Royal Style in the Modern Day

Our interest in the fashions of royalty may be nothing new, but the unique story of Kate Middleton suggests an elevated style that still feels regal, but with an added sense of modernity. The “working Duchess” eschews the idea that she must always wear the most immaculate garments. Instead, she mixes high street with Saville Row. For every bespoke coat of unparalleled elegance in her wardrobe one finds an off-the-rack piece from popular brands like Reiss and even fast fashion, like Zara. 

Kate wearing the Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara and a dress by Jenny Packham at the Queen’s Diplomatic Corps dinner at Buckingham Place in December 2018. (Images courtesy of Shutterstock)

Going all the way back to 2010, The Duchess-to-be proved her desire to support high street when she chose the label’s £159 Nanette dress, along with a Whistles blouse, to wear in her engagement portraits. “Kate has been a Reiss customer for many years now and for her to choose to wear one of our dresses for such a wonderful occasion, announcing her engagement, we were over the moon,” the brand’s founder, David Reiss, recalls.

The cover of “The Duchess of Cambridge: A Decade of Modern Royal Styleby Bethan Holt, published by Ryland Peters & Small, 2021.

Far from being a mere model whom others dress, Kate has become fluent in the language of clothing, working out a way to look the part without allowing her position to consume her. The Duchess has deliberately used clothing for diplomatic gestures, to send messages of solidarity and to show respect. She embraces the trends she prefers while refusing the ones she doesn’t.

Kate’s clothing is consistently polished. She has made structured coats and tailored dresses look as effortless as a royal possibly could. But more than just polish, Kate uses her clothing to reveal her heart’s sympathies. She blends the sophistication of royal fashion with the modern dress of Britain’s working class—for example, her outfit for unveiling her charitable program for nurses, called “Nurses Now,” evokes this exact phenomenon.

Kate Middleton dressed in Reiss while meeting with Michelle Obama in 2011.

Designed for Kate by Jenny Packham, she wore an Empire-line royal blue silk dress with a matching tailored coat fashioned with white piped edging and buttons. The outfit mirrored the traditional colors associated with nurse’s uniforms—an idea that was underscored when Kate was pictured with Professor Lesley Regan, then president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, whose robes had very similar blue and white details. Side by side, Kate’s outfit displayed a colorful solidarity with the people of Britain that has done wonders to bring her even closer into the hearts of adoring fans all around the world. u 

Kate Middleton wearing Alexander McQueen in Hollywood with Prince William in 2011.