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I Went to Duchess School for a Day, and Now I’m Basically Meghan Markle

Pull up any recent photo of Meghan Markle and it can feel like the once jittery (American) commoner is now a full-fledged royal, nailing the car exit, the ‘Duchess Slant,’ even the wave.

Ditto Kate, ahem, Catherine.

Their secret? A master class in royal etiquette coaching—or as Myka Meier, the ever-flawless (and impeccably trained) founder of Beaumont Etiquette, likes to call her version of it: Duchess School. (For the record, and according to reports, Meghan is being similarly trained by Samantha Cohen, a 17-year veteran of Buckingham Palace.)

The curriculum of Myka's course, officially called The Duchess Effect and taught at New York City’s Plaza Hotel (the next session takes place in March) is vast: In a two-hour session, you’ll tackle how to sit, stand, hold a cup and saucer, make a grand entrance down a flight of stairs, carry a clutch, walk in heels, enter and exit a vehicle, dress like a duchess and more.

A chance to learn firsthand (Myka was taught by a former member of Queen Elizabeth’s household staff) about the rigorous training the royals undergo? I was intrigued. Was there a shot in hell that I, a flustered mom who rides the subway and carries not one, not two, but three bags to work, could adopt the poise of a Markle or Middleton? It was worth a try.

And so it was that I found myself striding through the Plaza’s gold-encrusted revolving door, a Manhattan spot so iconic that everyone from the Beatles to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor have stayed the night. I met Myka in an Edwardian suite on the 18th floor with my bags and breast pump in tow, but also an open mind.

 

Lesson #1: Mobile Manners

rachel bowie plaza dining  

First things first, Myka reminded me, etiquette isn’t meant to be snoozy, it’s simply about showing the people around you royal respect. This begged the question: Is my mobile phone that I keep tethered to my side 24/7 royally rude?

In a word, yes. The actual royals have phones of course, but in a professional context, rely on a personal assistant to carry it and alert them to any urgent calls.   

Luckily, Myka offered a work-around should you ever find yourself in a situation without a royal aide to tap you on the shoulder and whisper in your ear.

“Switch your phone to vibrate and place it face up on your seat, but slightly under your leg so you’ll feel it if it rings and can quickly see who’s calling,” Myka says. “If it’s a call you need to take, tell your guests, ‘I’ll just be a moment,’ and bring your phone in the other room. You should never place anything—your phone, your sunglasses, your purse—on the table.” Easy enough.

Lesson #2: Car Coordination

rachel bowie meghan markle car exit plaza hotel1 Ali Brown/WPA Pool 

From there, we ventured outside. Myka placed a call to the concierge asking him to bring the hotel’s in-house car service (a Tesla Model X, in case you were wondering) around front. The task on deck: Mastering the art of getting in and out of a vehicle.

Since the Tesla doors lift up DeLorean-style, I didn’t have to worry about opening or closing them myself. (Although I still applaud Meghan for this baller move, which got the royal sign-off from Myka “as long as you keep your head up!”) But the tricky part of a seamless exit actually comes when trying to do so demurely in a skirt. An homage to Legally Blonde’s “bend and snap,” Myka dubbed Kate and Meghan’s royal move the “swivel and pop.”

The mechanics: Keep your knees and ankles together at all times while using your arms to leverage yourself forward to the front of the seat. Then, swivel your body and pop upright as you plant your legs outside the car and firmly on the ground.

Myka demonstrated a few times first, then it was my turn. I nailed the swivel, but quickly realized the pop is not a short person’s game. A Google search revealed: Meghan Markle is 5’7” and Kate Middleton is 5’9”. I’m 5’2” on a good day and—wearing flats for the training—had a hard time touching my toes to the outside curb. In other words, it’s hard to perfect a duchess-like exit when you can’t stick the landing.

Lesson #3: Confidence...and Stairs

kate middleton meghan markle stairs Mark Metcalfe/Samir Hussein/Getty Images 

Next, we practiced gliding down stairs. Myka explained that you need to hug the railing and angle your toes toward the wall as well. (A lot of royal etiquette is about avoiding an accidental flashing, it seems.) You also need to walk down the stairs without looking at your feet. It was hard at first, but after a couple of practice runs, I loved it.

“It’s about confidence,” Myka says. She was right. I felt like I owned the Plaza as I descended. Of course, I simultaneously felt terrified that I would stumble and kiss the dirt, but stairs are good like that: Consistent enough so you can measure your royal stride as you glide.

Lessons #4 and 5: How to Eat and How to Sit

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Dining etiquette came next, followed by how to sit. And with it came more mistakes. For example, as I learned from Myka, I have a tendency to eat with my elbows pointing out. (A royal no-no, they should be pinned to your sides during dinner, even while buttering scones—or sk-ons, as the Brits say.) To help me get the hang of it, Myka suggested I eat with a napkin tucked in each armpit. Challenge accepted.

I also struggled to master the Sussex Slant, coined by Myka and Meghan’s preferred mode of sitting, whereby you cross your legs at a 45-degree angle and rest one leg on top of the other (plus, ankles together) delicately…and indefinitely. (See above, there's also the Duchess Slant and Cambridge Cross, two more Myka terms.) Note to self: If I really want to live life like a royal, I had better devote more time at the gym to my inner thighs.

But just like with the car exit, this regal chair pose is another case where short stature can work against you: For me, it was a challenge—even on tippy toes—to graze the floor.

My Royal Entrance

royal entrance rachel bowie1  

Before I could get the final sign-off, I was whisked off to the Plaza spa—Guerlain—for a makeover by Luigi, a makeup artist skilled at the art of transforming a regular woman into a minimalist Middleton.

In record time, he slathered my face with moisturizer, eye cream, the works (and the #1 trick to Kate’s radiant complexion, he explained), rimmed my bottom lash line with liner and applied a sweep (or seven) of bronzer to make my face look glowy and bright. With my hair blown out (by the pros at Drybar), I was ready to change from flats to heels a commoner to a duchess.

And that’s when the royal magic happened. See, as it turns out, all I need is a three-inch stiletto to have my Cinderella moment: In heels, I could easily graze the floor, which meant I could do the Sussex Slant. I could hold my head high, which meant a sudden boost of confidence. I could even shimmy in and out of Teslas like some sort of Amazonian.  

Myka gave me the once-over, checking everything from my skirt length (tea length is ideal) to my elbows (now pinned properly to my side, thank you very much). She approved.

She also gave me one final lesson: How to walk in those aforementioned heels. The trick, she explained, is slowing things down. “Put one foot ever so slightly in front of the other as you move and keep your chin up so you’re looking straight ahead.” One last flourish? For balance, Kate and Meghan always carry a clutch. It also gives them something elegant to do with their hands.

This last part fascinated me because it was a glaring reminder of the main thing working against my own non-royal frumpiness: I’ve become a product of my environment. In the ten years I’ve lived in New York City, I’ve become hurried. I’ve become inwardly-focused. I’ve become a bag lady.

My new royally-driven resolution: To slow things down. To look out into the world as I go through my day. (Unless I’m on the A train—too many creepy passengers there.) To edit the things I carry. (I’m winding down breastfeeding in T minus a few weeks, huzzah!)

And so with a royal wave—fingers together—and new royal order to attend to, I was off.

Interested in attending Duchess School yourself? Sign up now for the next intensive, called The Duchess Effect, taught at the Plaza Hotel on March 16 in New York City.

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