If you asked me to describe the modern version of a love letter, my mind would jump to a particular variety of text message dispatched in the confines of my three-person roommate group thread that, to a casual observer, might appear to be rendered in some kind of mysterious shorthand:
Roommate #1: “New SMT!!!!!!”
Roommate #2: “Just saw!!!!!!”
Me: “Omg checking now.”
SMT, or So Many Thoughts, is a breakdown of the British royal family’s sartorial choices that recurs on veteran journalist Elizabeth Holmes’s Instagram Stories. Whenever Holmes posts a fresh analysis, my roommates and I convene digitally to parse her already incredibly thorough examination of whatever Kate Middleton or Meghan Markle happens to be wearing on any given day. Much to my surprise, I’ve come to look forward to these discussions as much as I look forward to Saturday mornings or warm bread at restaurants (and by that I mean a lot).
I say “to my surprise” because, up until I started following Holmes on Instagram sometime last spring, I was staunchly disinterested in the royal family. I lovingly mocked my friends who woke up at 4 a.m. to watch Kate and Will’s wedding. I skimmed over headlines advertising insight into what Meghan wore for her engagement photos. I didn’t feel like I could relate to their style choices (too classic), or their social media presence (none), or their personalities (unclear). Not only am I now very much interested, but I’m also a genuine fan. I’m keeping legitimate TABS. I texted my roommate the other night, “Did you ever think you’d see the day when I’d become a royals enthusiast?”
She texted back, “I prayed.”
Curious to unpack why, I’ve been pondering what exactly about Holmes’s dissections turned what was formerly the equivalent of perfectly fine but not particularly exciting celebrity soup into a delicious, flavorful, culturally relevant bouillabaisse that my tastebuds want to consume on a daily basis. (Can you tell I’m writing this right before I eat lunch? Sorry.) Part of the shift definitely stems from the comprehensiveness of her breakdowns, covering everything from actual royal family stipulations regarding pantyhose to the delicate balance between supporting designers and wearing something “affordable.” On top of that, though, I feel influenced by something less tangible — a flicker of joy, pure and ephemeral, that gleams every time my roommates and I sit around our tiny living room and discuss our many thoughts about So Many Thoughts. Our conversations are mostly aimless — background noise to overdue deadlines, dinner cooking, watching TV, folding laundry — but they consistently fill in the cracks with a special kind of feel-good-ness, a connective tissue that is important by virtue of being, in the grand scheme of things, totally unimportant.
I reached out to Holmes herself to ask what drives her personal fascination with the royals, and she echoed the same sentiment: “To me, the royals are an escape from reality — a much-needed break from the sobering news cycle. I think the ladies at Forever35 podcast said it best when they described fandom as a form of self-care. There is something very healing and recharging about this side hustle of mine! Dissecting a photo of Meghan or Kate is the visual equivalent drinking a glass of wine or getting a manicure.”
She also added that people don’t seem as eager to tear the royals down as they do typical celebrities, which offers a reprieve from the internet’s usual cynicism beat: “I truly believe the royals are (and they position themselves as) above it all; being a royal is a big step up from being a celebrity, even an A-lister. It puts them above the fray, in a tower, harder to tear down (not that I would want to!). And second, their choices are relatively safe, rarely even considered fashion-forward. They don’t take the same risks—they always seem to dress with a bent towards classic, which is bound to have mass appeal–so it makes it unlikely they will have real misses.”
The royals’ cautiousness when it comes to style used to disappoint me, but the So Many Thoughts franchise makes it very clear that while Kate and Meghan’s fashion choices might be classic, they aren’t anywhere close to boring. They’re the product of painstaking attention to detail, factoring in style, function, occasion, history, politics, economics and the unique position of crafting a public persona wherein the outfits you wear are the world’s entry point to who you are and what you stand for. A plain navy shift dress can mean so much more than a plain navy shift dress if Meghan Markle is wearing it, which is pretty fascinating stuff.
Holmes emphasizes this point as part of why she is compelled to dive into their outfits in so much detail: “I’ve said this before but it is worth repeating: most of us will never see the royals in person. We see the pictures of royals doing thing—and the first thing most notice in a picture is what a royal is wearing. Before we know the cause they are supporting or the event they are attending, we see what they are wearing. Those pictures end up in newspapers and magazines around the world. It drives me crazy when people say their clothes don’t matter! What they wear is the first (and sometimes only) thing most people see! And therefore ripe for dissecting.”
That’s not to say the royals aren’t immune to fashion critique — though Holmes’s approach to pointing out the occasional “misses” is thoughtful and never snarky. “None of my comments are ever meant as a personal slight or a knock on a royal’s character,” she told me. “But I do think pointing out the hits and the misses is important. We’ve gotten to a place on the internet where everybody loves everything (something I attribute in part to influencers who are reliant on brands for paychecks, but that’s another story!). People have very intense reactions sometimes if I say I don’t like something. But loving everything isn’t interesting! How could we enjoy Kate in that Samantha-doll-esque plaid Erdem if we hadn’t first seen her in that awful cornflower blue floral hatband?”
Her remark about everybody on the internet loving everything struck a particularly enlightening chord, especially in the context of my newfound affection for the royals. Fashion criticism in particular is often positive to the point of glossing over the stuff that’s actually interesting to talk about. Being a fan of something shouldn’t mean you’re not allowed to examine it under a discerning microscope. One of my favorite things about So Many Thoughts is how it highlights both the good and the not-so-good, but all under the same umbrella of unabashed enthusiasm. “I hope my followers enjoy SMT and see it as a bit of an escape—while learning something, too,” Holmes said. “I get a lot of DMs to that effect, and hear from women who don’t or didn’t care much about the royals but enjoy the break from daily life.”
If you, like me, are one of those women, let’s take a break in the comments below and discuss.
Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo via Getty Images.