Style Transformation Part Two: The Duchess of Cambridge (2011-2017)

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Kate inspecting the shots from her British Vogue photo shoot in 2016

And so we dive into Kate Middleton’s style as Duchess of Cambridge. Now, as I should think will become abundantly apparent, I am not a fashion expert. I like clothes as much as the next girl, but I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about them. I like what I like and what I am comfortable in, and that’s pretty much the extent of it. But I actually suspect that Kate is the same way – for all that she has become an arbiter of style, I don’t think she particularly cares that much.

Based on photos, I think she had slightly more fun with it in her 20s, and I think she enjoyed the novelty of dressing in the public eye the first two years of her marriage, but I believe that has tapered off since having children. She has a classic style, but isn’t too fussed about shoes or accessories. She is comfortable with a certain style of makeup and hair, and I think becomes markedly uncomfortable when she deviates from them. The crowd waiting for iconic fashion moments from Kate are going to be (and have been) disappointed. Her iconic looks are going to be her iconic looks because of who she is, but they certainly won’t be groundbreaking in and of themselves.

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I think one of the most telling quotes about Kate comes from the Editor-in-Chief of British Vogue, Alexandra Shulman, who managed to secure the Duchess for the cover of the magazine’s centenary issue in 2016. To-date, it’s the only photo shoot for a publication Kate has done, but it made sense given her role in British fashion and the historic nature of the issue. Shulman said:

Diana was more interested in that high-voltage celebrity, that was something she really embraced. The Duchess of Cambridge is prepared to do her bit, but it’s not one of the things that she most cares about. She loves her kids and the countryside. Dressing up, that’s a professional side to her. It’s a sort of uniform, all those lovely couture costumes.

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To a certain extent, I think this is how Kate views her entire role in the Royal Family. She has earnestly taken it all on and wants to do a good job, but I think her priorities are William and her children, and her dedication to being a future queen is directly tied to her personal relationship with them and the rest of William’s family. I think this attitude has occasionally drawn the ire of royal watchers and fashion critics who want to see some abstract notion of “more” from her, and while I understand that, I also think it unlikely to change any time soon.

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Moving right along, this post will obviously not include every look that Kate has worn in the past five years – that would be way too much and make this way too long. What it will do is capture key moments, overall trends and provide some context on images so that you can see how they fit it into the larger narrative of Kate and William thus far.

A few notes, before we start getting into specific looks – for the vast majority of images selected, I have gone with “first wears,” and not included recycled outfits. For each year, I am leaving out a few critical events – St. Patrick’s Day, Remembrance Day, the Trooping of the Colour and Christmas – as these will be tracked at the end.

2011

The day after their wedding, on April 30th, William and Kate took off for a mini-moon in a “mystery location” in the UK (you can see Kate’s “going away” dress at the end of Part One), before returning to their home in Anglesey, Wales. The couple had moved to a large farmhouse there before their engagement in 2010 from where William worked with the Royal Air Force and it would remain their primary base until 2013. Indeed, at the time of their wedding it was widely reported and understood that the couple would be given a grace period for William to finish out his duties with the RAF, enjoy their time as newlyweds and delay becoming full-time working Royals. That grace period has been extended somewhat longer than was expected, with Kensington Palace only recently reporting that William (and only William) would be assuming full-time duties in 2017.

Thus, the first photos of Kate post all of her Alexander McQueen bridal glory was her grocery shopping in skinny jeans. (For the most part this post will only capture Kate when she’s “on-duty” and not paparazzi shots, but I’ll make an exception here.) JFYI, Kate’s ballet flat of choice is French Sole.

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The couple would then jet off to the Seychelles for a proper honeymoon (and be upset a year or so later when international titles published long lens shots of the couple walking on the beach). Upon their return in May they met with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at Buckingham Palace, the photos from which are included in this earlier post.

In June, Kate attended the Epsom Derby alongside William and Harry, and even after hundreds of other appearances, this still remains one of my favorite looks of her. It’s a perfect mix of Middleton and Cambridge, essentially a more grown-up twist on the favored blazers and light dresses and skirts that she favored when single.

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From there we had our first glimpse of a very done-up, non-bridal Kate at the ARK dinner, which can be spotted in the first image from this post. This entire look is one of Kate’s most iconic and, I believe, the first time she showcased designer Jenny Packham, who has subsequently become one of her mainstays, and rivals Alexander McQueen for dressing the Duchess for her most significant moments.

