The spectacular style evolution of the Duchess of Cambridge

·5-min read
 (Evening Standard)
(Evening Standard)

The last few years have been turbulent for The Royal Family. But one thing has been consistent: the Duchess of Cambridge and her (near) faultless wardrobe. Call it service with a smile—and a crêpe de chine Gucci blouse.

It hasn’t always been the case. The girlfriend years weren’t great (though credit where it’s due, the late noughties where tough on most). Sure enough, though, the nation watched Kate ascend from Marlborough College, via a certain St Andrews catwalk (yes, that one), to the plush sofas of Kensington Palace with beau Prince William.

For all the glorious glitz (which, if her recent Bond girl moment is anything to go by, we can expect plenty more of), her rise has been defined by relatability. She is princess of the mix-and-match, high-low combo. Notably less Carrie Bradshaw in a tutu and Manolos, more Hobbs hidden under a McQueen coat.

The other staple you’ll find in (what one can only imagine to be) her palatial walk-in wardrobe, is a sea of Great British labels. With her Emilia Wicksteads, Christopher Kanes and flicker of floral Erdem, the duchess has made London Fashion Week’s runway looks a regular part of her arsenal.

 (Kensington Palace via Getty Imag)
(Kensington Palace via Getty Imag)

Now, Kate steps into her forties looking better than ever. In 2019, her style received a leg-up from ex-Vogue editor Ginnie Chadwyck-Healey, who subtly overhauled the duchess’s style. The effect was less co-ord tweed and more Miu Miu Christmas cardigans and floor length flares — increasingly daring and yet more elegant too. Not to mention her fortieth birthday portraits by one of fashion’s favourite photographers, Paolo Roversi. Chic.

Here’s a refresher on the sartorial ascent of a polished princess.

Shaky start

L-R: March 13, 2007;  April 11, 2008; March 2002;  December 15, 2006 (Evening Standard)
L-R: March 13, 2007; April 11, 2008; March 2002; December 15, 2006 (Evening Standard)

Parading down the University catwalk in a see-through skirt pulled up to be a dress? Not your average ‘once upon a time’ tale, but you can’t say the duchess-to-be wasn’t efficient. “Kate’s hot,” Prince William is rumoured to have said, while watching on in 2002. The look garnered some other fans too, notably ‘Nick from Jersey’ who copped it at auction for a cool £78,000. From there came a line-up of distinctly uninspiring overcoats and one totally tweed look for Cheltenham racecourse in 2007. Those Y2K sunglasses are long overdue a reappearance, though.

Fashion history is made

L-R: November 16, 2010; April 28, 2011; April 29, 2011; April 30, 2011 (Evening Standard)
L-R: November 16, 2010; April 28, 2011; April 29, 2011; April 30, 2011 (Evening Standard)

Wave goodbye to Kate the girlfriend, hello Catherine the Great. On November 16, 2010, the engagement was out and a figure hugging, silk jersey Issa wrap dress was in. Nothing says timeless like a royal blue outfit to match Princess Diana’s engagement ring. The wedding outfit itself needs no introduction. But for the record, the Alexander McQueen gown of English and Chantilly lace, stitched with intertwining roses, thistles, daffodils and shamrocks complete with a hand embroidered veil from the Royal School of Needlework, and the Cartier Halo tiara was undisputedly a fashion moment of the highest calibre. The days before and after the April 2011 marriage, Middleton remained rooted in a pair of patent LK Bennett wedges. Thankfully, their days were numbered.

Lacey days

L-R: November 7, 2015; October 21, 2015; July 1, 2016; June 30, 2011 (Evening Standard)
L-R: November 7, 2015; October 21, 2015; July 1, 2016; June 30, 2011 (Evening Standard)

These bodycon, knee length lace dresses have flagged against the test of time. Some style turbulence during the 2010s is only natural. Touching down in Canada, June 2011, Middleton wore a navy lace and white dress from Erdem’s Resort 2012 collection, while 2015 saw the arrival of baggier, burgundy lace sleeves by Dolce & Gabbana to meet President Xi Jinping. The lace look was somewhat redeemed by the duchess’s visit to the Battle of the Somme memorial in 2016, where she wore a classy Jenny Packham cream two-piece spruced with a Peter Pan collar. Nevertheless, lacey Kate has yet to step forth in the new decade.

Rinse and repeat

L-R: February 25, 2011; February 6, 2017; September 13, 2012; February 2, 2020 (Evening Standard)
L-R: February 25, 2011; February 6, 2017; September 13, 2012; February 2, 2020 (Evening Standard)

It is well known the Duchess has no fear of stepping out in the same outfit (gasp) twice. And they usually come back better. The 2020 BATFA Awards saw the gold flower embellished, cream Alexander McQueen gown reappear from a 2012 trip to Malaysia. For its double act, the sleeves were given a new lining while some red carpet va-va-voom came in the form of lavish Van Cleef and Arpels jewellery, glittering gold Jimmy Choos and a matching Anya Hindmarch clutch. Level up. Then there is the favourite Luisa Spagnoli red skirt suit which, you will notice, has grown from lower thigh to knee length over the years. Ever the conscious conservative.

Long live McQueen

L-R: March 12, 2019; June 3, 2019; October 23, 2018; February 13, 2011 (Evening Standard)
L-R: March 12, 2019; June 3, 2019; October 23, 2018; February 13, 2011 (Evening Standard)

Which duo is more iconic? Will and Kate, or Kate and McQueen. The British brand helmed by Sarah Burton has been woven into the duchess’s image since she said ‘I do’. The overcoats are a day-time delight and they’ve kitted her out for Royal Ascot, but it is the go-to, floor length gowns that have been most jaw dropping. A crumpled silk, kingfisher blue trumpet dress worn to a 2018 State Banquet was pure Princess Diaries perfection, even if some like to slam it as prom gone wrong. The Royal Family Order ribbon brooch is a welcomed bonus. The flounced floral worn to the National Portrait Gallery was another hit, however, a surprise gift of three new Paolo Roversi portraits of the duchess wearing McQueen, released the night before her fortieth, easily snag the crown.

Queen-in-waiting

L-R: April 17, 2021; March 3, 2020; September 28, 2021; March 12, 2019 (Evening Standard)
L-R: April 17, 2021; March 3, 2020; September 28, 2021; March 12, 2019 (Evening Standard)

After one May wedding in 2018, it was official. There was a new girl on the scene — one who could cut a look, too. Far from throwing her towel in, Meghan Markle caused Kate step up her fashion game once again. With a metallic green The Vampire’s Wife dress, she joined designer Susie Cave’s fan club (headed up by Jodie Comer and Sienna Miller). For Prince Philip’s funeral, the duchess looked impeccable in a Catherine Walker black coat and sculpted face mask. And then, bang! On the James Bond No Time To Die red carpet, she shocked (in the best way) in a dazzling, gold sequin caped gown from Jenny Packham, her go-to designer for glitter. Will it mark a turning point for more fashion risks in her forties? We can pray. As for the purple Gucci pussy-bow blouse she insists on wearing back to front, remember this: when it comes to dressing the part, Kate always knows best.

Scroll the gallery above for more of the Duchess of Cambridge’s best looks.

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