According to Elizabeth Holmes, Nobody Understands the Power of Fashion Better Than Royal Women
The author and journalist talks style, career, and more with our founder, Sarah LaFleur.
Six years ago, Elizabeth left a prestigious job covering style for the Wall Street Journal and launched her royal-fashion commentary on Instagram and now a newsletter, So Many Thoughts. But her interest in the royal family started back in 2011, when Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding captured the world’s attention. “I got very interested in Kate and what she was wearing, because it was very new,” explains Elizabeth. “She was shopping with her mom on the High Street, and then blogs were immediately sharing links to what she was wearing. There was this economic power behind her choices—everybody was talking about what she was wearing, and then you could go out and buy it, too. I just found that so interesting.”
It wasn’t until 2017 that she realized there was something missing from the conversation about royal fashion—and that she had so many thoughts to contribute. “I’d just had my second son, and I was nursing in the wee hours, scrolling through Instagram,” she says. “I remember seeing this picture of Will and Kate’s holiday card and thinking, ‘I have so many thoughts about this.’ I took a screenshot, added a bunch of text bubbles, and posted it. Very quickly, I realized that this was something people wanted to talk about. There was a corner of the internet that thought a lot about royal fashion, and I felt like I could add something to that conversation. I think there’s a hunger to talk about the meaning and the power of fashion.”
Elizabeth soon amassed a group of readers and followers eager to hear her thoughts about royal fashion, and when she released her first book, HRH: So Many Thoughts On Royal Style, in 2020, it became an instant bestseller. Our founder and CEO, Sarah LaFleur, spoke with Elizabeth about her decision to leave her position at the Wall Street Journal, what royal fashion has taught her about style, learning to be a working mom, and so much more. Read their full conversation below.
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SARAH LAFLEUR: I think one of the things your readers and followers appreciate is the un-cattiness of your content. You have been so intentional about creating an environment that isn’t about taking down royal women.
ELIZABETH HOLMES: I know the moment when I was suddenly like, “Wait a minute, the internet can make this very divisive and unkind.” It was the fall of 2018, and Harry and Meghan were on tour in Australia and New Zealand. Suddenly, people started pitting Kate and Meghan against each other, and it was getting ugly. I realized that I needed to be a voice that was not participating in that. That is not interesting to me at all.
I made a very conscious attempt to embrace both women. In the royal world, many people like to choose a side. I wanted to show that just because you like one person doesn’t mean you have to dislike the other; or just because you don’t like what someone’s wearing, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t like them as a person. The internet rewards polarization and extremes. I very much credit my Wall Street Journal upbringing in my perspective on this—that I was there to talk about fashion and the intentionality of it, and I wasn’t going to fall back on cattiness.
What’s a style tip you’ve learned from watching how Kate and Meghan dress?
I think it’s about putting thought into where you’re headed—thinking about who you are going to see, and who is going to see you. On the most basic level, you can think about color—that’s something royal women deploy so, so savvily. It very much started with the late Queen Elizabeth. She was known for her bright colors, and that made her jump out. But if that’s not your thing, there are a lot of ways to do it.
Meghan embraced neutrals, and that was so exciting for the royal fashion conversation. Kate will often dress to match her environment. At Wimbledon, she wore this light, fluorescent green that was almost the shade of a tennis ball. It made her fit into the setting but also jump out, because that’s not a hue that we see a lot of women wearing.
Is there a particular royal whose style really has your heart?
I would have to say the late Princess Diana. What she did with royal fashion really changed the game. The Queen always embraced what fashion could do and how important it was to the job—but then Diana came along and made it exciting. She embraced trends and the moment; she knew the power of fashion and used it so well. One of my favorite tidbits from my book is that people would show up at engagements just to see what she was wearing.
At a time when she didn’t do a lot of interviews and often didn’t get a chance to speak, she used fashion to speak for her. I think she found it very empowering. Charles was constantly trying to point to her interest in fashion as evidence that she was frivolous, but she stood her ground. I admire that.
I can look at a Diana picture and almost pinpoint the year she wore it, because she went through such specific phases of how she dressed and the image she was trying to convey. She was 19 when she got engaged and 20 when she got married, and you can see in those early years that she’s trying to dress much more grown-up than she was. She’s very covered up, and she’s got the ruffled necks and the big sleeves. And then, as she becomes this fashion icon, she starts pushing the envelope. In ’85 and ’86, she embraces menswear trends and voluminous styles—she just was going for it. I think her best fashion was actually after her divorce. She knew what worked on her body, she knew what stood out, and she knew what she wanted to wear.
How do you get ready in the morning?
I am a busy mom, so I do my best. This word is so cliché, but I look for pieces that are effortless—meaning you can put them on and get a full day out of them, from school drop off to Zoom calls to meetings to pickup to dinner time. There was a time in my life, especially when I was at the Wall Street Journal, when I looked for “classic” pieces and wanted things that would just last forever. Since writing about royal fashion, I’ve embraced trends and the element of excitement they bring. Going back to Diana, she knew what a great outfit would feel like to wear and what it would feel like to see. If I put on a bright dress, like the Cassandra in blood orange, there’s a sense of excitement—it makes me stand a little bit taller.
What drew you to the pieces that you selected for your M.M.LaFleur capsule?