Later in June she would debut a style that she has repeated many times since – the military motif. This time it was in the form of a navy Alexander McQueen coat dress which she wore to present medals and meet with family of the Irish Guards, recently returned from Afghanistan. I’ve never been a fan of this style on Kate – it’s always felt a bit costume-y, particularly because she usually does it for engagements associated with the military. However, of all those looks, this one is my favorite:

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Two days later she attended Wimbledon with William, showing off a Temperley London dress, yet another brand that would become a pillar of Kate’s closet. This particular look prompted some speculative press stories about how thin Kate had become since her engagement (which, then, was markedly slimmer than she had been pre-2007 break up), as did the tan Reiss dress she had worn to meet the Obamas. I, for one, love this dress, and it’s one of the few ruffled skirts on Kate that I genuinely like (Kate loves a good ruffle).

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Finally, on June 30, William and Kate departed from London to begin their first overseas tour to Canada and California. It would be Kate’s first trip to the United States. Her outfit at departure brought us her navy Smythe blazer, which she has repeated many times over the years, and all-told is one of her best looks – she looks chic, professional and ready for what basically amounted to her first business trip:

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But Kate does not land wearing the same outfit in which she departed. No, she makes a costume change mid-air and unveils yet another designer debut, this time the Canadian brand Erdem, yet another wardrobe mainstay. (As you’ll see, a lot of the brands Kate discovered in the first months of her marriage, she has stuck to over the years.)

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This dress hits three of Kate’s likes: blue, lace, sheath

There would be a striking debut of a purple Issa dress that evening, sadly never to be heard from again. As I mentioned in the last post, the brand has been largely retired, despite its prevalence in Kate’s wardrobe in the years leading up to her marriage:

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A last for Issa, but one of the first “updos” we ever saw on the Duchess

In my opinion, Kate’s first two overseas tour in 2011 and 2012 were knocked out of the park fashion-wise – part of it is probably that when she showed off these looks it was all still a bit of a novelty, but part of it is that Kate was making distinct changes to her overall style and had the element of surprise up her sleeve. Nowadays it’s rare to be genuinely taken aback by Kate’s fashion, but that is somewhat due to the fact that she seemed to be having more fun with it in her younger years. And she probably was – she was basically being photographed playing dress up, at least for the less somber engagements.

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From L to R: 1) Canadian Barbie in Reiss; 2) Joseph dress; 3) Same Joseph dress under a pink jacket; 4) Repeated Smythe blazer with J Brand jeans – J Brand skinnies and a blazer became Kate’s unofficial uniform for more casual engagements

William and Kate have been careful in how they invoke the memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, but invoke they have certainly done on occasion. Kate, in particular, has given a respectful nod to Diana with some of her wardrobe choices, which I’ve always found interesting. Kate has been compared to her mother-in-law since her “girlfriend” days, and that only increased after her engagement and marriage. But instead of avoiding these occasions, Kate seems to have embraced them head on. One such nod has been to make Catherine Walker, the brand made famous by Diana, a mainstay in her closet for special occasions. It was in Canada in 2011 that she first debuted the brand, which she would wear twice in one tour:

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Take notice of the LK Bennett sledge court shoe on the right, which are also pictured in images above. These four-inch platform heels became Kate’s go-to shoe for most of 2011/2012.

A few more from Canada:

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A navy trench recycled from her single days; Alexander McQueen sweater dress; yellow Jenny Packham

And then on to California where the pièce de résistance was certainly the violet BAFTA event dress, pictured in this post, but an opportunity for Kate to add a few more designers to her repertoire:

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L to R: Diane von Furstenberg; Jenny Packham again; Roksanda Illincic; Whistles with navy Prada pumps

After their overseas tour, which was marked a huge success by UK and international media, the couple returned home, splitting their time between Anglesey and Nottingham Cottage in Kensington Palace. In November it was announced that they would be given the use of KP’s Apartment 1A, the palace’s largest residence and the former home of Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon. Though, the residence underwent extensive renovations before the couple moved in.

