Last week I named the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge the Royal Family’s MVPs of 2019, so it stands to reason this was a big year for Kate. Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I think there’s been a Cambridge renaissance this year in the court of public opinion, but no, in the sense that I don’t think either they or Kensington Palace did anything drastically different. But what 2019 proved to be is the first year Kate was as a full-time working royal without interludes away due to pregnancy and maternity leave, so it was a significant one by that alone.
There’s been a subtle but concerted effort by the Royal Family in the last couple of years to highlight the roles of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, and William and Kate, as the direct line of succession. Indeed, that they are. We’ve seen formal indications of that via Kate’s appointment to family orders, and informal indications such as her taking her place next to the Queen in the car at Balmoral.
What’s new to this year is the comparison between the Cambridges and Sussexes. The general school of thought when Meghan first entered the scene was that Kate would suffer in contrast thanks to excitement for someone new, more candid, and seemingly more “modern.” Given Meghan’s enthusiasm to get right to work, and the timing of Kate’s pregnancy with Prince Louis, the fear (for lack of a better word) was that Kate’s commitment to her family, and the Cambridges’ historic cautiousness of allowing access, would end up reflecting poorly on the Cambridge family. After all, 2015, 2016, and parts of 2017 weren’t easy going for William and Kate.
Instead, what the Sussexes have proven reliable for is drama, albeit mostly not of their own making. We’ve talked about this over the past year, and we’re certainly going to get into this when we cover Meghan’s year-end wrap-up, but the Cambridges have emerged as a balm of sorts. And if Meghan has highlighted how difficult integrating oneself into the weirdness of royal life is, it’s underscored how seamlessly Kate did. Now, some of that is due to factors out of both women’s hands, but nevertheless it’s shifted the lens through which Kate – and William – are viewed, and I think the result has been a new appreciation for the blander, more traditional brand of royal that the Cambridges offer.
So, let’s get into it:
The Cambridges are creatures of habit. It’s very Windsor of them. For the last few years, they’ve established a routine that sees them spending the end of December and early January at Anmer Hall, close to Sandringham. It lets them spend time with the Queen, and it allows them to host the Middletons after Christmas Day. They also reportedly host a weekend celebrating Kate’s January 9th birthday, and our first sighting of the couple usually comes when they attend church at Sandringham that first January weekend.
Kate’s first engagement took place the following week in Islington, when she visited King Henry’s Walk Garden. She shared that Prince George was learning about space in school, and that she prefers bacon to pepperoni on pizza – for those keeping track of their Kate trivia.
Her big engagement of the month took place in its last week, when she and William visited Dundee, Scotland. It was the year’s first “away day,” which Kate has shared she’s keen to do more of through the UK – more often than not, her engagements take place in the greater London area, unless the couple are abroad for tours.
February should be remembered for an impeccable showing at the BAFTAs, and I think it’s fair to say this is now an annual event for the Cambridges. Kate debuted a one-shoulder, white Alexander McQueen gown that received unanimous approval on Instagram when I polled it. That’s pretty rare, so kudos to her for the fashion win.
My favorite engagements of hers this month came when she spoke at a Mental Health in Education conference. Given that we know Kate doesn’t love public speaking, I think it’s always notable when she does, and given the subject matter, this was very in line with Kate’s continued focus – early intervention and child development.
Another sartorial highlight was her attendance of the 100 Women in Finance gala. Kate debuted a Gucci gown in a classic Kate silhouette, but in a new scholar scheme – shades of pink. This was a hit with most when she first wore it. Tbh, I’m rather agnostic.
The month ended with a surprise two-day trip to Northern Ireland, coming on the heels of the Sussexes spending three days in Morocco. I point out the comparison because I think it’s ended up illustrative of the couples’ focus areas – the Sussexes seem geared towards international audiences, while the Cambridges are locking in the domestic front.
Trip also offered some of my favorite Kate photos from the year – her playing football with children above, and her pulling a pint at a local pub below:
March 6 saw the couple again out of London – this time in Blackpool. Kate recycled her green Sportsmax coat, but I really wanted was a full-length look at the peacock print Michael Kors dress underneath. Alas.
The next week, Kate turned heads in what’s become quite the 2019 trend for the Duchess: trousers. This particular pair was Jigsaw, while the purple blouse was Gucci. She wore the ensemble to visit a children’s centre, but I’m really highlighting this engagement for the sartorial pivot.
That night she attended the National Portrait Gallery gala, an annual event for one of Kate’s earliest and favorite patronages. I think it might also be my personal favorite of her patronages and this particular event is always fun because we get a black tie look. This year, Kate recycled the black floral Alexander McQueen gown that she wore to the 2017 BAFTAs. It was hit when it debuted, but Kate made some small changes to the bodice, including switching out the sleeves. I liked it better in 2017, but it’s still a fun dress.
