Antiquated Spectacle or Ritualistic Masterpiece of Style?
Almost two weeks ago, the world awaited the pinnacle event of this year’s royal calendar: King Charles’ Coronation. The first British coronation in over seventy years, the event was highly anticipated by both the British public and royal watchers alike. However, as the weekend unfolded, the previously-excited general sentiment became sharply divided. While royal followers and fashion aficionados salivated over the dresses, jewelry, and general majesty of the ancient ceremony, others saw it as an overt display of wealth and antiquated, pompous tradition. So, is the coronation a defunct remnant of a bygone era, or a stylish, fantastical tradition that makes the monarchy more accessible?
Part of the outcry over the coronation stems from Britain’s current cost-of-living crisis. In addition to rising energy costs, consumer prices have risen drastically, especially for food staples. According to the Institute for Government, while the prices for discretionary items like bikes and wine have increased by 3% at most between February 2022 and 2023, more essential food stuffs like whole milk and pasta have seen a staggering increase of over 30%. Thus, while some viewers couldn’t keep their eyes off of Kate Middleton’s stunning Alexander McQueen ensemble, including her tradition-bucking headpiece, others could only see the exorbitant tax dollars spent not only to clothe the many members of the royal family in attendance, but to put on such a grandiose event.
While this argument isn’t without merit, it fails to take into account the economic boon that royal events provide for the British economy. Though, by my estimates, Princess Kate’s custom McQueen outfit likely cost upwards of $40,000 and the whole coronation is estimated by CNBC to have cost up to $125 million, the Center for Economics and Business Research estimates that the British economy stands to receive a $420 million boost from the extra tourism over coronation weekend. As such, while the event is undoubtedly a massive cost to British taxpayers, especially amidst the country’s cost-of-living crisis, the British economy will actually reap greater economic reward from having held the coronation.
From a less economic and more fashion-focused angle, royal events remain some of the most hotly-anticipated fashion events of the year. Sure, the Met Gala, the Oscars, and various fashion weeks rank highly on the fashion calendar. However, the popularity of these yearly soirées pales in comparison to that of their rarer, more elite royal counterparts. Ever since Princess Diana’s wedding, royal weddings have become some of the world’s most watched televised events. The equivalent of the Super Bowl for hopeless romantics and wannabe princesses, the weddings of Diana, Kate, and even Megan Markle garnered 28.4 million, 36.7 million, and 29.2 million viewers, respectively, according to The Tab.
And, while the pomp and circumstance is the main focus for some eagle-eyed royal watchers, the majority of viewers watch with the goal of answering one red carpet question: Who are they wearing? From the bride’s closely guarded dress designer—David and Elizabeth Emanuel, Sarah Burton (Alexander McQueen), and Claire Waight-Keller (Givenchy) for the three previous royal brides, respectively—to the curiously-angled fascinators and outlandish color schemes of the star-studded guest list, royal weddings are a feast for fashion enthusiasts.
Not only does this result in a massive boost in popularity for the day’s most discussed designers, but it frequently results in a massive uptick in search results, and subsequently, sales. Thus, while events like this may seem
somewhat outdated, their ability to draw the public’s gaze and to generate consumer interest remains central to both royal popularity and UK economic growth.
The same applies to the coronation. While not quite as popular as the royal weddings in regard to TV viewership, the coronation’s role as the first such televised ceremony still made it a globally admired event. For a week after, searches for Alexander McQueen—and more specifically, Princess Kate and Charlotte’s marching diadems—continued mounting. Outside of the royal family, the outfits of celebrities like Katy Perry and Emma Thompson flooded social media, bringing renewed attention to monochromatic pastels and tributes to the late Vivienne Westwood (worn by Perry).
Ultimately, despite the fact that the royal family’s role is now predominantly symbolic, the public’s fascination with royalty remains high. Whether stuffy or stylish, archaic or awe-inspiring, royal events bring the much-admired royals to the public, successfully building both tourism and popular appeal. As such, while the coronation is, in many ways, a dated ceremony, the strong appeal of the British royal family turns obsolete events into economic boons, both for individual designers and for the British economy more broadly.