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From L to R on the above images:

  1. Kate’s wedding dress was put on display within Buckingham Palace in the latter half of 2011. Here she is seen viewing the gown for the first time alongside Queen Elizabeth, the first time the two partook in a one-on-one engagement. Kate is wearing a pale pink dress by Joseph, which I loved and think is worth a recycle.
  2. A military get up by Alexander McQueen that was popular when she wore it and was repeated in 2016. I’ve never been a huge fan, finding it a bit costume-y. I also thought it looked slightly too big on her.
  3. A silver Grecian-style Jenny Packham, which was on the daring side for Kate and hasn’t been seen since. I thought she looked gorgeous.
  4. A silver Amanda Wakeley gown Kate wore when pinch-hitting for Prince Charles at an engagement he had to back out of last minute. It was an interesting choice for Kate, though in keeping with the aesthetic she likes in gowns – fitted bodice, floaty skirt. The engagement also marked Kate’s first solo appearance, having been accompanied by William hitherto as she eased into royal duties.
  5. A red LK Bennett coat worn to a UNICEF event in November 2011 in Copenhagen, which she has recycled many times. She is pictured here with Crown Princess Mary of Denmark. I was underwhelmed with this at the time and still hate the belt.

And finally, the last look we’ll record for 2011, which is another of my favorites – a strapless black velvet Alexander McQueen gown that she wore to the Sun Military Awards in December 2011. It was – and still is – some of the most serious jewelry Kate has worn for an engagement.

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2012

2012 was a big year for Britain, London in particular, as they celebrated both the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (60 years on the throne) and hosted the Summer Olympics. William and Kate would take a prominent role in both events, with the couple, alongside Prince Harry, doing their part to cheer on “Team GB.”

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Kate attending Olympic events before and after the games were underway, as well the Olympic gala that May for which she donned a turquoise Jenny Packham that was universally adored by almost everyone. I was not one of those people – the gown itself is beautiful, but the color always struck me as slightly off, even juvenile. But I am very much in the minority here and this is one of Kate’s more famous looks.

Kate at a handful of Diamond Jubilee Events:

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A tweed Missoni coat recycled by Kate and two new Alexander McQueen dresses. My personal favorite is the pale lace on the right, though the red was considered the “hit.”

A few other odds and ends from 2012, which I think were either hits or yawns. 2011 was an aberration year for Kate in that most of what she wore was new. 2012, on the other hand, is when she really cemented her reputation for recycling outfits and favoring very specific silhouettes. There was little I actively disliked about her choices this year, but certainly there were a few I found rather dull. A sampling across the board:

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From L to R: 1) Yellow Emilia Wickstead coat dress; 2) Matthew Williamson sheath with turquoise decals; 3) Pink pleated Emilia Wickstead worn as part of the Jubilee celebrations; 4) Orla Kiely coat dress with rarely-seen ankle boots

One of Kate’s most prominent and seemingly-favored patronages is that of the National Portrait Gallery in London. Kate, an art history major herself at St. Andrews, has attended numerous events on their behalf over the years; indeed, her own portrait now hangs alongside those of other modern Royals. The image below is from one such engagement, during which she debuted this blue Stella McCartney as well as more conspicuous (and pricey) jewelry. I loved this dress at the time, though my favorite wearing of it didn’t come until 2016 when she paired it with a blazer, a headband and Prince George.

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And here is a simple blue Reiss dress, rumored to have been borrowed from her mother, Carole Middleton (the Middleton women are famous for sharing clothing and accessories). She wore it on the occasion of her first speech as a member of the Royal Family.

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2012 also marked what is, perhaps, my favorite evening look of Kate’s, from Roland Mouret. She has repeated the dress since, putting her hair in a ponytail and adding a necklace, but I cared for that less as I thought the necklace detracted from the structure of the gown. The shoes here, by Prada, are the perfect touch:

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Now the Southeast Asia tour, which I may like even more than the Canada/US tour of 2011, though it’s hard to say. I thought Kate’s selections were gorgeous, unique and occasionally surprising – compared with the 2011 and 2014 tours, she has recycled these looks less and it’s a shame because some of these pieces are stunning. The tour started in September and included stops in Singapore, Malaysia and the Solomon Islands. The first look was a pink floral Jenny Packham dress, which Kate wore for her first engagement after landing in Singapore:

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A few other looks from Singapore:

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From L to R: 1) A very un-Kate-like Prabal Gurung; 2) A light blue Jenny Packham day dress; 3) A white eyelet LK Bennett ensemble which she has recycled since; 4) A floral Erdem

Next up was Malaysia. Kate wore a white and gold Jenny Packham on the first night there, which I absolutely detested, though she carried it off well.

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The couple were also in Malaysia when photos taken of the couple while on holiday in France earlier in the year were published in Closer. The photos, captured via long lens cameras, were taken of the couple while Kate was sunbathing topless on the terrace of a private residence. The couple were livid and the Palace reacted strongly, but the show also had to go on: The couple underwent two engagements that day, though by the end of it William was downright glaring at the press covering their tour.