I was really looking for those functional, versatile pieces. Since moving from New York, where I would go to an office every day, and living in California, where I work primarily from home or a coffee shop, I want things that are a little more versatile and a little more comfortable. I love M.M. pieces, because they look polished and put-together, which is very important to me, but I can move in them, and so many of them are machine-washable.
I love a dress. It’s a one and done—you put it on, and you’re ready to go. But I’ve also been getting a lot of use out of the separates. Since my photoshoot, I’ve worn the Lisey cami with the Archie jeans, and the mix-and-match of it all is very true to how I want to dress. I want to have fewer, nicer things, and I want to be able to wear them in different combinations.
Which of the looks from your capsule is the most “Meghan,” and which is the most “Kate”?
I would say the most “Meghan” look is the Lisey cami and Orchard skirt in vintage rose with the Frederick cardigan. Famously, after their wedding, Meghan wore this series of blush looks, and if you rewind to her pre-royal days, she did an interview where she spoke about wearing blush when she was falling in love. I have to believe that Meghan, in her newlywed glow, was channeling that by wearing pink. I also love the way that Meghan introduced separates into the royal-fashion equation, pairing together different textures and tones. The pink washable-silk separates and alpaca sweater are so sumptuous. To me, it’s a very chic, relaxed-but-dressy Southern California look.
What Kate did for the royal-fashion conversation was to make it relatable in a way that it had never been. She shopped off the rack, and you could buy the pieces she was wearing. The striped Owen T-shirt and wide-legged Milo jeans with the McKenzie sweater over the shoulders—that feels very Kate to me. It’s such a good look. That would be my go-to Saturday-morning uniform.
You’ve had a lot of big life changes over the past six years: You were at the Wall Street Journal, then you left and started So Many Thoughts, and now, you’re a mom of three. What has that transition been like? And what gave you the courage to step away from a really prestigious job at the Wall Street Journal?
It’s been so rewarding, but it was filled with challenges.
I was at the Wall Street Journal for ten years, and I had done what I wanted to do with the paper. The next step was to become an editor, but I knew I wanted to keep writing. There’s a very specific formula and voice to Wall Street Journal stories that I felt like I had down, and I was ready to try something new. At the same time, my husband got a promotion offer, but it required us to move to California. It was this big moment for our family, and to be honest, I was super conflicted. I was like, “I’m going to follow my husband to California? What does this mean?” But I needed a new professional challenge, and I wanted to be able to spend more time with my kids. I was like, “Okay, let’s do it.”
That first year was really challenging. I had to learn to not say “Elizabeth from the Wall Street Journal” when I answered the phone—I literally had to work that out of my system. I was very lucky, though, because I had this amazing network of editors at other publications, so I was able to write for different people almost immediately. I loved that, because it was a different voice, a different publication, a different tone. Being edited by somebody else was so invigorating.
When I started So Many Thoughts, it took me a minute to see it as more than just a side hustle. I was really lucky to get a great agent who sat me down and was like, “This could be something, but you need to see it as something.”
I had my kids in the fall of 2020, and I can’t even imagine how stressful it must have been for parents who were dealing with the uncertainty of the early Covid days. At the same time, you were finishing your first book. How did you manage that?
The thing I struggle with is that my mom was a stay-at-home mom. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and it was a very wonderful life, but I didn’t know what it looked like to be a working mother. So I was learning how to do that, and how to show that to my children. Now, my daughter, Eleanor, will put on her high heels and grab her purse, and go, “I’m going to London to work.” It’s adorable, and it gives me that little boost, because I definitely have a lot of self-inflicted guilt about working.
I had such a hard time finishing the book at the beginning of the pandemic—even though it’s such a fun book. It’s meant to be a celebration of fashion, looking at the Queen and Diana and Kate and Meghan. You could write a standalone book on any one of those people! I had to really force myself to pare it back; my editor kept saying, “This is not a biography, it’s a fashion story.”
There are so many women who are interested in making that transition to become a freelance writer, or influencer, or just someone with a point of view who other people pay money to hear from. What’s a piece of advice you could share with someone who’s looking to make that transition?
Know that it takes longer than you might think to build a brand online—but if you keep at it and you see it for what it is, then other people will, too. I think there’s a lot of grace required in these moments. I was so used to being “Elizabeth from the Wall Street Journal.” I didn’t have to say anything—I had the Wall Street Journal to prop me up, and that’s all I needed. I’ll never forget the first time I did an interview, and they didn’t describe me as a “former Wall Street Journal reporter,” they just said “New York Times best-selling author.” I was like, “Yes! I’m standing on my own thing and what I’ve built.”
M.M.LaFleur was founded on the belief that the world is a better place when women succeed. What does success look like to you?
Success has meant different things to me at different points in my career. Just being at the Wall Street Journal felt like a big accomplishment. But within that job, I wanted to climb to a place where I was writing the kind of stories that meant a lot to me.
But now, success, to me, is a full life where my career is a big part of it, but not the only thing. Because I work from home and am my own boss, I feel like family life bleeds into work, and work life bleeds into family. Success is just embracing that and understanding that what I choose to do—what I’m lucky enough to do—is really important, and being a mother is very important. Holding both things at the same time is something I struggle with but am grateful for.
My kids will hold up my book and say, “This is my mom’s book.” That is success. It’s wonderful to me that I can do both of those things.
Photos by Stephanie Loren Photography.