Decoding Kate Middleton's new style strategy - how the duchess is discreetly switching things up
You thought you knew all there was to know about the Duchess of Cambridge’s style.
After almost eight years as part of the Royal family, Kate’s look has eased into a familiar pattern of mostly British labels- a high/low mix of high street (often L.K Bennett, Topshop or Zara) and designer (Alexander McQueen, Erdem and Catherine Walker feature regularly). We know that she loves feminine silhouettes and pretty prints, that skinny jeans are a mainstay and that wedges are as much a go-to as sleek pumps.
None of this has altered dramatically, but since the Duchess returned to public duties in October following her maternity leave, there has been a notable step change in her look.
This hasn’t meant a completely new wardrobe. Indeed, many of Kate’s comeback looks have been rewears of old outfits but there’s nevertheless a trend in what she’s picking out of storage.
Emilia Wickstead’s brightly coloured wool dresses have proven popular - the Duchess wore a turquoise style with a pleated skirt to visit the BBC last week. It was the dress’s third outing following its debut in 2014. Then there was a similar lilac version- no pleats- retrieved after its first sighting in 2017 for a mental health summit in October. There have been more rewears of Kate’s favourite bespoke block-coloured pieces too, in the form of a cobalt Eponine London coat dress and a bottle green Catherine Walker coat dress at the Armistice centenary service.
While you may think that not much could have changed in the six months that the Duchess took off following the birth of Prince Louis, there have been enough tectonic shifts for her role to have been subtly redefined. With the Duchess of Sussex Meghan now the glamorous newcomer and the Queen slowly relinquishing more of her duties to Prince Charles, Kate’s position is now elevated and her look is reflecting this, moving towards queen-in-waiting territory.
Her series of bright rewears plays into two of The Queen’s favourite fashion approaches- wearing bold colours so that she can be easily spotted in a crowd and showing thriftiness by using the same pieces over and over again. Meanwhile, the Duchess of Sussex, who is still building up her regal wardrobe and settling into her role, has only reworn a handful of times so far.
But the Duchess has also been switching up her look in her own way. The Alessandra Rich polka dot dress which she chose for Prince Charles’ birthday photo shoot was more Fashion (capital F intended) than she usually dares. And that she opted to accessorise an already statement mauve taffeta Alexander McQueen gown worn for the Dutch state banquet with Queen Alexandra’s pearl-bedecked necklace suggested that Kate is unafraid to stand out, even amongst a room of senior royals.
After her previous maternity leaves, Kate has preferred to ease back into her style mojo with soft, familiar fashion choices, but over the past few weeks we’ve seen her wear some of her sharpest looks ever. A new McQueen coat dress for Remembrance Day came with slick military detailing and a strictly tailored silhouette, while an off-shoulder tweed dress by Erdem was an experimental choice which divided Kate’s acolytes - some were unnerved by its fashion-forward credentials, others were overjoyed at its chicness.
That it came from a collection inspired by The Queen’s 1958 meeting with Duke Ellington perhaps gave it the pass. In fact, that’s an association which sums up Kate’s new style strategy: forging an ever sleeker sartorial path of her own whilst always paying deference to the foundations laid by The Queen.