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Kate in Temperley, left, and Beulah, right

The Solomon Islands went a bit better for the couple – William and Kate appeared to have fun, and some fantastic colorful photographs were captured:

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I don’t think William looks at all uncomfortable. All hail:

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The couple laid fairly low after returning to the UK, though Kate had a smattering of engagements in the fall, three of which are featured here:

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From L to R:

  1. I include this black Temperley dress only because it is my least favorite thing Kate has ever worn. I can’t even begin to wrap my head around those sleeves.
  2. And here is a green silk Mulberry that features small peace signs all over it. From afar I actually don’t hate it, but it was generally disliked at the time. It’s notable for 1) being one of the pricier dresses Kate had worn for a casual occasion and 2) the fact that she wore it to a press meet and greet and some hypothesized the peace signs were symbolic. She had also debuted a slight fringe, which almost broke the internet.
  3. And finally here in a plaid Alexander McQueen coat dress. She was, in fact, pregnant with Prince George at this point, though it hadn’t yet been announced.

On December 3, the Palace announced that Kate was pregnant and had entered hospital due to a severe case of hyperemesis gravidarum that kept her out of commission for a few weeks. Engagements were cancelled and the media may have actually broken. She reappeared later in the month to hand out an award at the BBC Sports Personality of Year awards show. The green Alexander McQueen she wore is also easily in my Top 10 Kate looks and, indeed, is a similar style to that of the white Roland Mouret.

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2013

And so we enter our first year of maternity fashion. 2013 and 2015, the two years in which Kate gave birth to her children, were truncated on the engagements front. She suffered severe HG with both pregnancies that took her out of commission on the front end, and then took maternity leave on the back end after each was born. The couple were still splitting their time between Anglesey and Nottingham Cottage at KP, while renovations went on at Apartment 1A. However, in January of this year, the Queen announced that she had given the couple use of Anmer Hall, an estate on the rounds of Sandringham in Norfolk. It would serve as their country house, however it, too, required extensive renovations, prompting a fair amount of media commentary on how much was being spent on both homes.

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Kate in a coat by Joseph in early 2013

Kate’s maternity fashion has received mixed reviews. She seemed to shy away from purchasing actual maternity wear, choosing to re-purpose large items or buy non-maternity garments in larger sizes. Sometimes it worked, and other times things did look a bit tight or short.

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A sampling of Kate’s looks over the course of her pregnancy

By June, at eight months pregnant, Kate didn’t have much choice but to turn to actual maternity wear. Here is one of her last looks before beginning maternity leave at a ceremony to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation:

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Pink Jenny Packham and the trusty LK Bennet sledge heels

July commenced the Great Kate Wait, during which reporters started camping out outside St. Mary’s Hospital in London, on call for Kate go into labor. Not at all weird, I’m sure. Apparently photos were actually captured of Kate and William arriving at the hospital, but out of respect, the press declined to publish them, waiting for the official photo-op after the baby’s birth.

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And there he is: Prince George. Kate wore a blue polka-dot Jenny Packham dress that mirrored the polka-dot dress Diana had worn when she left hospital with William.

The couple departed for Kate’s parents’ house in Berkshire where they stayed for the immediate days and weeks after George’s birth, before returning with him to Anglesey. By September, however, the couple prepared to leave Wales for good and set up camp in Apartment 1A. Having originally moved there 3 1/2 years before, prior to their engagement, and being able to spend a few weeks of their son’s life there must have been bittersweet. Kate unofficially reemerged from maternity leave in August to take part in a goodbye celebration from the town and, naturally, was already back in her skinny jeans:

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In September Kate attended a Tusk charity event, a foundation focused on African conservation, a cause close to William’s heart. True to form, she selected a Jenny Packham gown, however this time it was a surprisingly glitzy choice for the Duchess. I wasn’t in love with this dress at the time – something about its fit looked off to me, and Kate, herself, looked uncomfortable in photos. I suspect she was, and wasn’t ready to be photographed from every angle less than two months after giving birth. Which is not to say she wasn’t ready, she looks amazing, but her personal discomfort was occasionally evident.

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While William and Kate did have a temporary nanny, and eventually a full-time one, it was reported that Kate was committed to doing as much hands-on parenting as possible. This seemingly included night feedings (Kate breast-fed both her children) and there were a few occasions when Kate looked like any new mother – exhausted. George is believed to have been a difficult baby – constantly hungry, a crier and didn’t sleep well.

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Kate in LK Bennett in November

The most noticeable change was Kate’s hair. She was wearing it longer, occasionally straightening it and was sporting a more severe middle-part. At the engagement captured in the image above Kate was mortified when the press picked up on grey roots. They were hastily touched up before her next event.

