Tuesday 19 March 2019

Inside Kate Middleton's Northern Ireland wardrobe – how she stepped out of her comfort zone

Kate Middleton scored a fashion in in Northern Ireland
Kate Middleton scored a fashion in in Northern Ireland
Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge greets wellwishers as she arrives in Ballymena, Northern Ireland on February 28, 2019. (Photo by Paul FAITH / AFP)
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, is greeted on her arrival for a visit to CineMagic at the Braid Arts Centre on February 28, 2019 in Ballymena, Northern Ireland
The Duchess of Cambridge arrives at the Empire Music Hall in Belfast, as part of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's two day visit to Northern Ireland. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.
Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (R) and Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge visit the Empire Music Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland on February 27, 2019. (Photo by Samir Hussein / POOL / AFP)
Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge arrives to visit the Irish Football Association in Belfast, Northern Ireland on February 27, 2019. (Photo by Tim ROOKE / POOL / AFP)
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge speak to members of the military during a visit on February 27, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland
Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge joke plays football with children during a visit to the Irish Football Association in Belfast, Northern Ireland on February 27, 2019. (Photo by Tim ROOKE / POOL / AFP)
The Duchess of Cambridge during her and the Duke of Cambridge's visit to Roscor Youth Village, Co Fermanagh as part of their two day tour of Northern Ireland
Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge smiles as she takes part in canoeing during a visit to Roscor Youth Village, a residential activity centre for children, on the west of Northern Ireland on February 27, 2019
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge watches a coaching session during their visit to Windsor Park, Belfast as part of their two day visit to Northern Ireland
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge takes part in a cross community IFA demonstration at Windsor Park on February 27, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland
Caitlin McBride

Caitlin McBride

After so many years in the royal fishbowl, Kate Middleton has royal dressing down to an art form.

As Britain's Duchess of Cambridge, she has to master a delicate balance between attracting enough positive attention through high fashion looks (while adhering to modesty protocols) and also being seen as frugal by recycling clothes and accessories as often as possible. Her look is uniform more than anything, which made her two-day trip to Northern Ireland was even more noteworthy - it was full of surprises.

Kate's projected image as a down-to-earth royal relies on consistency: she uses on the same roster of designers that have supported her over the years and wears so many similar styles to the point of predictability. However, during her whirlwind 48 hours across the North, she let her hair down and dipped her toe in the high fashion pool in a way we haven't seen in some time.

She and Prince William embarked on a surprise trip on Wednesday in what is believed to be an act of soft diplomacy in the wake of a looming Brexit. On arrival to her first engagement at the Irish Football Association, she met with well-wishers in a typically Kate ensemble - a red Carolina Herrera coat she first wore in 2016 and a pair of lace-up heels from an old reliable, L.K. Bennett.

Prince William Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, play football during a visit the National Stadium in Belfast, home of the Irish Football Association on February 27, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland
Prince William Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, play football during a visit the National Stadium in Belfast, home of the Irish Football Association on February 27, 2019 in Belfast, Northern Ireland

After, it was time for a quick-change to hit the pitch for a football game with local children at Winsdor Park Stadium snf back to where she's at her most comfortable - in a pair of €45 New Balance runners, skinny jeans and a Barbour jacket. Ralph Lauren, an American brand which fits her athletic preppy off-duty aesthetic was the perfect choice for her cable knit cream striped jumper during the game.

The jam-packed schedule included a canoe trip at the Roscor Youth Village in Fermanagh, where the charity Extern provides young people referred by social workers with a safe space to learn and have fun, during which she wore the same outfit. It was also the perfect set-up to remind royal watchers of her previous days in rowing and sailing teams at St Andrew's University and a natural set-up to showcase the genuine charm that s when she and William display when they are put in friendly competition with one another.

Come nightfall, she debuted another new look - a mint green shimmering wrap dress by Missoni, a look so notably distant from her usual attire, it sparked another instant sell-out, a consumer reaction we haven't seen in some time as the fashion focus has remained on her rule-breaking sister-in-law. The shade of green was the only nod of fashion diplomacy during the trip, undoubtedly a disappointment to the plethora of talented designers in Belfast and beyond.

It was jarring to see her pulling pints of Guinness in a €2,200 dress, but that is the enigma of modern royalty. The pièce de résistance, however, was a sky blue Mulberry cape coat she wore on Thursday morning during a visit to CineMagic at the Braid Arts Centre in Ballymena, Co Antrim. She has been a long-serving customer of Mulberry for more than a decade, so the designer choice wasn't a surprise, but the experimental cape and heightened shoulder detail certainly was. It added a level of high fashion edge so rarely seen on her.

Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (R) and Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge visit the Empire Music Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland on February 27, 2019. (Photo by Samir Hussein / POOL / AFP)
Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (R) and Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge visit the Empire Music Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland on February 27, 2019. (Photo by Samir Hussein / POOL / AFP)

There are myriad reasons we could speculate what is behind this move from classic Kate - the first being that her stylist Natasha Archer, with whom she has been working since 2014, is on maternity leave; but also, that she understands better than anyone the head-to-toe scrutiny she will face on a trip like this. Separately, there is also speculation that she chooses which occasions to recycle in order to focus more on the event at hand (usually for a charity) and other times when she goes all out knowing the blanket coverage a visit like this would require.

Overall, her clothing offered the perfect harmony of new, exciting outfit changes with familiarity, which was likely the goal.

Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge greets wellwishers as she arrives in Ballymena, Northern Ireland on February 28, 2019. (Photo by Paul FAITH / AFP)
Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge greets wellwishers as she arrives in Ballymena, Northern Ireland on February 28, 2019. (Photo by Paul FAITH / AFP)

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