Every day that Pippa Middleton goes to her office in London, she runs a gauntlet of photographers eager to snap her picture. Because her older sister Kate, a.k.a. HRH the duchess of Cambridge, is often secluded on a rainy Welsh island with her husband or behind palace walls getting a private introduction to royal life, it is Pippa who bears the brunt of tabloid fascination, something she does with the trademark Middleton silence and polite smile.
While the public is curious about her love life (the latest rumour has her breaking up with boyfriend Alex Loudon) and her work in the party planning sector (reports are swirling that a publisher wants to hand her $1.5 million for a book on the subject), those areas are dwarfed by interest in her clothes. That hasn’t diminished since she wore that plunging, form-fitting bridesmaid dress at her sister’s wedding to Prince William.
Interestingly, while big sister mixes the occasional inexpensive outfit—such as a $300 Reiss dress to chat with the Obamas at Buckingham Palace—into her increasingly high-end fashion rotation, Pippa eschews couture houses and instead buys the bulk of her daywear in the affordable retail stores that dot the main streets and malls of almost every country in the world, including Zara, French Connection and H&M.
Her dizzying array of dresses, tops and coats—which often sell for less than $100 apiece—are carefully dissected for trends and availability by a growing online community. The most popular Pippa site is run by a recent communications grad, Carly Wood of Sheffield, England. It began on the day of the royal wedding in April, when Wood noticed a gender divide on Twitter over Pippa: “All the men were talking about how great her bum was and all the women were talking about her dress.” So Wood, 26, scooped up a vacant domain name, pippa-middleton.co.uk, and started a blog chronicling her fashion choices. Even after the wedding buzz died down, traffic didn’t taper off. Today, the site gets around 2,500 unique visits daily. On Wood’s Facebook page, most visitors are women aged 25 to 34 (roughly the same age bracket as Pippa, 28) and are from, in order, the United States, Britain and Canada.
According to Wood and other Pippa followers, a big part of the attraction is that she buys items that ordinary women can afford to purchase. And that’s a far cry from most stylish stars who pile on hyper-expensive, and quickly dated, fashions. “Because whereas most celebs’ nice clothes just make me sad that I don’t have their shopping budget,” explains Heather of GoFugYourself.com, a fashion gossip site, while reviewing Pippa’s clothing, “this just makes me want to go someplace sensible and spend sensible amounts of money on a sensible amount of clothes that will neither go immediately out of fashion, nor which I will randomly decide I hate in a month.” She adds: “Target really would be well-advised to do a Middleton knock-off collection.”
For Pippa devotees, a lot of the fun comes from “IDing”—hunting down items of Pippa’s clothes, working out where they’re from, and posting the results online. With the help of Twitter followers and Facebook friends who scour the Internet, it usually takes a few hours for Wood to identify and post the clothing, along with where it can be purchased.
For retailers, all that attention as well as links to their online shopping sites are proving helpful to the bottom lines. The day after Kate and William were wed, Pippa left her London hotel wearing white jeans, a blue Zara jacket and a $350 Modalu handbag—specifically the Bristol style in a “shark” colour. Instantly, white jeans became de rigueur, the jacket sold out and the British brand Modalu sold out of every colour of the Bristol in two days.
Such was the demand for the versatile leather bag that, just like Hermès renamed its Sac à dépêches the “Kelly” after it was seen draped over Grace Kelly’s arm, Modalu rechristened its model the “Pippa.”
That “day after” outfit attracted Michelle Forrest, a high school teacher in Perth, Australia, to Pippa’s style. “I wondered, why couldn’t I put together an outfit that looked so elegant yet used such simple pieces,” she says. “I think lots of women were thinking the same thing!” So Forrest, 28, began creating fashion layouts on Polyvore, an interactive fashion website, “where I put together photographs of Pippa with images and links to buy the actual clothing she is wearing.”
For Forrest, Pippa’s signature style is “fitted dresses just above the knees with a fitted blazer showing off her tiny figure, flats and her famous Modalu bag, which she carries with her almost everywhere.” And, she notes, by wearing that style in animal prints, polka dots and necktie blouses, Pippa is able to keep on top of today’s fashion trends without succumbing to the more outré looks that abound in stores.
Still, she does splash out, following the working girls’ maxim of spending serious money on the items that will always fit: shoes and bags. And because she’s part of Britain’s social elite, that motto extends to evening wear. Her affection for low-cut silk gowns inspired so many fans to buy similar, pricey frocks that the British department store chain John Lewis recently acknowledged her star power after their “special occasion fashion sales” jumped nearly five per cent at a time when other areas were falling. “There was an ongoing ‘Pippa effect’ in our occasion wear section with long, flowing green- and champagne-coloured dresses sought after,” said Susanne Given, the chain’s fashion buying director.
However, not everyone has the same tall, athletic body necessary to carry off Pippa’s trademark love of thigh-length hemlines and ultra-slim clothes. In July, when she recycled a blue-print, silky wrap dress by Topshop, GoFugYourself.com’s Heather complained: “It drives me nuts that people say, ‘Oh, wrap dresses are universally flattering on women,’ because unless you have a flat stomach like hers, that tie is going to hit you in exactly the wrong accent spot.” Wood can sympathize. After buying one of Pippa’s “high street” dresses online—“high street” being Britain’s term for “main street”—she lamented, “It doesn’t suit me at all. I may re-eBay it at some point.”
Interestingly, the intensive online discussion of her wardrobe among experts has revealed Pippa uses two classic wardrobe-extending tactics. First, she isn’t afraid to mix and match new items with far older pieces taken from the back of her closet. An eBay seller reported the Topshop wrap dress was from 2004. Recycling of clothes, sometimes from the previous decade, is part of why Pippa and her family are so popular. It’s “the niftiest hallmark of the Middletons: that despite rocketing to international fame, they aren’t afraid to repeat clothes they like, because for all the extraordinary things in their lives they are still endearingly regular,” writes Heather on GoFugYourself.
Second, the Middleton women share more than the same body type. They also appear to enjoy rummaging through each other’s closets. Over the years both Kate and Pippa have worn Issa’s pretty Lucky dress in both a pinky-red colour and also white, both have been snapped wearing a fitted tan jacket from Whistles and, at June’s Order of the Garter service at Windsor Castle, Kate carried the dove-grey purse that mom Carole wore to her wedding in April. The fashion swaps were deemed “refreshingly normal” by the All About Kate style blog.
So will the interest in Pippa’s proudly plebeian fashion choices last? The verdict is yes. “The camera loves her,” Forrest says. “She is very photogenic and seems to look amazing in anything she puts on.” So while her sister might be a duchess married to a prince, Pippa Middleton can claim her own title: queen of high street.