky |
Published on

Since she’s officially been brought into the Windsor fold, Meghan Markle, the newly minted Duchess of Sussex, has carved out an immediately recognisable royal style niche. She’s forged a strong relationship with Givenchy’s creative director Clare Waight Keller, who took on this year's most coveted fashion assignment when Meghan requested that she design her wedding dress. Following the wedding, the Duchess has tended towards neutral tones and clean, simple shapes, the most striking of which have had one feature in common: a squared off neckline, commonly known as a boat or bateau neck.

Meghan was first photographed wearing this style back in January, when she wore a boxy checked jacket by Theory for an official trip to Wales, but it was the simple neckline on the dress she wore down the aisle that really piqued our collective interest. Pinpointing its timeless appeal in the notes that accompanied her sketches, Waight Keller wrote that the style 'gracefully frames the shoulders and emphasizes the slender sculpted waist,' making it almost universally flattering. In the weeks after the royal wedding, fashion platform Lyst estimated that searches for ‘boat neck’ had shot up by 52 percent; eBay has also reported a massive 830 percent increase in demand from November to June of this year.

This snowballing demand has since been helped along by a flurry of similar outfits from the Duchess. Earlier this month, there was the buttoned Prada ensemble that garnered comparisons with Princess Diana’s powder pink suit and the sunshine yellow Brandon Maxwell shift. In this week alone, Meghan has worn this silhouette three times (and it’s only Wednesday): a Ralph Lauren dress in khaki green, worn for Prince Louis’ christening and accessorised – inexplicably – with leather gloves; a custom Dior dress inspired by the New Look of the Fifties for the RAF centenary and a grey design by her friend, Roland Mouret.

Audrey Hepburn boat neck sabrina
Audreby Hepburn with co-stars Humphrey Bogart and William Holden in Sabrina ©Shutterstock

The boat neck certainly seems to be the latest beneficiary of the Duchess’s sartorial golden touch, also known as the ‘Meghan Effect,’ but the royal is not the first star to popularise this style: credit for that lies with bona fide Old Hollywood fashion icon Audrey Hepburn. Though the neckline can be traced back to Coco Chanel, who featured it in her nautically-inspired collections of the Thirties, it was later taken up by another now-iconic French designer, Hubert de Givenchy. One of film and fashion’s most enduring partnerships began when, ahead of production on Sabrina, Hepburn decided that her character would need a ‘real’ Parisian wardrobe if her Cinderella-esque transformation was to be believed. Her studio demurred, and (after initially being turned down by Balenciaga, too busy in the run up to his latest presentation) the actress ended up at Givenchy’s atelier. He too was preoccupied with an impending show, but did allow the young star to pick out a couple of samples from past collections: one such piece was a little black dress with a squared neckline and ribbon straps, which was eventually immortalized as part of Sabrina’s on-screen wardrobe. Women clamoured for similar styles; Audrey went on to wear boat-necked Givenchy to accept her Oscar for Roman Holiday, and famously modelled a bateau wedding dress (sound familiar?) in Funny Face.

audrey hepburn funny face wedding dress
Audrey Hepburn with co-star Fred Astaire in Funny Face ©Shutterstock

As an actress who left Hollywood to marry a Prince, Grace Kelly would be the obvious old Hollywood reference point for Meghan, but it seems that she has instead adopted Hepburn as her unofficial style muse: remember the My Fair Lady-esque monochrome ensemble she wore to make her Royal Ascot debut? When dressing for royal events, it’s only sensible to gravitate towards fuss-free, classic shapes that will photograph well and withstand the test of time; as an endlessly photogenic symbol of timeless chic, the Breakfast at Tiffany’s star is peerless. Hepburn, too, could have a greater significance for Meghan: the actress focused on humanitarian efforts in her career's second act, retaining her trendsetter status (and longstanding friendship with Givenchy) but never letting her wardrobe overshadow her charitable endeavours. Perhaps Meghan sees the star as more than just a style icon, but as a role model.

Look back at Meghan's best boat neck outfits in the gallery below...


Meghan Markle boat neck dress - Grazia

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meghan markle boat neck dress dior

Wearing Dior Haute Couture to the Royal Air Force centenary celebrations, 10th July 2018

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meghan markle boat neck dress ralph lauren

Wearing Ralph Lauren for the christening of Prince Louis, 9th July 2018

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CREDIT: Shutterstock

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Wearing Prada for the Queen's Young Leaders Award ceremony, 26th June 2018

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CREDIT: Shutterstock

meghan markle boat neck dress trooping the colour

Wearing Carolina Herrera for the Trooping the Colour, 9th June 2018

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CREDIT: Shutterstock

meghan markle boat neck wedding dress

Wearing Clare Waight Keller for Givenchy for the royal wedding, 19th May 2018

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CREDIT: Shutterstock

meghan markle boat neck

Wearing Theory for a visit to Wales, 18th January 2018

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