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George was christened in October, for which Kate wore a cream Alexander McQueen suit. That evening she wore an inky blue Jenny Packham gown for an event at Kensingston Palace. The JP gown has been repeated a few times since, its debut appearance is actually least favorite showing of it because of Kate’s hair. It worked notably well in December 2014 when Kate was pregnant with Charlotte  and wore her hair up, showing off its neckline.

2014

This year got off to a slow start on the engagement-front, in large part because the Cambridges were leaving on their third overseas tour to Australia and New Zealand in April. There was much discussion of whether the couple would bring George with them for the tour, which they eventually opted to do, mirroring Charles and Diana bringing William with them on a tour of Australia when he was roughly George’s age.

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Kate in LK Bennett in February

In April, William, Kate and George arrived in Australia. When they landed, Kate debuted not only a new Catherine Walker coat dress, but the best view of George the public had received up until that point. The little prince’s unimpressed facial expressions would soon become the stuff of memes:

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I wasn’t a huge fan of this look; it reminded me a bit too much of a mid-century airline hostess uniform

The most marked change that this tour saw was a shift from the classic white, cream and navy color scheme that Kate had favored to bold, bright pieces. As always, the pieces Kate chooses are beautiful and well-made, but in my opinion the fashion from this tour lagged behind that of the 2011 and 2012 tours. 2014 is the year that it became a bit of a repeat show – even new items were variations of other pieces from Kate’s closet.

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There were however a few standouts, for example this dress by LK Bennett, which Kate has subsequently recycled, was universally adored:

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Curiously, the Duchess also chose to debut two American designers – Texas-based Lela Rose and New York’s Tory Burch for two separate engagements. Both were well-received, particularly the white Lela Rose, which I was fairly agnostic on, not loving the peplum detailing around the waist:

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But while there were significant new pieces added into the mix (I haven’t done the math, but I think it’s from this tour more than any other from which Kate pulls re-wears), Kate also did a lot of recycling of former looks more so than any previous tour. One clear standout was yet another American designer, Diane von Furstenberg, whose label she had first publicly worn post-marriage when visiting the United States three years before:

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She also chose to close the tour in American designer Michael Kors, making the Oz/NZ trip (strangely) one of the densest collection of U.S. brands all at once.

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The couple returned to the UK in late April, the tour having been deemed a success and the presence of Prince George a hit. In July it was announced that Kate would be making her first solo overseas trip to Malta in September – essentially a truncated tour that would last only a few days.

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Some other post-tour fashion, from L to R: 1) Christopher Kane; 2) Zimmerman; 3) Alexander McQueen for a day trip to Belgium; 4) Jaeger

Kate also added into rotation another label to which she has remained loyal: Goat. The brand, like Hobbs, has become a second tier mainstay, though its pieces often receive mixed reviews. Both looks here proved fairly controversial when they were first seen:

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In September the Palace announced Kate’s second pregnancy, as well as the fact that she was once again suffering from HG and would have to back out of several engagements, including her planned trip to Malta. William went in her place, but based on some of the looks she showcased during her first trimester, when she was feeling better, I think she ended up finding ways to re-purpose outfits planned for the trip.

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Kate in Jenny Packham, left, and Temperley, right. I adored the JP look from head to toe, while the Temperley I liked, but will acknowledge didn’t photograph well. Both were departures from the more monotone looks of the Oz/NZ trip and thus, I was in favor.

In December, William and Kate made their second trip to the U.S., this time to New York. They visited the 9/11 memorial, took in a basketball game and met Jay-Z and Beyonce, creating a number of memorable photo-ops.

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From L to R: 1) Seraphine maternity coat; 2) Mulberry; 3) Lace Beaulah cocktail dress; 4) Black lace DVF gown

2015

The maternity wear from Kate’s second pregnancy tends to be less divisive than that of her first. Now that she knew the ropes, she seemed more confident and willing to use traditional maternity wear, particularly during the latter half of her pregnancy.

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From L to R: 1) Kate visiting the set of Downton Abbey; 2) In Max Mara; 3) In Beulah London

During Kate’s third trimester, she and William were finally able to move into Anmer Hall, with it being reported that they would retreat there after the baby’s birth to spend the summer. There was also speculation that Kate felt she had returned to the public eye too soon after George’s birth and that she wanted to take a longer maternity leave this time, which raised some eyebrows.

