For many young women, pregnancy is a great excuse to take a break from the pressure to be fashionable.
The sartorial focus switches from looking good to finding the comfiest pair of tracksuit bottoms, the least challenging pair of flats, and a top baggy enough to accommodate a body that has become a temporary home to two.
But when you are a princess of the United Kingdom, taking time off from fashion is not really an option.
Still, the fact that Kate Middleton appears to be marking the first months of her pregnancy by amping up the glamour quotient of her wardrobe choices, taking chances and wearing edgier styles out of her comfort zone, is as surprising as it is refreshing.
On Thursday night, for example, when she appeared at the oddly British tradition that is the Royal Variety Show, Kate wore the kind of gown few women who are 16 weeks pregnant would dream of hopping into. For the charity music gala, Kate chose a floor length black lace gown by Diane Von Furstenberg, which retails for about $1,000, and was photographed with Harry Styles, who told her, “Congratulations on the bump.”
Despite some ill-informed claims to the contrary in recent weeks, Kate has not hired a stylist, the Royalist’s sources say. She instead continues to rely largely on her own judgment while taking advice from some astutely focused fashion eyes such as Sarah Burton at McQueen, the Gucci head of PR Bella Musgrave, her good friend (and George’s godmother) Emilia Jardine-Paterson. Kate does make use of occasional input from her rather stylish personal assistant, Tash Archer, who was incorrectly identified as having been made her full-time stylist.
“She’s very hands-on in making those decisions herself,” says a courtier of her clothing selections.
And right now, it appears that Kate, who is 16 weeks pregnant, according to courtiers, is making the most of still being able to fit into regular clothes rather than maternity outfits.
Kate is usually a U.K. size 6 or 8—the U.S. equivalent of a 2 or 4—and four months into her pregnancy, she is wearing U.K. size 10 or 12 clothes.
Kate has made just a handful of public appearances since the announcement of her second pregnancy. That announcement was brought forward by several weeks after she was forced to cancel a number of engagements due to suffering once again with the extreme form of morning sickness known as hyperemesis gravidarum. But at each of the engagements she has attended, she has shunned her often informal and relaxed High Street look in favor of a supercharged, high-wattage, and glamorous buzz.
Just last weekend, at the Remembrance Sunday commemoration in the United Kingdom, Kate wore a sleek and well-proportioned black McQueen coat dress with an appropriately military-inspired design—oversized lapel, nipped waist—and a softly pleated flared peplum hemline. Kate barely has a bump to hide or show off, and the coat flattered her silhouette. It was both stylish and somber while being suitably grand for the formality of the occasion. (A friend remarked to me that it looked like at any moment Kate might start distributing cake from the balcony to the commoners gathered beneath her outside Buckingham Palace.)
The McQueen coat perhaps also signifies that 3 1/2 years after her marriage, Kate is becoming more relaxed about wearing really expensive designer outfits. Public engagements during the early years of her marriage were marked by a succession of High Street looks—Zara, Topshop, and Reiss cropped up with regularity—but since she returned to work after her morning sickness, the clothes have all been noticeably more expensive, while still boasting plenty of pop and a healthy pinch of princess.
On a visit to an oil refinery (duchess duty is not all glamour) last Saturday, for example, Kate surprised onlookers by wearing a beautiful baby blue Matthew Williamson coat. A $2,000 coat to an oil refinery? Why, yes—although this is exactly the kind of proletarian engagement that, two years ago, would have called for the old River Island, woman-of-the-people common touch.
Kate looked happy and healthy as she laughed and joked with workers at the site. The royal couple then traveled on to the Welsh capital of Cardiff to watch a rugby match between Wales and Australia.
Style-wise, there has perhaps been just one outfit that could be described as a miss since Kate returned to active service.
This was on October 23, when she wore a black cocktail dress by Temperley London that had nude panels running horizontally across the bust. These had the unfortunate and unintentional effect of perhaps making Kate appear a little wider up top than she might have desired.
The $1,000 dress did not photograph particularly well, either, thanks to the mixture of sheer and non-sheer fabric.
Two days earlier, Kate had marked her return to public life—greeting the president of Singapore and his wife—wearing a gray Alexander McQueen coat and a hat of a matching color by Jane Taylor. The coat, with fitted bodice, nipped-in waist, and full skirt, created a familiar silhouette for Kate.
McQueen is one of Kate’s go-to labels, not least for the expertise Sarah Burton, whom Kate respects and gets on with, brings to her outfits.
“In terms of luxury labels offering garments ideal for Kate, Alexander McQueen has to be at the top of the list,” said Susan E. Kelly of the blog What Kate Wore, which obsessively chronicles the minutiae of Kate’s style choices, in an email exchange with the Royalist. “Sarah Burton has demonstrated time and again her aptitude for designing bespoke garments that Kate not only enjoys wearing, they also have that ‘wow factor’ fashionistas love to see. This is especially true with the evening gowns she has designed for the Duchess. But it is the designs for less formal occasions where Kate has found a fundamental component of her working wardrobe. Pieces like the black watch tartan coat worn to Saint Andrews Pangbourne, the navy military-style coat dress seen when visiting the Irish Guards, or this Remembrance Sunday’s off-the-rack coat, all are timeless designs that worked exceptionally well for the Duchess. It’s clear Kate has a comfort zone with McQueen; we will continue to see her in pieces from this House.”
But on her second engagement of October 21 that Kate really wowed, wearing an astonishingly daring $6,000 gown by Jenny Packham, another of her favorite designers. The dress featured a draped overskirt, which wrapped around a thigh-length skirt underneath. As a patron of the Natural History Museum, where she was presenting the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award, it was an appropriate moment to turn on the glamour.
“Jenny Packham has proven an ideal fit for the Duchess,” Kelly said. “Her bespoke creations not only wow those watching the Duchess on the red carpet, they also meet critical criteria for garments that Kate will shine in: they are unique designs incorporating classic lines, many are accented with exquisite embellishment, and they are always appropriate to the occasion. They work perfectly with Kate’s design aesthetic, exuding a timeless elegance that the Duchess appreciates.”
Undoubtedly Kate is making the most of still being able to wear normal clothes, and when she expands, no doubt, she will gravitate toward the floaty, stretchy dresses of Issa and DVF that she wore during her last pregnancy.
But the real key to Kate’s look is, of course, her refusal to hire a stylist. You only have to look at the mess so many Hollywood stars make of their Oscar night choices—despite the alleged benefit of having an army of highly paid stylists—to realize that Kate is playing a smarter game, which is to accept input from remarkable advisers like Sarah Burton but ultimately remain true to her own style.
What is that style? “Quite Sloaney and very conservative,” says one fashion editor. “But it works. She always looks good.”