The Genteel
February 28, 2021



It all started with a blue dress. Since she wore that blue Issa dress at her engagement press conference in 2010, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, née Middleton, has been a touted as a style icon. Many fashion commentators have endorsed Kate's distinctive flare, with Huffington Post style editor, Jessica Misener, going as far to argue that Middleton has made it "hip to be square." For better or worse, she's at the centre of a style war amongst the royal family, style pundits and the public, who have opined polar-opposite parlance when it comes to the Duchess' fashion choices; they either love them or hate them.

While many of Middleton's critics have condemned her for being too conservative and others have claimed that she is too bold, women everywhere are attempting to emulate her style, and she has unequivocally boosted the popularity of the British designers who so often form her most coveted looks. Middleton's fashion choices at the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of late were no exception - who and what the Duchess was wearing came under the focus of the fashion microscope. 

It's only natural that after Princess Di's plunging necklines and above-the-knee hemlines, which had the fashion world clamouring for more, we would want Middleton to take it even further.

Middleton's penchant for Alexander McQueen has induced some stern chatter from the Brits. During the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the Duchess wore McQueen three times, including a modified version of a dress worn by Kim Kardashian last summer. In typical Middleton form, her version of the dress had full sleeves and was far less revealing than Kardashian's original, but the main issue was its colour: red. Her harshest analysts denounced Middleton's choice of colour as too bold and went as far to suggest she meant to upstage the Queen.

In my opinion, her choice was not only the perfect execution of the dress, it was entirely appropriate for the occasion. Had she rocked bare arms and a figure-hugging, red dress aboard the Spirit of the Chartwell, during the river pageant celebrating her grandmother-in-law, we'd expect Queen Elizabeth might start to resemble her Saturday Night Live parody. But the choice of bright, bold red and a McQueen design was the perfect combination of princess meets playful provocateur.

For those who otherwise call her choices too safe, being a member of the royal family is to be the epitome of conservative - it comes with the territory. Because of her status and profile, Middleton has been facing scrutiny from all angles. Her ability to look royally appropriate, while remaining steadfast in her style choices is a wardrobe balancing act. It's only natural that after Princess Di's plunging necklines and above-the-knee hemlines, which had the fashion world clamouring for more, we would want Middleton to take it even further. But Middleton has made a name for herself on her own terms.

Kate Middleton Duchess Cambridge Jenny Packham
The Duchess of Cambridge in Jenny Packham.

The Duchess' style is considered nostalgic - with subtle tributes to classic fashion icons. For instance, her Sarah Burton-designed wedding gown had obvious airs of the dress Grace Kelly wore. The Duchess has remained consistent and has demonstrated control when choosing high-end designers. But she doesn't shy away from wearing pieces from the high street. Her choice endorsements consistently spark shopping frenzies and approval from style authorities, such as British fashion consultant, Gok Wan. The blue Issa dress she wore during her engagement press conference sold out in less than 24 hours after images were released. The same occurred when she donned a Zara black-and-white dress (with a daring shorter hemline than we're used to from Kate) to a charity event, which sold out an hour later on the Zara website.

Most of her critics have honed in on a select few pieces from the Duchess' wardrobe. What she chooses to wear in her down time is probably more indicative of her style than her attire at formal engagements. In Vogue's round-up of Kate's style, we increasingly see hemlines creeping higher and dresses fitting tighter. For instance, when meeting with Michelle Obama, she went with a nude, above-the-knee, short-sleeve Reiss dress, which showed off her slim figure. 

Ultimately, her ability to define and influence trends is where Middleton's style power lies. Her sophisticated and sleek wardrobe, endowed with wearable looks, makes her style far more appealing to the average woman than many conventional celebrities.

I'd like to cut the Duchess of Cambridge some slack. I commend Kate for her subtle yet daring choices, her tribute to both classic and modern design but, mostly, to her unwavering steadfastness to maintain her style when under pressure. The Duchess is the perfect combination of classic and risk; quite fitting for a Queen-to-be.



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