Finally, on May 2  Princess Charlotte was born:

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In yellow Jenny Packham, the same designer worn for leaving hospital with George

The summer of 2015 was slow for royal news and the Cambridges remained largely tucked away in Norfolk, with the odd spotting here and there such as the Trooping of the Colour, Wimbledon, etc. In July, Charlotte was christened and Kate wore Alexander McQueen in a look that received surprisingly mixed reviews, with some critics saying that the entire Cambridge family looked way too retro and William and Kate too middle-aged for 33.

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Kate burst back on to the scene in October with a slew of public engagements. Post-Charlotte, Kate’s look shifted once more, just as it did after George was born. However, this time, instead of occasionally looking a bit worse for the wear, Kate tried to up her fashion game – taking a few more risks, upping the price point of many pieces and adding a handful of new designers to the mix. She also tried yet another fringe, a look that she swiftly grew out. The results she got were a mixed bag – while I was glad to see a few new looks and some risks, others were more critical (particularly of the dreaded floral Erdem seen below). I actually liked some of these looks, in large part because they were unexpected, particularly the grey Jenny Packam and the Erdem. They’re not perfect, but they’re better than another black lace.

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From L to R: 1) Grey Jenny Packham at the James Bond premier; 2) Blue Christopher Kane coat; 3) Floral Erdem with ruffle; 4) Jenny Packham for the Chinese state dinner at BP

Kate also made a surprising designer debut that autumn – Dolce & Gabbanna – which is both more expensive than Kate’s usual brand choices and Italian. In the span of a few weeks she wore two lace cocktail dresses of theirs, which I thought was a bit strange – they’re very similar and, in the case of the purple, she wore it as a day look, which seemed heavy for the occasion. Sometimes Kate nails it, and other times it feels like she just likes something and wears it without giving a whole lot of thought as to whether it’s event-appropriate.

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2016

2016 opened with a Michael Kors ensemble that did nothing to make Kate seem youthful or “of her own time,” but was beautiful nonetheless:

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This was an interesting year for the couple. Without a pregnancy announcement, holed away in Norfolk and with some of the sheen having worn off of William and Kate since their wedding, they started to attract significant criticism for the first time. It was a trend that had been building since the autumn of 2015, and which should have been corrected once Kate had returned to work and the press was getting regular visual updates, but wasn’t. The narrative became that the couple was “obsessed” with their own privacy, wasn’t pulling their own weight despite being in their mid-30s (keep in mind neither was a full-time Royal at this point) and weren’t handling the press well.

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From L to R: 1) A gingham Eponine dress; 2) A Reiss blouse and Dolce & Gabbana skirt; 3) An Erdem coat worn in March that is the worst thing she wore in 2016, in my opinion

Kate’s fashion also came under closer scrutiny, with complaints that she dressed too old for her age, often missed the mark and was just plain too boring. Certainly, 2016 was a scattered year for Kate style-wise. I would also lump it in with the last few months of 2015 where Kate occasionally took risks, but they sometimes seemed a bit random. By all appearances William and Kate were aware of some of the criticism, particularly the “work shy” narrative, but also knew there were two overseas tours coming up for the calendar year and likely thought that would help address the issue.

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Kate in Salonia shortly before she and William departed for India and Bhutan

In April, the couple left for their fourth overseas tour to India and Bhutan. Due to the length of the trip, the itinerary and the time change, they declined to bring George and Charlotte with them. A sampling of looks from India:

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From L to R: 1) A debut from brand Glamorous; 2) Alexander McQueen; 3) Tory Burch; 4) Topshhop

Several of Kate’s choices underwhelmed critics, with a few exceptions. Many were certainly eye-catching and deviations from the Duchess’s normal aesthetic, but that in and of itself garnered her some criticism, namely that some of the dresses were a bit costume-y. This Temperley two-piece outfit below, however, was one of my favorite looks:

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Another clear winner from the lot was yet another Temperley look, worn when she and William met with India’s Prime Minister:

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The most anticipated event, however, was one in honor of India’s Bollywood industry. Many were anticipating that Kate would either wear a Sari or something on-theme and thus unusual for her. Instead, Kate opted for a blue Jenny Packham – her go-to for evening wear – with an added shawl to an otherwise fairly traditional gown.

