I’m more likely to be named Dairy Queen than to ever become an actual duchess, like American actress turned bonafide English royalty Meghan Markle. But there is, apparently, a learning curve. Not long after her wedding to Prince Harry, it was announced that former “Suits” star Markle, now Duchess of Sussex, will be taking 6 months worth of so-called “duchess lessons.”
Being a duchess means “being totally pampered and looked after but it’s not an easy job,” says Boca Raton’s Sherry Thomas of Palm Beach Etiquette, because there’s so much to remember.
Meghan’s royal life is completely different than her previous one as a glamorous, independent actress and activist. No autographs, no talking politics and no social media (she deleted her Facebook page when she started dating Harry.) She won’t even dial her own cell phone.
Thomas gave me a one-day crash course in duchessing, walking me through some basics at West Palm Beach’s Serenity Garden Tea House. You know, just in case there’s a middle-aged single royal out there looking for a queen. Or just a nice man from Queens. You can see how that went in the video below. I promise a few lessons and a few laughs in my journey to duchessness.
Wardrobe: Even though Meghan made a splash at her first public post-nuptial appearance in an off-the-shoulder dress, Thomas says that showing skin is usually avoided.
For our tea house duchess lesson, she suggested I wear a day dress, no more than two inches above the knee, with nude nail polish (”No color!”) and closed-toe shoes, that should match one’s handbag if possible.
Fun fact: Queen Elizabeth has worn the same kind of black slip-on flats by Anello and Davide for more than 50 years, and has an assistant break them in before she wears them, which I don’t know if I’d be into, but then again I’m a peasant.
Shaking Hands: This is somewhat of a trick question, since, as Thomas says, royals don’t shake hands -- they’d be in a receiving line all day. And besides, they don’t need to be touching strange folks.
Rather than say “Don’t touch me with your unwashed hands,” Kate Middleton carries a clutch so that the royal fingers are occupied. Her late mother-in-law, Princess Diana, also used to carry small purses she called her “cleavage bags” to cover her decolletage from photographers. I imagine that the official position on royal high gives goes without saying.
Sitting: “A royal never crosses her legs,” Thomas says, because one’s knees and legs must be kept together at all time.
Kate Middleton employs what’s been coined the “Duchess slant,” leaning her closed legs together to one side, sometimes with crossed ankles, sometimes without. This is not the most comfortable position, and I found myself constantly reminding myself not to let that slant fall to shambles. And of course there’s “never, ever slouching,” Thomas emphasizes. And that’s the reason I’ll never be a duchess. Well, one of them.
Table manners: This is, as one might imagine, a whole thing. For starters, Thomas instructs me to put my phone in my bag and keep it there. “Meghan would never have a cell phone at the table,” she says. And the things that do make it to the table are important.
For instance, ones napkin and napkin ring are placed to the left of the plate after the utensils come out. And the knife, whether you’re holding it or in rest position at the top of the plate, “is never pointed at anyone,” Thomas warns. “A knife pointed at someone could say ‘We’re enjoying a meal right now, but after the meal, I might be wanting to kill you.”
Oh, snap! Wait..I’m being a duchess today...Oh snapeth!
My brief duchess lesson covers probably just a fraction of a fraction of all the things Meghan will absorb and master. But it was still pretty intense. The most important thing she has to remember, Thomas says, “is that she’s representing the royals at all times.” No pressure or anything.
As for me, I probably won’t remember most of it, but I’ll at least try to not start a war with my butter knife.