Her biggest engagement of the month, of course, was her joint appearance with the Queen. I spoke in more detail about this yesterday, so head on back to that post if you want a refresher.
Kate took an extended break through the first three weeks of April. This was during my hiatus from posting, so I can’t actually recall if the family is believed to have taken a holiday abroad, but the timing certainly overlapped with the children’s spring breaks, so it’s possible it was some combination of travel and Anmer. Whatever it was, the last week of the month made up for it in terms of news.
After an awkward showing at Easter, we got new photos of Prince Louis in honor of his first birthday, and then Kate joined Harry (sans spouses) for an Anzac memorial at Westminster Abbey. As discussed yesterday, what this engagement showed more than anything is that whatever else is going on between the “Fab Four,” Kate and Harry still get on.
Last but not least, on April 29th, the Cambridges’ eight-year wedding anniversary, Kate was appointed to the Royal Victorian Order, an honor granted at the Queen’s personal discretion, and thus worth a great deal.
Early in the month, Kensington Palace announced that William and Kate would host The King’s Cup Regatta in the summer, the news coming just as the couple arrived at Cutty Sark. And once again we saw the Duchess in trousers – this time LK Bennett.
While drama was brewing back home after the media’s anger over how Baby Archie’s birth was handled by the Palace, William and Kate carried out another away day in Wales. The juxtaposition says quite a bit about the year, but it’s also simply always nice to see these two back in Wales, where they lived for three years before and after their wedding.
The following week Kate turned up at Bletchley Park for an engagement that’s ended up standing out in my mind for her year. 2019 saw the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and Kate is in the unique position that one of her grandmothers was a code-breaker during World War II, and in fact worked at Bletchley Park. She was able to witness her grandmother and her great-aunt’s names added to the “Codebreakers Wall.” And on the fashion front, we got a better look at the navy polka-dot Alessandra Rich dress that she debuted last year for Charles’s 70th birthday photos.
Next up was the Chelsea Flower Show, and in a sign that KP and Kate were taking this project seriously, photos featuring all five Cambridges exploring her garden were shared. I actually need to update the post covering this because the photos were removed from Getty Images, but some are still there. I think these are arguably some of the best images we’ve ever received of the kids. On the day of, Kate wore a floral Erdem to give the Queen an official tour. I love the anecdote reported at the time that Kate scurried about the garden cleaning up before her grandmother-in-law arrived – royals, they’re just like us! Anyway, it was a sweet moment, and I appreciated William hanging back to really let his wife shine.
I think the first engagement worth highlighting this month came on the 6th when Kate attended the evening Beating Retreat Beating military ceremony, which has taken place annually at the House Guards Parade in Whitehall since 1966, and is one of the prequel events to Trooping the Colour. She took the Queen’s salute for the first time, and in yet another indication of her rising seniority within the family.
Two days later was TTC itself, and this year Louis made his debut on the BP balcony. As such, we saw the Cambridges assembled as a family of five for the first time candidly since Louis’s christening last summer. (Unless I’m forgetting something? Oh well.)
Later in the month saw another away day in Cumbria, this time visiting a farm, taking a hike, and met with a mental health campaigner who they met at a BP garden party earlier in the spring and specifically asked to see again. Style-wise, Kate wore her Chloe boots again, which I think are one of 2019’s unsung heros.
Garter Day saw Kate mingling with two queens – Netherland’s Queen Maxima and Spain’s Queen Letizia. Great photos, though I wasn’t a big fan of Kate’s Catherine Walker coat dress.
She killed it, however, at Ascot’s opening day by showing up as Lady Mary Crowley. The blouse and skirt were Elie Saab, and the hat was Philip Treacy. There were some gorgeous photos of her and William, too.
By the time we hit summer, it became abundantly clear that KP was declining to announce Kate’s engagements until the day-of. We still don’t really know why, and TBD on whether it continues into 2020. I think this month also marked the beginning of newfound “Kate appreciation” in the press. The moment that really jumps out at me was when Archie’s christening photos were released and there was glowing press about Kate appearing confident and having “come into her own.” Indeed, she looked great in those pictures.
They also came on the heels of Kate’s first appearance at Wimbledon for the season, which she attended alone. First she joined some girlfriends unofficially, and then she took her place in the royal box, all the while seeming calm, cool, and collected. Her “big” Wimbledon appearances came later, but I really liked this showing, and I loved her white Suzannah dress.
A week after the christening, Kate was joined by Meghan and her sister, Pippa Matthews. I think it’s safe to say that the addition of Pippa helped alleviate the intense scrutiny on the two Windsor women, and likely added a nice social buffer. It ended up a success and I think helped make it clear that these women weren’t at each other’s throats.