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While India saw many debuts, Kate largely recycled while in Bhutan, with a few notable exceptions. A sampling of new looks from both countries:

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From L to R: 1) Anna Sui; 2) Emilia Wickstead; 3) Debut of Indian designer, Naeem Khan, at the Taj Mahal; 4) A custom made skirt for an engagement in Bhutan

Now, while many thought that William and Kate posing in front of the Taj Mahal – and therefore seemingly “making up” for the famous photo of Diana posing there alone in the 1990s – would become an instant classic, I think it more likely that images from the couple’s hours-long hike in Bhutan will end up being more iconic for them:

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The couple returned to the UK at the end of April where they had five months before their second tour of the year. Kate also showcased a new style that she currently appears to favor: midi length, long-sleeve dresses. In 2016 she wore four of them to official engagements:

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The first two on the left are LK Bennett, while the white is yet another lace Dolce & Gabbana. On the right is a floral Kate Spade debuted in October.

She received rave reviews for a blue Roland Mouret that she wore in June. I also love this, though not quite as much as the white she first wore in 2012.

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Perhaps in response to the critique her style had been receiving – The Daily Beast wrote a column around this time in which Kate was referred to as the “Duchess of Drab” – Kate debuted a lot of new pieces in a relatively small window of time, particularly as compared to the rate she did in 2014 and 2015.

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From L to R: 1) Roksanda Illincic in June; 2) Missoni for the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in July; 3) Catherine Walker coat dress in June; 4) A unique Alexander McQueen print for Wimbledon in July that featured, among other details, tiny skulls

August, as usual, was a slow month for the Royal Family, and then in September, William, Kate, George and Charlotte prepared to leave for their fifth overseas and second Canadian tour. However, before they departed, Kate had an engagement in Cornwall that offered up one of my favorite looks of hers from 2016. As you may have noticed, Kate rarely wears pants to her engagements, unless it’s based around an athletic activity. She either has no interest in or has yet to master ensembles centered around pants more formal than jeans or jeggings. On a small handful of engagements in 2016, however, she debuted cropped, printed pants and I thought she looked great – youthful and professional. Here she is in Cornwall in early September wearing her navy Smythe blazer and a pair of Gap pants:

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The only blight on this look is the nude wedge.

Kate’s look when she stepped off the plane in Canada was a Templerley that was widely beloved and gave the public its best view of Charlotte since her birth well over a year before. I don’t love the detailing on the shoulder and wouldn’t choose this myself, but she looked amazing.

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Below, some of Kate’s other looks from Canada:

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From L to R: 1) Dolce & Gabbana; 2) A vintage-inspired Preen cocktail dress that was many people’s favorite look from the tour; 3) A new Smythe blazer, this time green, with Zara jeans; 4) A cream Catherine Walker coat that she wore when the family departed in October

One of her most noteworthy looks, besides the Packham and Preen above, is the red and white Alexander McQueen that she debuted on Day 2. It was considered a deviation from Kate’s usual style, but while I liked it fine, I wasn’t in love – like when Kate wears peter plan collars or too many frills, I thought it looked just a touch fussy.

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Another factor that may have underwhelmed me about a few of these looks was that Kate was wearing her hair a bit lighter, while I strongly prefer heir hair – and her eyebrows, for that matter – darker, as they were in 2011/2012. My favorite look from the tour is one that slowly grew on me and one that she wore for a more casual outing towards the end:

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Zara blazer, H&M top and J.Crew tweed block heels

At first glance it’s just sort of inherently “fine,” but as I saw multiple photos from the event it slowly rose in my estimation. It’s classic, clean and stylish; the chunky heels are a nice deviation from her normal pumps. It also reminds me of a more grown-up version of the original Middleton style that Kate favored back in 2006-2008 when she would be caught by paparazzi walking through London. She doesn’t look like she’s playing dress up – she looks comfortable and less like the clothes are wearing her.

In October, Kate finally made her first solo overseas trip – a milestone that had been meant to happen back in September 2014, but was delayed when she announced her second pregnancy. She chose a light blue Catherine Walker skirt suit for a day trip to the Netherlands. What I liked: the updo, the color and the fit. What I didn’t: the wrinkling and the combination of the belt, buttons, peplum and collar all at once. Even just three of those four details would have made it look sleeker in my opinion.

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Kate has an interesting relationship with necklines. In her 20s she certainly wasn’t afraid of a plunging one, and she has definitely worn those with great success as Duchess. However, more and more, she has moved in the opposite direction, favoring silhouettes in which her collar is buttoned or zipped all the way to the top. Taken together, with her like of a fitted bodice, it can make an outfit look slightly severe, even matronly. Obviously Kate is now 35 and has to look professional when she’s representing the monarchy, but this trend sometimes has her veering between looking 10 years older or 20 years younger. A normal v-neck or scoop-neck, or even just leaving a button or two open occasionally, would create an overall more relaxed appearance.

