Kate Middleton is not a fashion plate. Media calling her a “fashion icon” could easily be accused by people in the fashion industry of confusing the terms fashion and style. To many fashion people, the term fashion connotes runway trends and covetable yet hard-to-pull-off looks — think Naomi Campbell portraying a hissing cat with panther fangs on her waist in the new Givenchy campaign. Style connotes what could be chic for the everywoman — Jane Doe might not ever wear panther-emblazoned Givenchy, but she might know how to look spectacular in J.Crew khakis and even more chic in the occasional Stella McCartney blazer. Kate Middleton is that kind of dresser.
On her first official overseas trip as the Duchess of Cambridge — also her first-ever visit to North America — which concluded yesterday, she solidified her more oft-referenced unofficial title of style icon. Those eleven days proved that, while she is not a ravenous trendsetter, hot to publicly appear in the latest runway fad or just-unveiled piece of couture, she has a great sense of style. That is to say, she understands the sartorial demands of her role and how to project her personal taste and even her personality to a world the palace is not yet letting her publicly, verbally address.
Something has surely changed in Kate’s wardrobe since she married into the royal family. Though she reportedly doesn’t work with a stylist, not wanting to seem like a clothes’ horse, she was effervescently polished the whole trip. But it wasn’t effortless. She — and whoever helped dress her, for she surely had some help — carefully selected each look for each occasion.
The labels of her clothes sent at least one clear message: She would not be called out for wearing a piece of the “wrong” nationality. Her first two looks were a perfect fusion of Britain and Canada. Departing London, Kate carried a bag by British label Mulberry and wore a coat by Toronto-based label Smythe over a matching shift dress by British designer Roland Mouret. Exiting the plane in Canada, she wore a dress by Canadian designer Erdem Moralioglu, whose show has become one of the highlights on the London Fashion Week calendar. Throughout her trip, the purpose of which was to promote Britain, after all, she wore mostly Britain-based labels, like Issa, Alexander McQueen, and Jenny Packham. After landing in L.A., she added an American label to her sartorial repertoire with a simple, tie-front green Diane Von Furstenberg frock. Aside from the J. Brand jeans she wore exclusively for her public appearances, this was the only American label on her trip roster — a coup for Von Furstenberg, surely. (I have also heard that the marketing department at J.Crew, having been miscredited for a pair of those jeans in an article, was absolutely ecstatic until they realized the error. Not that it mattered too much — even if they were mistakenly credited as dressing the princess, their name was still, in that story, practically intimately tied to hers.)
Her mostly designer pieces put her in that rarified world of glamour she is expected to occupy and moves seamlessly through. While most of her clothes were very expensive, and she even dared to pair a set of Prada pumps with a clingy vibrant purple Issa dress for an evening Canada Day event, she made the occasional frugal move to remind average girls everywhere she wasn't born this way. Though she got her hair done by a stylist every day, she reportedly does her own makeup. On her last day in L.A., she wore an outfit by affordable British chain Whistles to board her commercial British Airways flight back home. She repeated two dresses she had previously worn publicly, including the white Reiss look she wore for her famous engagement portrait. She also wore nearly the same outfit she was photographed in the day before her wedding — a bird-printed Issa dress and black patent wedge slingbacks — on her first day in Canada. While that look retained a certain schoolgirlish charm, it seemed out of place with the rest of the princess’s new, sophisticated working wardrobe.
Kate’s clothes looked more polished than they ever have since she’s been an object of public fascination. She looks more dressed up, more settled into her taste, and more sure of herself than ever. Her dresses were pretty but professional, never revealing too much of her visibly slimmer figure. As long as she wasn't rowing a boat or at the rodeo, she seldom deviated from pretty, safe, solid, structured, knee-skimming pieces with sleeves. Nothing was over-the-top or trying-too-hard, though I wondered how she felt wearing those high-heeled stilettos every day. But then again I always wondered how all women were happy on their feet all day, every day in high heels — and Kate was seldom without those nude L.K. Bennett pumps.
But the best thing about watching Kate on this trip was not her clothes, but her. Now is the time when she must mostly communicate to the world through her image. And while the world can’t help but obsess over them, Kate’s clothes never overshadowed Kate — she wore them, and not the other way around. So no, she’s not the most fashionable woman on the planet, but if she tried to be, she probably wouldn’t have beamed the way she did on that trip. In looking through all the photos of her from those eleven days, it’s hard to find one where she’s not smiling like the happiest woman in the world.
See all of Kate's tour looks and more pictures of her wearing outfits in the Kate Middleton Look Book.