Last but not least, the next day Kate handed out the winning trophy for the first time as Wimbledon’s patron. It was a big moment, I imagine, as both a royal and a life-long tennis fan, so kudos to her. For the occasion she wore a new Emilia Wickstead.
From there, the Cambridges began their summer break, inclusive of an extended holiday in Mustique that encompassed Prince George’s sixth birthday.
It was a quiet August for the Cambs, but they re-emerged on the 8th to host The King’s Cup Regatta, an engagement that definitely makes this year’s highlights reel. In addition to it just being refreshing to get an appearance after several slow weeks, it’s also always fun to see these two competing against one another. And this round, George and Charlotte were on hand to cheer them on.
Charlotte also made headlines when she was photographed sticking her tongue out (I believe at her grandfather, Michael Middleton, who was also there).
Later in the month, the family joined the rest of the Royal Family at Balmoral, and Kate was seen riding with the Queen to Church that Sunday. Their arrival was somewhat blemished by a minor kerfuffle over photos of them seen arriving via a budget commercial flight, which some took as an unsubtle dig at the Sussexes who were currently under fire for using private planes. The timing was unfortunate, and this is the first year I’ve ever seen photos like this of the family landing in Scotland, but I’m not inclined to jump to any conclusions.
The first week of September was back to school for children all over, but this year that included Charlotte joining her big brother at Thomas’s Battersea. William and Kate escorted their children for drop-off, which was a nice do-over of sorts after Kate was forced to miss George’s first day in 2017 due to HG.
The next week, Kate opened her “Back to Nature” garden at Wisley. It was clear she was seeing this project through, and there were reports at the time that she made several private trips to various sites to ensure its success. On this particular day she debuted a new floral Emilia Wickstead dress – the engagement (and look) would later make another appearance during the Cambridge’s Christmas special with Mary Berry in December.
And in keeping with two 2019 trends – trousers and surprises – Kate unexpectedly turned up at the Evelina London Sunshine House on the 19th wearing Zara trousers and an Equipment blouse.
All in all, though, it was a relatively light September for Kate, which may have had to do with the couple’s upcoming autumn travel.
The Cambridges kicked this month off with a visit to The Aga Khan Centre to set the tone for their Pakistan tour. She debuted a ARoss Girl x Soler dress that was quite the hit with royal watchers at the time.
The tour officially began mid-month, with Kate touching down in an ombre Catherine Walker kameeze, making it clear the Duchess intended to embrace the local aesthetic. And indeed she did – she wore a number of new pieces by Pakistani designer Maheen Khan.
She also wore an impressive new evening gown by Jenny Packham to a reception in Islamabad.
The tour’s biggest moment came when the two visited the Badshahi Mosque, and so many of the images that came out of this engagement were just stunning.
Kate once again took her place on a balcony bearing the Queen and the Duchess of Cornwall. This year, however, there were some lovely images of her interacting with her grandmother-in-law, while the Queen herself looked rather emotional at various moments through the ceremony.
Two days later, Kate joined William for an engagement acknowledging the success of their mental health text line. Kate wore her checked Smythe blazer with cranberry Joseph trousers and Gianvito Rossi heels.
Another professional milestone came three days after that when Kate officially opened the Nook Children’s Hospital in Norfolk, an effort that’s been underway since 2014.
And finally, for the third time now, the Cambridges represented the Royal Family at the Royal Variety Show. This was Kate’s first time attending not pregnant, and for the occasion she debuted a new lace gown by Alexander McQueen that offered a slight Victorian twist on a closet mainstay.
Kate almost always does at least one holiday-themed engagement each year, and in 2019 that came with the announcement that she was officially taking over from the Queen as patron of Family Action on December 5th. She made an appearance that day at a Buckinghamshire Christmas tree farm where she did activities with participating children. Dressed down in jeans and boots, she was clearly in mum-mode, which does seem to be her element.
A week later, it was a marked tonal change when she joined the Royal Family for its annual Diplomatic Reception. As with last year, we were privy to a few photos from inside the Palace and Kate wow’ed in a full-length velvet gown by Alexander McQueen.
In the middle of the month the much-anticipated Christmas special with Mary Berry aired. It was festive, cozy, and oh so very British…and thus on brand for the Cambridges. Finally, the year ended with George and Charlotte making their debut Christmas Day walkabout. There was quite a bit for the Royal Family to paper over this year, but the inclusion of the next generation was the perfect antidote to some of the unfortunate drama and it was delightful to see Kate and Charlotte mingling with onlookers.
Looking back at my “conclusions” to 2017 and 2018, I think we’ve seen the fruition of years of set-up and work in 2019. Kate is taking her place as a future queen; she’s making more speeches; and she’s taking on new patronages. She’s also doing it her way, as seen by the fact that Kensington Palace hasn’t radically upended the Cambridge playbook this year. Instead, the subtle positioning the Royal Family has done is paying off. Kate is comfortable in her royal role, and she’s clearly found issues in which she’s genuinely and personally invested.