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A similar dynamic was only display in November when she chose a white Self Portrait dress to wear to a film premier in London. I understand the high collar balances out the slit, but the shape and fit of the dress would be unflattering on anyone and the lace bodice and collar feels childish to me.

Excluding Christmas, Kate’s last look of 2016 was a red and green Vanessa Seward dress for an engagement in mid-December. Yes, it’s on theme with the upcoming holiday. Yes, it’s perfectly lovely. But the belt doesn’t work with it – giving it an almost Mrs. Claus vibe. And it almost seems too baggy? Kate certainly had some style wins in 2016, but this dress sums up for me what hasn’t worked since 2014: It’s just a giant shrug. If I can picture the Queen pulling it off, then Kate shouldn’t have it in her closet.

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2017

We’re not far enough along in 2017 for any sweeping generalizations to be made about in what direction Kate’s style is moving. But given that the Palace has confirmed there’ll be an uptick in the number of engagements she and William take on this year, it’s likely we’ll have even more opportunities to gauge. So far she has worn Eponine, Erdem and Hobbs, all three of which are solid staples in her closet. None of them have been terrible, none of them have blown me away, which is pretty par for the course.

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But as I mentioned at the top of the post, I don’t think that trend is going to change any time soon. It certainly won’t if she and William decide to have a third child sometime this year or next. And it may not change until George and Charlotte are school-age and Kate has the time and mental space to care more about her style, if she ever does.

What Kate has done well – and, indeed, is arguably part of her unwritten mandate as the future queen consort – has been to champion certain British brands and bring them global attention they would otherwise not have had. Jenny Packham, Temperley, Reiss, Hobbs, LK Bennett, to name just a few.

And nitpicking aside, she always look consummately British and appropriate. By recycling already-seen clothing and keeping her style as low-maintenance as possible, she is also, arguably, trying not to overshadow the work of the charities that she patronizes or the men and women she is honoring.

There have been four new engagements scheduled for Kate over the next few weeks – three in February and one in March. I hope this is an indication that the Cambridges are serious about transitioning into the next phase of their Royal career and I hope, too, that Kate’s wardrobe continues to evolve alongside her work.

On a final note, a year by year of key Royal moments:

St. Patrick’s Day: 2012 – 2015 

Kate made headlines in 2016 when she bypassed this event and allowed William to attend by himself on the pretense that she wanted to spend time with her children ahead of leaving for India and Bhutan in April, so it will be interesting to see whether this event gets added back to her calendar in 2017. Of the four looks below, I prefer 2012, which featured a green LK Bennett coat. She wore the same coat un-belted while pregnant with George in 2013, which was my least favorite look – hard pass on the turtleneck.

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Trooping the Colour: 2011 – 2016

Kate has never missed a Trooping of the Colour, including when she was eight-months pregnant in 2013 or had only given birth a few weeks before in 2015. My favorite look of hers for this event was 2016’s – the floral pink hat worked for me paired with the simple white coat. My second favorite was 2014 – it’s difficult to see in the photo below, but the fabric of the suit had interesting detailing and texture in an ice blue. This is also an event that, starting in 2015, the Cambridge children have attended. They likely will again this year.

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Remembrance Day: 2011-2016

These events take place in November and Kate has taken part every year since her marriage. My personal favorite, because of the neckline and collar, is the Alexander McQueen in 2014. My least favorite is 2016, where I disliked how large Kate’s hat was, and I particularly didn’t care for it combined with her side chignon.

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Christmas Day: 2011- 2016

Christmas with the Royal Family is an elaborate affair, held at Sandringham in Norfolk, near Anmer Hall. In 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015, Kate and William spent Christmas with the Queen and the rest of William’s family, partaking in the ritual walks to the local church where well-wishers line up along the way. In 2012, Kate had only recently been released from the hospital with HG while pregnant with George and she and William spent the holiday with the Middletons in Berkshire. And most recently, in 2016, William and Kate also opted to spend the holiday with Kate’s family, perhaps to switch it up and ensure their children also get to partake in Middleton holiday traditions, or perhaps because it was the last Christmas before Kate’s younger sister, Pippa, is married. Either way, Kate was pictured with her family at the local church in Berkshire in December, where Pippa is rumored to be holding her wedding ceremony this spring.

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2 thoughts on “Style Transformation Part Two: The Duchess of Cambridge (2011-2017)

  1. Pingback: Kate in Red for RAF Engagement in Peterborough – Rebecca Starr Brown

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