How Will Kate Middleton’s Fashion Change When She Becomes Queen Catherine?

When Kate Middleton’s engagement to Prince William was announced on November 16, 2010, she wore a dramatic sapphire blue dress from the brand Issa. Within 24 hours, the dress sold out online, and “the Kate effect” was born. Though social media was still in its early days—Instagram had only been launched one month earlier—Kate immediately became something we were only beginning to understand but now see everywhere: a style influencer.

Prince William and Kate Middleton after announcing their engagement.

By Chris Jackson/Getty Images.

Bethan Holt, the fashion news and features director at The Telegraph, has been following Kate professionally for the last 10 years, and in her new book, The Duchess of Cambridge: A Decade of Modern Royal Style, she looks back on that dress and attempts to explain why it caused such a sensation. “Would any dress have had the same effect? No,” she writes. “There was something about the Issa. It made Kate look glamorous yet respectful; she wasn’t trying to seem more mature than she was, but nor did the dress depict her as a slave to fashion.”

To Holt, Kate’s style is defined by that high-wire balancing act between formal and casual, youthful and serious, glamorous and down-to-earth. With meticulous research, The Duchess of Cambridge both documents Kate’s style and unearths the behind-the-scenes stories of how it all came together, speaking to designers and learning more about the team of assistants who help her out. “She’s found this circle of people that she obviously really trusts,” Holt said in a recent interview. “If you go to anyone in that inner circle they don’t want to talk about their relationship with her because it is quite a sacred thing.”

One important through line of the book is the way Kate’s wardrobe rewrites the royal rules. Unlike Queen Elizabeth, who has a closet full of custom-designed skirt suits, or Kate’s late mother-in-law, Princess Diana, who defined the style of the age with showstopping designer looks, Kate’s wardrobe is nearly entirely composed from off-the-rack outfits from high-street brands. Though looking relatable was a goal of Kate’s from the early days in the family, Holt points out that her clothing choices also reflect the way that the world has changed since the queen took the throne in 1952.

Kate in Zara jeans to play hockey on a visit to the Olympic Park in Stratford, London in March 2012.

By Chris Jackson/Getty Images. 

“Diana was often telling a story with her clothes, and she had a big evolution of her own personal life. Whereas the queen, the whole point of her is to remain basically the same,” she said. “The public mood now is much less towards wanting royals that are very distant in their palaces. People want to be able to relate, and I think the royals realize that clothing is a way that they can do it.”

Last month, Vanity Fair spoke to Holt about the changes she’s seen in Kate’s style over the last decade, her predictions for how she will pay homage to her predecessors when she one day becomes queen, and the philosophical ideas that underpin a royal wardrobe. “The battle for royal women is to show their substance whilst also ticking the box of style, and I think the two go really strongly hand in hand,” she said. “The truth is—and it may be a sad truth for some people but I think it’s an exciting truth—without the style the substance wouldn’t have the same impact.”

Vanity Fair: In the book, you see both the evolution of fashion and watch Kate go from being a young woman to a confident adult. Looking back, I was so struck by how age-appropriate her dressing has always been. Even in formal moments, she always looks serious and youthful at the same time. How does she and her team achieve that?

Bethan Holt: It’s about the small touches that keep her in sync with the things her peers would be wearing. You’ve just made me think back to the picture that was taken the day after they got married. They were leaving Buckingham Palace, and she was wearing a really short Zara dress, which probably any other 29- or 30-year-old might have in their summer wardrobe. It’s above the knee and quite fun and flirty, but then she had a jacket over it, which gives it a slight element of formality. Those small changes actually make quite a big difference to how she looks.

Kate and William leaving Buckingham Palace the day after their wedding with Kate in a cornflower blue Zara dress and L.K. Bennett patent wedge heels.

From Getty Images. 

Kate chose Reiss’s Shola dress to meet Michelle Obama at Buckingham Palace, May 2011.

By TOBY MELVILLE/Getty Images. 

It feels like a gradual change, but there are certain things she no longer wears. She doesn’t wear those big wedges anymore, perhaps because it’s more of a younger thing or doesn’t look quite as current. She has started wearing many more trousers, which lots of women, when they become more professional and confident in themselves, experiment with. She’s adding in interesting new things that signal she’s getting a bit older, a bit more sophisticated, and a bit more senior. Like any of us, we hope in our careers that we become more senior as we get older. She’s becoming more senior in her career as a princess.