How Kate sub­tly upped her fash­ion game

The Duchess of Cam­bridge’s style has evolved – but set its own prece­dent, says Char­lie Gowans-Eglin­ton

The Sunday Telegraph - - Features -

The duchesses have style rules to stick to – it would be stranger if tastes didn’t over­lap

Mark Twain’s maxim that there are no new ideas is par­tic­u­larly true of fash­ion. De­sign­ers can rein­vent – and con­sumers re­dis­cover – through a mod­ern lens, but ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one ref­er­ences some­thing, even the fu­ture queen of Eng­land.

For the Duchess of Cam­bridge, find­ing a per­sonal uni­form that spans the Venn di­a­gram of all her dif­fer­ent per­sonas is tricky. Last week alone, she spent an af­ter­noon as Mum­turned-Santa’s lit­tle helper in tar­tan at a Christ­mas party, an evening as poised Duchess in full re­galia at a diplo­matic re­cep­tion, and a day as wife of the fu­ture king, show­ing her re­spect for the Bri­tish Armed Forces.

So far, so nor­mal for Kate: at this point, she’s got the quick-change down to a tee, and can segue from mum-of-three to in­formed hu­man­i­tar­ian to queen-in-wait­ing at the drop of a tiara. But since her re­turn to of­fi­cial du­ties from ma­ter­nity leave in Oc­to­ber, Kate has also qui­etly been up­ping her game.

The ru­mour mill has been quick to put this shift down to a ri­valry with the Duchess of Sus­sex – de­signer hand­bags at dawn – as Meghan’s wardrobe of in­ter­na­tional de­sign­ers has been so widely praised. She’s only five months older than Kate, but hav­ing honed her per­sonal style on a red car­pet, not in the Royal fam­ily, she has had to worry far less through­out her life about what’s “ap­pro­pri­ate”.

Kate has no­tably ex­per­i­mented with a slightly sharper, more tai­lored sil­hou­ette since Meghan’s ar­rival on the scene, wear­ing lit­tle-known la­bels such as Cana­dian la­bel Smythe, which de­signed the blazer she wore over wide-leg trousers in Cyprus last week – a brand that Meghan dis­cov­ered while film­ing Suits in Toronto. That out­fit drew par­al­lels be­tween the pair, thanks not just to the de­signer, but the tai­lored sil­hou­ette and the neu­tral colour palette – Kate more of­ten wears bright block shades and pas­tels, while Meghan favours more muted beige, khaki and navy tones. But Kate has also in­tro­duced Meghan to Bri­tish la­bels such as Emilia Wick­stead, who is a favourite with both. And with the rule book of duchess style to stick to, it would be stranger if the pair’s taste didn’t over­lap ev­ery once in a while.

What the Duchess of Cam­bridge may have learned from the Duchess of Sus­sex is to spend a lit­tle more. Kate has al­ways been one for rewear­ing her out­fits time and time again; it’s one of the things that has en­deared her to the Bri­tish pub­lic, and is a habit picked up from Princess Diana, and the Queen be­fore her. But since she makes sure to get good cost-per-wear, it makes sense to in­vest in el­e­vated pieces – as Meghan does – in the first place. Kate has al­ways worn de­sign­ers such as Alexan­der McQueen and Er­dem, so even if the bal­ance has started to shift away from the high-street pieces she was once known for – well, have you ever seen the Queen wear Zara?

The wardrobe of a work­ing royal woman is one that fol­lows tra­di­tion, but per­sonal evo­lu­tion is only nat­u­ral. Princess Diana’s style was a case in point: the puff-shoul­dered dresses, polka dots and the­atri­cal sil­hou­ettes that she favoured in her 20s gave way to a sleeker, less fussy wardrobe in her 30s, and per­haps Kate – now 36, and with three small chil­dren to cor­ral – is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing that same de­sire to strip back and sim­plify her wardrobe. Preg­nancy, and then breast­feed­ing, can take you out of the fash­ion game for at least two seasons, so if those days are now be­hind her, she might also be mak­ing up for lost time.

This week, Kate de­buted two new pieces – first, a £1,085 tar­tan skirt by Emil Emilia Wick­stead for the afore­men­tion afore­men­tioned Christ­mas party, held at Kensi Kens­ing­ton Palace for the fam­i­lies of RA RAF per­son­nel cur­rently de­ployed over­seas. ove Paired with a black cashme cash­mere cardi­gan, it was a “fash­ion” rei reimag­in­ing of Mrs Claus’s sig­na­ture garb, gar but it also nod­ded to Princess Diana’s Dian wardrobe, as Kate (and Meghan) Meghan of­ten do. The sec­ond, a new Jenny P Pack­ham dress, worn to an evening re­cep­tion rece for the diplo­matic corps at Buck Buck­ing­ham Palace, was more or­nate than her usual Pack­ham gowns. Embr Em­broi­dered with se­quins and bead­ing, it would w also have come with a higher price tag than the plainer styles she’s worn from the la­bel in the past – but it echoed the Queen’s dress per­fectly.

The most no­table ad­di­tion to Kate’s wardrobe is her grow­ing col­lec­tion of large curved head­bands, not dis­sim­i­lar to those worn by Anne Bo­leyn, that she de­buted at Prince Louis’s chris­ten­ing. It’s pos­si­ble that Kate might have taken her cue from the duchess satin head­bands worn on the Prada spring/sum­mer cat­walk… But I’d guess she’s get­ting used to car­ry­ing a lit­tle ex­tra weight on her head. Af­ter all, a crown can be rather cum­ber­some.

Sim­i­lar­i­ties: the Duchess of Cam­bridge has re­cently stepped out in out­fits that drew par­al­lels to Diana, Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Sus­sex

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