The Pippa Show
The princess- in-law is England’s most watched clotheshorse, and all summer, she’s been showing Britain just how much work off-the-rack dresses can do.
In the years since Diana, the old posh brands have poured down from the upper classes to the masses. Burberry, for instance, was once a label beloved of people who went hunting and shooting, but until very recently, its check patterns were a shorthand in Britain for “chav”—the denizens of the underclass who have lately been looting London’s retail stores. Outside of the exclusive couture universe, fashion labels, in Britain, as elsewhere, have largely become the preserve of the common people. Pippa and her gang won’t exactly be hitting the streets to join the young British looters in the latter’s war against the “Feds,” but at least the Middleton girls can rest assured that they had an impact on what was worth looting. Society works in mysterious ways, and the new royals have in common with the new rioters a love of shops.
It’s easy to enjoy the irony: Today, the British lower orders look for handbags bearing the name of expensive labels to “upgrade” their Primark dresses (Primark is a high-street store of preposterous cheapness). The upper orders, on the other hand, have set their compass by labels that don’t seem in the slightest exclusive or expensive, but neither do they seem cheap and nasty. For Pippa, that means white jeans like those available from Reiss. It means ballet pumps from Tory Burch, a red shift dress from Hobbs. And the whole thing signals a change in the meaning of glamour: For a young woman to be really glamorous now, she has to look like she could just be Anygirl.
And the closer you look to Anygirl, the more people give you credit for actually not being just any girl. You’re not special because you’re wearing a Galliano frock with feathers that cost a fortune; you’re special because you’re wearing a £79 houndstooth coat from mid-price Jigsaw and making it look effortless and fab and natively yours. That’s the Pippa vibe. It’s Me Being Special Because of You Looking Like Me Looking Like You. Diana would have seemed like a dinosaur next to Pippa, and so would many of the British public, who, before now, thought that if you wanted to shine, you had to wear things that others couldn’t afford. “Diamonds used to be a girl’s best friend,” said a girl I spoke to in Reiss. “But now it’s brightly colored little cardigans that look like cashmere but are really made of cotton.”
The U.K. press are in on the act, of course. The papers have a “Get the Look” function on their websites, where, at the click of a mouse, you too can buy the Middy look. The white blouse from Whistles that Kate wore in one of her engagement photographs, priced at £95, sold out immediately and was later reintroduced on high street with a £30 markup and called the Kate. The Nannette dress from Kate’s engagement pictures also sold out immediately. Anything worn by either sister is guaranteed to sell out within a day. There was even a run on the red dress Pippa wore to Wimbledon. “We’re all crushing like crazy,” said a hopped-up Grazia magazine in May. “It’s all about Pippa. Pippa’s smile! Pippa’s style!” Only the tabloids have to chase Pippa just a little bit more to find out about her choices.
But she doesn’t make it hard for them. Pippa has the same instinct as her sister; she wants to send a big message, the one saying that if you get it right, common is the new posh, and too much “show” is vulgar. And you can always tart it up with Manolo Blahniks and a bag from Anya Hindmarch. Or you can have a day off from your royal duty and wear a preppy dress by Sarah Burton or a sheath by Roland Mouret. You have your cake and eat it. At the same time, if you are clever, you manage to be Of the People whilst having a remorseless sense of entitlement. Welcome to Pippa’s world.
Long before the wedding, people knew that Pippa Middleton was on the rise. She was voted Tatler’s “Number One Society Singleton” in 2008. Tatler, of course, is the house journal of those who hang with the Wisteria Sisters, as the Middletons were known for a long time—“decorative, fragrant, and excellent at social climbing.” Its pages are full of people who should have been invented by P. G. Wodehouse but who were born instead into something called the real world. I give you Tigerlily Taylor, Lex Niarchos, Rufus Tiger Taylor, Edward van Outte, Lettice Spooner, and Drummond Money-Coutts. Just as there was little to distinguish the Mafia from the police in twenties Chicago, there is nothing, in Tatler, to separate the people being written about from the people doing the writing. Bylines include Gavanndra Hodge, Debonaire von Bismarck, and Dorrit Moussaieff. Taken together, these names make up a gallery of fabulous grotesques; they live in a scene that is part Downton Abbey and part Britain’s Got Talent. It is Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies for the Twitter generation.