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Prince Harry, Phone Hacking Avenger

Since he and his wife, Meghan Markle, announced their decision in 2020 to step back as working royals and leave Britain, many versions of Prince Harry have been offered for public view.

There was the liberated J. Crew-suited Harry of the Oprah Winfrey tell-all, the tie abandoned, the shirt unbuttoned at the throat. The just plain Harry in a plain gray T-shirt staring out from the cover of his memoir. The relaxed California cool dad Harry clad all in black of the Netflix documentary. And, more recently, the demoted Harry at the coronation of his father, King Charles III, wearing a Dior morning coat since he could no longer wear his military uniform, giving shades of Edward VIII and relegated to the third row.

Now, thanks to his two days of testimony in London’s High Court in the phone hacking trial against the Mirror Newspaper Group, there is one more Harry: the serious private citizen, girded to fight for the right of all against the untoward intrusions of the British tabloid press.

It is the first time a royal has testified in court since 1891, and his appearance can reframe not just what that looks like for history, but also what Harry represents. After all, there are no cameras in the courtroom, so the entrance imagery is what the world sees even before they read reports about what is said (if they read reports about what is said). It is the basis on which new public opinion is formed.

This Harry wears neatly tailored single-breasted dark suits — deep navy on Tuesday, dark gray on Wednesday, shaded to convey the somber nature of the situation (also not Dior, according to the brand — at least not “to our knowledge,” a Dior spokeswoman said). Skinny ties in single shades just hint at his royal status: a purple so dark it was almost black, a light silver. Pure white shirts with slightly shrunken collars and black shoes shined to a high gloss.

His silhouette, like his ties, is narrow with just a whiff of California, rather than Savile Row, in the line. There is very little to distract from his words, save for the occasional flash of a rope bracelet when he waves at the watching public.

“The entire ensemble is ‘spare’ of detail,” said Joseph Rosenfeld, an image consultant for executives in New York and Silicon Valley, nodding to Harry’s former identity as the spare. The effect is traditional enough to be respectful without seeming hidebound, Mr. Rosenfeld said. “The man knows, whether he likes it or not, that many eyes are upon him.”

The effect is of someone somber and entirely unruffled, though also, thanks to his scruffy beard — the one Harry once described as a “shield” from anxiety — himself. The opposite of the “thicko,” the “playboy prince” and the “irresponsible drug taker” the tabs tried to paint, as Harry said in his testimony. He more closely resembles a successful businessman (one who works somewhere other than the family “firm”) than a royal, which also makes him more relatable.

It’s hard to imagine that he just randomly pulled the look from his wardrobe, given the strategic way his wife, for one, has clearly considered the couple’s image-making and its effects since their relationship began.

Rather, for this purpose, Harry is clad in the supersuit of courtroom attire. Up, up and away with the phone hacking, the abuse of power, the irresponsibility. He’s an avenger of a different kind, and this is his endgame. Or, given the multiple complaints he has filed, at least Part II.

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Mohammad SHiblu

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