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At 40, Kate Middleton Has Found Her Most Confident Style

Cast your mind back to November 2010, when a beaming Kate Middleton clutched the arm...

Cast your mind back to November 2010, when a beaming Kate Middleton clutched the arm of her fiancé Prince William wearing a silk Issa wrap dress that matched the color of her 12-carat oval sapphire engagement ring. Arguably the one constant – aside from the sentimental diamond band previously worn by Diana, Princess of Wales—in the royal’s public persona now is her bouncy blow-dry. Twenty-nine-year-old Kate’s wardrobe—that of a history of art graduate with Sloane Ranger style inclinations, including Longchamp totes and Penelope Chilvers boots—has evolved to one befitting a British figurehead who truly cares what she wears and what it stands for. Like her mother-in-law’s own sartorial journey in the spotlight, it has been interesting for the world to watch unfold.

Armed with a handful of Reiss bodycon dresses and the LK Bennett Sledge heels that would go on to become her first signature, the newly crowned Duchess of Cambridge, who wed William in the spring of 2011, threw herself into her new life with gusto. What she lacked in fashion nous, she made up for with mega-watt smiles and that unfailingly glossy hair, which sparked “Chelsea blow-dry” appointments to soar across the UK. Somewhere along the way, Kate realized that nude form-fitting high-street fashion was not the only way to tackle diplomatic meetings and horse racing alike, and changed tact.

Kate wearing Issa during her engagement portrait in November 2010.

Chris Jackson

A McQueen wedding dress fit for a Duchess, April 2011.

Samir Hussein

Meeting Michelle Obama wearing Reiss in May 2011.

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The Duchess forged close relationships with British designers at the country’s leading eveningwear brands: Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen, the woman behind her Grace Kelly-inspired wedding dress; Jenny Packham, who decked Kate out in glittering sequins for her first red-carpet appearance; and Said Cyrus at Catherine Walker, a favorite of Diana’s and the harbinger of the dress coats the Duchess grew to hold dear.

Wearing Jenny Packham for her first red-carpet appearance as a royal in June 2011.

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The sweet lemon Jenny Packham tea dress that made front pages the world over when the Duchess landed in Calgary in July 2011.

Samir Hussein

Kate’s first classic McQueen gala look during her summer as a newlywed.

Pool

Over time, Kate honed her commissions from her trusted inner circle to become less about what she thought was required of her as a senior royal and more in line with her personal taste for ladylike pieces that spelled out: polished. Pleated dresses looked prim but not stuffy at the hand of Burton, while Cyrus’s knack for respectful, diplomatic tour ensembles ensured she always nailed the brief without looking too try-hard.

A new sense of confidence saw her welcome London’s rising stars, from Emilia Wickstead and her immaculately tailored, sugary womenswear to Erdem Moralioğlu’s explosive florals that tell stories, into her arsenal. Roksanda Ilinčić, too, introduced Kate to a different perspective on what royal fashion could look like, encouraging her to step outside the box in a memorable yellow Wimbledon look, which William later coined the “banana dress”.

The definition of ladylike daywear in Emilia Wickstead, April 2016.

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A rewear of her famous Roksanda banana dress in April 2014.

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An exquisite Erdem dress in a new off-the-shoulder silhouette for the Duchess in October 2018.

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By 2016, those patent LK Bennetts were out in favor of point-toe Jimmy Choos and Gianvito Rossis. Yes, there were still wedges, but Castañer espadrilles. Her beloved Aspinal of London and Mulberry bags also made way for Chanel classics and boxy Manu Atelier numbers that showed Kate had a finger on the trend pulse. Her traditional Jane Taylor millinery was put on ice as the Duchess became an Alice headband influencer in her own right.

As time went on, she learnt that newness wasn’t always the answer. The industry finally woke up to sustainability and Kate, whose relatable style has always lent on high-street stalwarts, such as M&S, used her platform to promote change. The newspapers gradually stopped shouting about “Kate rewearing a look!” and started listening to her subtle message that clothes are made to last. She did this all the while never relinquishing the other messages that are sewn into the seams of her public uniform.

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