Last June, on her last public outing before delivering a future king, Kate, duchess of Cambridge, visited a windy English shipyard. As the wind gusted and blew, she struggled to keep her short dalmatian-print coat dress from flying open, only to lose the battle at the most crucial moment—while christening the new cruise ship. “How many times can one duchess get her skirts blown up by the wind?” The Daily Beast’s Tom Sykes grumbled. The incident was soon forgotten in the excitement over Prince George’s arrival, but the missteps picked up again soon enough—and so did the gibes.
After Kate’s short Orla Kiely skirt went skyward at London’s Docklands in November, London’s Daily Mail dubbed the duchess of Cambridge “weighty Katy,” suggesting she needed to weigh down the hems of her skirts to avoid more “Marilyn moments.” The Mirror seized on her “wardrobe malfunction” during a charity visit, while Radar Online bemoaned the “royal gust” that resulted in spectators and photographers alike getting an unexpected peak at those toned thighs (documented for posterity on a Pinterest board named Royal Gust of Wind).
In fact, during Kate’s 30 daytime public events in 2013, there were four unforced errors (13 per cent of the total), including a mid-thigh Moloh coat dress, whose back pleats went flying as she played table tennis with William at a Scottish community centre. For a royal, particularly one in her position, that’s a high faux pas rate. And that’s saying nothing of the fly-away tresses.
The sartorial snafus are all the more surprising, given that Kate is seen as someone who works hard to be a perfect princess, never putting the wrong foot forward, never upstaging her husband à la Diana, never talking to the press and, above all, never doing anything remotely controversial. Her wardrobe is packed with famously demure clothes—including the ones that have landed her in trouble. On their own, none of her out?ts would be an issue for an ordinary 32-year-old. But Kate isn’t typical, and neither is her job. She’s climbing out of large cars and carriages, bending down to talk to children, reaching into a crowd to take a bouquet, or sitting on a raised dais, all with large crowds watching, and scores of lenses to capture every moment.
Her most famous lapse occurred during the Cambridges’ inaugural tour to Canada in 2011. As she greeted a flower girl on the windswept tarmac of Calgary’s airport, the flowing skirt of her thin, yellow silk dress was blown high enough to raise alarms to Defcon 2, while her hair was a tangled mess. The next day, when she and William returned to the airport, she was awkwardly holding down the back of yet another full-skirted outfit. This was a novice duchess, of course, unused to tarmac weather patterns. But a year later, as if on Groundhog Day, she repeated the experience, exiting a plane in Brisbane, Australia.
One solution would be a slimmer skirt, such as the ones Kate wore during her visit to socially conservative Malaysia and Singapore. But Kate’s more typical look—she wears her skirts short and/or flowing, and her locks long and loose—was set in concrete a decade ago while dating William. “It’s the blue-eyeshadow syndrome,” says Joyce Gunhouse, co-owner and co-designer of Comrags, a Toronto-based clothing retailer, referring to the tendency to still wear in your 50s the style that looked great in your youth. “Each time, I’m more surprised,” says Susan Kelley of the popular What Kate Wore blog. “I’m sure that, someday, she’ll have to realize she can’t wear that silhouette.”
For Kate, the problem is partly geometry. She’s five foot nine and likes wearing towering heels. So when a little girl presents her with a floral bouquet, Kate is forced into an awkward quasi-squat-curtsey to avoid bending down at a revealingly steep angle. Wearing fitted trousers, popular with European young royals, doesn’t appear to be an option. Though Kate wears jeans to casual, sporty events, she’s never seen in dress pants; like all Windsor women, she “takes her cues from the boss,” states CNN royal contributor Victoria Arbiter, referring to the Queen, who doesn’t wear pants in public.
Kate also buys from the same high-street labels she’s favoured in the last decade. Many fly-away moments come when she’s wearing those one-length-fits-all outfits, rather than tailored designs. Like the duchess, virtually all of Europe’s fashionable princesses mix pieces from stores such as L.K. Bennett, Zara and H&M with more upscale items. But, unlike her, they also have dressers or stylists who steer their charges away from problematic options. When it comes to picking outfits, royal women follow the same basic rules, explains Luise Wackerl, the Munich-based author of Royal Style. Favouring bright colours to set themselves apart from the crowd—the Queen, famously, never wears beige, reportedly saying, “People won’t know who I am”—they choose necklines that don’t go too low and skirts levels suitable for blue blood, not red carpets. “The higher the rank, the stricter the rules,” she says.
Comrag’s Gunhouse has a few tried-and-true tricks for picking the right outfit for customers in the public eye, including having customers sit down to see if the piece rides up or needs a tug to adjust. She’d prefer Kate try A-line shifts, or perhaps skirts that are full in the front, but not in the back. And the duchess could have small curtain weights—$2.50 for a pack of four—inserted into the hems of vertically challenged skirts. The Queen’s designers have used that technique for years to keep her hems down.
Royal guidelines extend to hairstyles, too. By pulling their hair back or up, and keeping it shoulder-length, most of Kate’s peers suffer few of the turmoils that afflict her own, much longer tresses. At formal evening events, her flowing style can overwhelm her face and hide her jewellery. As veteran royal blogger Ella Kay notes, “It would great to see her show off those pieces a bit more by sweeping her hair back.” She was roundly criticized on the Internet for twirling her long locks back into ringlets during a solemn Remembrance Sunday ceremony. “She seems like a bored, uninterested teenager,” said one blogger.
Elaine Lui, a reporter for CTV’s Etalk who has the popular Lainey Gossip website, sympathizes. “I have long, thick hair, too. When I’m on shoots, we have to retake five times because it’s flying all over the place.” Yet, like other royal watchers, Lui believes Kate won’t break her loose hair habit: It’s a security blanket she uses to get through the stress of public events. “There are times when it’s everywhere, and you want to brush it out of her face,” says CNN’s Arbiter. “You’d think it was driving her mad, yet she loves it.”
There may be something else at work. While the occasional fashion error can be dismissed as part of the cat-and-mouse game between monarchy and media, the frequency of the duchess of Cambridge’s unforced errors suggests she’s not in a hurry to fix the problem. She could simply get a stylist and cut her hair to the regulation “tiara length.” But maybe she doesn’t want to appear too flawless. After all, character hides in imperfections.