While leggings and baggy t-shirts may be a wardrobe reality for many expectant mothers, the Duchess of Cambridge has upheld her reputation for impeccable dressing throughout her minutely documented pregnancy, right up to her final engagement before maternity leave. For that event – the annual Trooping the Colour parade in mid-June, to mark the Queen’s official birthday – Kate wore a custom-made baby pink coat by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, with matching hat. With its oversized pearl buttons, three-quarter-length sleeves and wide collar, the coat projected an ultra-soft feminine air – girly, even – while exuding retro chic à la Jackie Kennedy. It proved a popular choice for the fledgling royal, who has rarely set an LK Bennett-shod foot wrong when it comes to fashion.
Designer Julien Macdonald recently told Grazia magazine that pregnancy has brought out the Duchess’s saucy side, citing her raised hemlines. Case in point: the black-and-white animal print Hobbs coat she wore for her last solo engagement, to launch the Royal Princess cruise ship. “It’s not something you normally see on pregnant women and it’s bound to start a new maternity trend,” noted Macdonald. “Those dresses are actually very short, shorter than she ever wears usually. That’s been her trick, and it’s working – pregnancy has made her sexier.”
Keeping her look elegant, demure and largely affordable, the Duchess is proving to be a different style icon from the couture-clad Diana, Princess of Wales, with a wardrobe anchored by ladylike looks from High Street and mainly British designer labels. Jenny Packham, Emilia Wickstead, Temperley and Whistles are some of the brands blessed by the so-called ‘Duchess effect’. Tills ring each time she slips on a dress, with her outfits often selling out online in mere minutes, be it the royal-blue Issa wrap dress she wore for the official announcement of her engagement to Prince William in October 2010, or the polka-dot Topshop maternity dress she wore to a wedding last May. The blog katemiddletonstyle.org carries tips on how to “copy Kate’s style” and includes lookalike outfits that wouldn’t break the Privy Purse.
Just as Diana was posthumously dubbed ‘the People’s Princess’, so Kate – who has ‘commoner’ roots – has remained on a level accessible to her future subjects when it comes to style, opting for classic ensembles with a contemporary twist that seldom scream fashion. She even reuses pieces, hitherto considered a faux pas in high society, earnestly recycling outfits as if her pocket money depended on it; a savvy move in money-crunched times. No modern-day Marie-Antoinette is she.
Since marrying in April 2011, the Duchess has moved on from the short skirt, opaque tights and suede boots engagement ensembles to more formal attire. At times, her commitment to demurely dressing the part has veered into ‘mumsy’ terrain (even before she was officially pregnant); the 31-year-old favours long sleeves and defined waists, and has even been known to borrow mother Carole Middleton’s frocks.
But then according to glossy society magazine Tatler – which recently published tales of envy incurred by the Middleton sisters’ pristine school kit with sewn-in name tape – Kate has always been impeccably groomed and well-presented. She effortlessly exudes jolly-hockey-sticks, good-sport gusto whatever the occasion, whether wearing jeans and Le Chameau wellies or a fancy frock with a Philip Treacy creation atop.
Because a burst of colour is often as adventurous as it gets for the discreet Duchess – the scarlet pleated McQueen dress (with matching fascinator) she wore to The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations last year reportedly drew gasps from the crowd – and some fashion insiders have dismissed her style as bland. But when she chooses to go glamorous, she can knock detractors for six. Sartorial standouts for the natural beauty include the billowing lilac McQueen gown she wore to the Baftas in 2011, the teal Jenny Packham gown with cap lace sleeves that she wore to the British Olympic Team GB gala event at the Royal Albert Hall, and the striking forest green McQueen gown she wore to the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards last December, with long sleeves and a thigh-high-split.
And of course the Duchess’s exquisite wedding gown converted even the most cynical of critics with its elegance and credentials – Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, once more. Acid-tongued überdesigner Karl Lagerfeld declared “Kate’s dress was much nicer than Diana’s, which was a giant white taffeta curtain” and even praised her simple hairdo, with its “allure of the 1930s” – high praise indeed. Kaiser Karl is not the only designer who admires her: “Kate is the ultimate English rose,” Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman told Women's Wear Daily. “She’s very beautiful, very English – classic and sophisticated. She has a very royal attitude already in terms of the way she puts herself together and carries herself in public. She is the future queen, so she will be a style icon, and as a young member of the royal family she will be influential.”
Outside of royal engagements Kate favours functional smart staples, such as jersey wrap dresses and tailored blazers, even if – with her slender frame and height of a model (5ft 10in, 1.78m) – she’s a natural clotheshorse who could surely sport more avant-garde outfits. For now, while she’s nesting and nestling, her comfort zone is exemplified by the Sloaney mainstays of pearl earrings and Mulberry totes. The Duchess of Cambridge is no innovator but, by being approachably styled and attired, she brings reality to the corridors of Buckingham Palace and a welcome boost to the ailing British high street.