Buzzy brands, daring dresses... Is Kate Middleton finally starting to dress her age?
For most of the time she's been in the spotlight, Kate Middleton has had a signature look: long, glossy waves, nude LK Bennett court shoes, and a wardrobe of contemporary yet classic designs by British brands like Jenny Packham, Emilia Wickstead and Alexander McQueen. She's always perfectly put-together, but tends to dress a lot older than her 35 years, in staid coat-dresses, drab lace and floor-length gowns in dull colours. The requirements of her royal position mean she often chooses conservative looks that veer on the overly formal and traditional, which only serve to age her unnecessarily. Until this year, that is.
Some have suggested it's down to her kids growing older and leaving her a little more time to focus on her wardrobe, while psychic 'experts' in the UK claim the late Princess Diana may be exerting an influence from beyond the grave...
There were hints of a subtle makeover earlier this year - most notably in June, when she stepped out in a knock-out little Gucci dress at the opening of the V&A museum's new wing in London. It was a revelation for the Duchess; rather than playing it safe, she picked a super-chic dress that managed to look fun and fresh yet appropriate, like a modern Jackie O.
But it was her appearance at Wimbledon that really piqued our interest. She chopped six inches off that famous mane, and in doing so took five years off her face. To complement the youthful 'lob', she wore a monochrome polka dot dress by Dolce & Gabbana, making for a bold look that signalled a more daring approach to fashion.
This week, Kate seemed to be back to her old ways in a dove grey Catherine Walker coat dress and matching hat that looked designed for someone twice her age, but the whole ensemble smacked of 'dressing for the in-laws'. Left to her own devices, Kate, along with her stylist Natasha Archer, has been putting together outfits that suggest she's becoming braver in her fashion choices. Is she finally starting to dress like the young woman she is, rather than a middle-aged future queen? Let's take a look at the evidence.
* The new shoes
For years, Kate was rarely spotted in any footwear other than her trademark nude patent courts. But recently she's ditched those old reliables for fashion-forward scalloped Prada sandals (yes, open toe!), block heels with barely-there straps and tasselled tweed pumps.
* The modern jewels
While she still regularly dips into the vast royal collection of fine jewellery, Kate shook things up with a pair of bright red crystal earrings by Irish designer Simone Rocha (pictured, €230 from netaporter.com) in Berlin. They were gorgeous, and an unlikely (yet very cool) pick for Kate.
* The trendy silhouettes
She may be a couple of years late to the Bardot neckline, but hell, she gave it a try all the same. Kate wore an off-the-shoulder Alexander McQueen gown to the Baftas, but it was the red McQueen maxi dress that had everyone talking in Poland last month. It was an uncharacteristically trendy and risqué move for the Duchess, and while it didn't totally work (too boho), kudos for taking the risk.
* The edgy designers
Kate's roster of trusted labels has been pretty solid for the past few years - she knows who she likes and tends to stick to them - but during the royal tour of Poland, she surprised us in a striking cocktail dress by local designer Gosia Baczynska. She may have looked a little stiff in the tightly structured gown, but I still count this a sartorial win; with its jagged pleats and graphic black detailing, it was delightfully unexpected. Here's hoping she'll keep it up - and keep us guessing.