That she’s being recognized for this is a good thing, to be sure. It’s also interesting that it’s coincided with a souring of the Sussexes’ reputation. It’s a little chicken and egg, but also mostly irrelevant as both couples have clearly decided to chart separate courses. And, as we’ve learned by now, popular opinion is cyclical – Kate’s at a high point today, but there will be other waves and challenges along the way. What the Cambridges have shown – and what other royals could stand to learn – is that there’s incredible merit in the old standby of keeping your head down, maintaining your boundaries, and smiling through. Kate has proven herself rock solid and the Royal Family should be thanking their lucky stars for her.
As for the question of a fourth Cambridge baby…I don’t know. None of us do, of course. I think it’s very likely that the Cambridges are done; after all, Kate herself comes from a family of three. That said, never say never. We know that Kate loves being a mother, so if she can convince William to sign on, then more power to her. The speculative headlines as to whether she’s pregnant have always seemed silly to me – we’ve been through this enough times to know that such an announcement will drop from the clear blue sky given the early onset of HG, so it’s anyone’s guess. In the meantime, I think we’ll slowly but surely see more and more of George, Charlotte, and Louis – William and Kate have clearly found their groove with managing public attention on their children, and with their comfort comes more photos and appearances as deemed appropriate.
Bring on 2020 and such.
Best Debut Ensemble
This was tough, but I’m giving this to Kate’s very autumnal appearance at the Natural History Museum in October when she wore green Jigsaw culottes with a plum Warehouse jumper and a Chanel handbag. Culottes are pretty controversial, I understand, but if anyone can pull this silhouette off, it’s our very tall Duchess. And part of my reasoning is that this look is so 2019 – in general, but also for Kate. She wouldn’t have worn this in previous years, and I think her embrace of trousers and a looser fit all around is indicative of her rising professionalism and confidence. So, it’s emblematic of a lot.
I loved this very classic Kate Middleton Dolce & Gabbana skirt suit that she wore back in February. It’s grown on me, much like that burgundy Paule Ka suit.
This goes to the Christmas Day Catherine Walker, hands down. I heard someone praise this coat on Twitter while acknowledging they knew they were one of the few who liked it, and I don’t understand this at all. For one, I adore it, and for two, this was hailed a win almost unanimously by all of you on Instagram, which is a rare feat.
This straddles categories a bit because this Catherine Walker coat is also a recycle (that made its debut in 2016), but I love it. I thought it was pretty when she first wore it on the day she and William left Canada at the end of that particular tour, but every time she’s worn it since I’ve noticed another pretty detail.
I’m surprising myself a bit here, because this did nothing for me when we first saw it last year, but I ended up loving this polka-dot Alessandra Rich dress. A big part of that is because the daring slit on the side keeps this from being too fussy and it looked great in motion, and another is because of how much I enjoyed this engagement. Still, Kate looked beautiful and comfortable, and she pulled this look off.
I loved, loved, loved this Barbara Casasola dress when Kate first wore it in 2016, so I was thrilled to see it out and about in 2019. I wasn’t as thrilled with how Kate styled it this round, hence why it beats the “Best” category, but if Kate like it enough to wear it twice, then I’m hopeful we’ll get a third showing at some point.
I’m giving this to the navy, velvet Alexander McQueen from the Diplomatic Reception. It was a surprise; it was v. grown-up; and it was quite simply gorgeous.
This goes to the white Alexander McQueen she wore to the BAFTAs in February. This was very 2011/2012 DoC and she looked absolutely beautiful.
Honorable Mention #1
I have to once again highlight the Elie Saab separates that Kate wore to Ascot this year (with a Philip Treacy hat). It’s a bit costume-y and there’s quite a bit going on, so it doesn’t make my personal best-of list, but this was a moment, to be sure, and she looked amazing.
Honorable Mention #2
I feel like we should also take a moment to re-focus our attention to the white Alexander McQueen gown that Kate wore to the U.S. state dinner in June. This was beautiful, dramatic, and a nice change of pace from the flow-y Jenny Packham we usually see. I hope she repeats it someday.
This was actually a pretty solid fashion year for Kate and there were far less “misses” for me than in years past. If anything, the duds were more yawns, and even those were fairly benign. Even so, my least favorite look from 2019 goes to this Eponine London dress that Kate wore in early February. I like the idea of it, and this would have worked for me if it was in a completely different color and if the pockets were removed. Alas. (I’m fine with the LK Bennett boots, though; she should keep those :))
And with that, Happy New Year. We’ll take a look at Meghan next.