If princesses were judged on fluidity of manners, wifely and maternal devotion, and teeth wattage, the Duchess of Cambridge would be tough to beat. Throw in athleticism, trimness of figure, and salt-of-the-earth humility and her score would climb further still.
On teeth wattage alone, Kate Middleton far surpasses Britain’s royal ladies past and present, with the exception of the late Princess Diana. And it would be a close call.
But the Duchess’s stock invariably plummets on style and sartorial choices. Where Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, wins handily in these categories, Middleton rivals a devastatingly clueless, pre-makeover Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries.
Take, for instance, the succession of paisley-and-floral print dresses she has worn during a royal visit to India and Bhutan with Prince William.
For a woman whose go-to is a matching blouse and pencil skirt ensemble over nude nylons and run-of-the-mill patent heels, the rich fabrics and bohemian dresses she’s donned throughout the trip have been refreshingly fashion-forward in conception if not execution.
The long-sleeved Tory Burch dress she wore Wednesday night—a decidedly retro-looking print—would have looked downright chic had she not draped a hazard orange pashmina over it.
Had Sienna Miller or Cara Delevingne worn it instead, both the girls and the dress would be featured on every major fashion website today.
It hasn’t helped that all of her India and Bhutan outfits have made her seem like a tourist trying too hard to blend in with the locals. They might work better if they didn’t look so foreign on The Duchess herself. Indeed, they look ersatz.
Given her designer budget and coterie of traveling stylists, you think she’d be able to pull it all together fairly effortlessly.
So what accounts for the Duchess’s preternatural frumpiness?
If there’s a gene that distinguishes the stylish from the sartorially challenged, surely Middleton has it. To what else do we owe her routine over-matching? Her tendency to drain even splashy outfits of their “wow” factor, and to make classic ensembles look matronly?
There are several plausible explanations, but the most glaring one is that Kate possesses no edge. She is sweet and earthy, but also sensible and buttoned-up. Or at least this is how we’ve come to know her over the years, through tabloid gossip and friends of her friends.
And, one could argue, her image is now squarely in the grip of the palace spin machine. She is simply not allowed to be that daring, or colorful, or edgy. She is the future queen. She already looks locked down into the royal life of gilded routine and duty.
Photos from her days at university reveal a young woman with a more distinctly tomboyish style—wherever sporty, preppy, and Cotswolds-chic meet. Certainly she was more relaxed then, and we’d likely see more outfits on that tomboy style spectrum if we hung around with Kate, George, and Charlotte at Amner Hall in Norfolk, or Kate’s parents’ place in the country.
Indeed, the Duchess often looks best when dressed down in a boyfriend shirt and jeans, photographs of which are few and far between.
She went from university to dating Prince William to marrying him in a (gorgeous) Alexander McQueen gown with more than 23 million Americans watching. One can see she has a twinkle in her eye, as all charming people do. But it’s a wholesome twinkle rather than a seductive or fiery one. She seems older than she is, and dresses much older.
Is Kate really the “Duchess of Drab,” as suggested by Daily Mail in a headline for a piece written by Sarah Vine? Probably not.
But, even taking the fashion constraints imposed upon her into consideration, one wonders why a beautiful young woman, with access to the world’s best designers and stylists, has such a problem with dressing with distinction.
Is Kate dressing as she wants, or as she feels she should dress? One can only hope her inner tomboy wins out.