‘She is at her style zenith’: Princess Catherine’s style evolution

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She has only been Princess of Wales for eight months, but at the coronation of King Charles III Catherine demonstrated the confidence of a fashion queen.

In front of long-standing royal fashion leaders Queen Rania of Jordan, Queen Letizia of Spain and Duty Free heiress Crown Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece, Catherine exercised her home court advantage in an ivory Alexander McQueen gown and ornate headpiece that capped her style evolution from student to wife of the future king.

The style evolution of Princess Catherine. From waity-Katie to future queen. Credit: AP, Getty

“Her look has grown organically,” says stylist Ken Thompson. “Kate has been in the driver’s seat of her style all along and there’s a complete confidence to the way she presents herself now. She is at her style zenith and knows exactly how she looks best.”

The journey from student at the University of St Andrews, where she met Prince William, to Princess of Wales, has had surprisingly few bumps or wrong turns into tacky or trashy territories. Early aesthetic aberrations, such as a sequinned roller disco outfit for a charity event in 2008 or camisole top and crimson coat worn to William’s Royal Military Academy graduation in 2006, have been replaced by a streamlined uniform.

More than 15 years later Catherine wears a rotation of colour-blocked blazers and trousers for official engagements, tea-length dresses for weddings and embellished gowns for evening occasions.

“You never see those knee-length dresses anymore,” says Mattie Cronan, style director of the Australian Women’s Weekly. Catherine once favoured flared skirts hitting the knee, most famously represented by the navy dress from Issa worn for the 2010 announcement of her engagement to William. Sales of Issa outfits increased by 45 per cent in the following weeks.

The Style evolution of Catherine, Princess of Wales. 2005 – 2023

“The main royal skill she has acquired is dressing perfectly for every occasion and giving each outfit the correct symbolism for the event. The way she tackled the coronation in blue for the official greeting of dignitaries at Buckingham Palace, white for the ceremony and red for the concert was brilliantly British.”

Cronan credits Catherine’s current preference for block coloured blazers from Alexander McQueen, with the occasional budget Zara purchase thrown in, to Queen Elizabeth’s hi-vis fashion philosophy.

“She knows that being seen is an important part of the job and they suit her figure. Queen Rania and Queen Letizia have similar fashion philosophies. Coat dresses are also a popular part of her wardrobe because they photograph well.”

Unlike Queen Elizabeth, Catherine prefers her blow-dry to big hats, reserving statement millinery for formal events.

“Everything is well considered,” Cronan says. “Even the touching tributes to Princess Diana. When Catherine wore a polka dot dress from Alessandra Rich to Ascot, a favourite print of Diana’s, it was done with absolute confidence.”

There is a stable of designers that Catherine relies on, in the same way Diana looked to Bruce Oldfield and Catherine Walker and the Queen commissioned her dresser Angela Kelly. For evening events, Jenny Packham, who created Catherine’s memorable sequinned gown for the London premiere of the Bond movie No Time To Die, Alessandra Rich and Alexander McQueen are on high rotation.

“She now owns a Chanel jacket, so perhaps we will see more European labels,” Cronan says. In the past Catherine has also worn outfits from Dolce & Gabbana, Beulah, The Vampire’s Wife and Roland Mouret. “I think it’s important that she supports British labels. Now that British luxury brand Burberry has a new creative director she might be seen in more of their clothes.”

As a mother-of-three with plenty of long service leave as a member of the royal Firm, Catherine is making the clothes, no matter the name on the tag, her own.

“She is the ultimate cherry-picker. I don’t think her clothes come straight off the runway,” says Thompson. “Catherine exudes her own style and personality and elevates the designer at the same time.”

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