Saturday 15 December 2018

The art of the 'going home' look

As Kate Middleton channels Princess Diana while introducing her new son, Bethan Holt traces how their post-baby outfits became imbued with meaning

Kate with her third child. Photo: Reuters
Kate with her third child. Photo: Reuters

Bethan Holt

Less than seven hours after giving birth to her third child, Kate Middleton left the Lindo Wing with her new baby boy. As has become customary in Middleton's modus operandi, the look that she chose for the moment she introduced her new child to the world was meticulously polished and laden with meaning.

At just before 6pm on Monday evening, Middleton appeared at the hospital's doors wearing a dress by Jenny Packham and 85mm beige suede heels by Gianvito Rossi.

Diana leaves with Harry
Diana leaves with Harry

In red and white, the 36-year-old not only channelled the colours of England's St George's flag - she gave birth on St George's Day - but also the style legacy of her late mother-in-law, Diana, Princess of Wales. Middleton's decision to wear red is an unmistakable nod to the Jan Van Velden coat and dress which Diana wore when leaving the Lindo Wing with baby Harry in 1984. Anna Harvey, Princess Diana's former stylist, also noted that the lace Peter Pan collar is "very similar to Diana's love of collars in those days".

Red is a colour more often associated with power dressing and diplomacy than the softer, sweeter matters of new babies. Historically, it has also denoted fertility too. For Diana, and now Middleton, opting for red cements their status as royals and their babies' meaning on a national and ancestral, rather than personal, level. Less yummy mummy, more modern princess. Red is also rather helpfully renowned for its complexion-enhancing abilities.

It's a subtle shift again from the look Middleton chose when leaving hospital with Princess Charlotte - her white shift dress, decorated with a yellow primrose pattern, drew comments for being the kind of brave choice which would cause the jaw of most new mothers to drop, but was still as pretty as all things baby-centric come.

Jenny Packham is one of Middleton's inner circle of designers, depended upon to create looks tailored to specific engagements. It is unsurprising, then, that Middleton chose Packham to create her third 'going home' look, having also worn bespoke pieces by the London-based couturier when introducing Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

Diana with William in a polka dot dress. Photo: PA
Diana with William in a polka dot dress. Photo: PA

Packham has become well-versed in the practice of imbuing looks with meaning; she recently created a coat and dress which emulated a nurse's uniform for a day of engagements during which Middleton was launching a nursing campaign, while she was also behind the deep bottle green gown (with black ribbon belt) that Middleton chose for the Baftas in February - a politically sensitive look given the black dress code which had been declared by the Time's Up campaign against sexual harassment.

The art of the 'coming home' look is a relatively new one for the royals. Wedding dresses, diplomatic tour outfits and ballgowns have all been finely honed over the past two centuries, but until the birth of Prince William in 1982, babies were delivered in the privacy of royal palaces with no need to pose for pictures until they were at least a few weeks old. The first images of then-Princess Elizabeth gazing lovingly at little Prince Charles were published a month after his birth in 1948, offering plenty of time for recovery and beautifying.

There was no such luxury for Princess Diana when she left hospital, bump still visible, the day after giving birth to William and, two years later, Harry. Similarly, Middleton faced the world's cameras little more than 24 hours after George's delivery and a mere 10 hours after Charlotte's.

While most new mums choose the stretchiest leggings and roomiest jumpers they can find for the journey, Diana and Kate have used their outfits to signal something about their public image.

Kate with baby George. Photo: PA
Kate with baby George. Photo: PA

In the mid-80s, maternity style was all about voluminous, billowing shapes which acted as tent-like bump coverings - concealing rather than accentuating. While expecting William, Diana turned to childrenswear designer Catherine Walker (who would go on to become her most trusted dressmaker) to make her a few simple dresses, one of which was a turquoise polka dot style with a bow at the neckline and puff sleeves. She first wore it to a polo match, but it became a 'going home' look which conjured all the romance which might be expected at such a moment in the narrative of a fairytale princess (as Diana was then considered). She looked laid-back and girlish, with many newspapers remarking on her 'radiant' appearance.

For Harry's homecoming, the look was more serious. Her red coat and shirt dress was devoid of soft, pretty details, its pussy bow seeming more businesslike than feminine and the wide shoulders more power dressing than princess. This was the beginning of her so-called 'Dynasty Di' period, when Diana's fashion choices began to be more confident and bold, often setting trends rather than simply following them.

Fast forward more than 30 years and, for Middleton, fashion considerations are even more complex. The images of her leaving hospital have been beamed around the world in an instant with hundreds of cameras catching her every angle.

When she emerged with Prince George in 2013, wearing a pale blue polka dot dress, immediate comparisons were drawn with the outfit worn by Diana to present William to the world. It was a sensitive sartorial tribute at a moment when her absence was keenly felt. Although Middleton's style squad - stylist Natasha Archer and hairdresser Amanda Cook Tucker - were pictured arriving at the hospital, the results of their work were soft and subtle; the new mum's hair was styled in natural, loose waves, her make-up was minimal and she wore comfortable wedges rather than heels.

With Princess Charlotte's birth, it was a different story, due to the aforementioned 'brave' choice of a white Jenny Packham dress, albeit as pretty and loose as the first. Middleton paired the look with her beloved beige heels this time while her hair and make-up was more glamorous - bouncing curls and lashings of eyeliner.

If the post-George look was 'relatable(ish) and relaxed new mum', then the message post-Charlotte was that of a consummate professional royal.

With baby number three, Middleton would have been forgiven a maternity jeans and jersey top ensemble. But it wasn't to be - and while she and Packham couldn't have known that Royal Baby Three would definitely arrive on St George's Day (unless Middleton is even more magical than her ability to wear heels on the same day as giving birth implies), their sartorial gamble paid off with one of the most symbolic 'going home' looks it could have been possible to conjure.

Irish Independent

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