How to dress like a duchess

Kate revealed a preference for ladies-who-lunch dresses

How to dress like a Duchess

Arthur Edwards

Catherine, duchess of Cambridge isn’t making any public addresses during her Canadian tour. Not that she needs to. Her clothes have been speaking volumes for her.

The tone was set with her travelling outfit—a navy blazer by Toronto-based label Smythe Les Vestes over a navy sheath dress by French designer Roland Mouret and Manolo Blahnik stilettos. It offered foreshadowing of the diplomatic, politically correct, safe choices to come, evident in her arrival outfit: a navy lace “Cecile” sheath by another Canadian—Erdem Moralioglu, the popular Montreal-born, U.K.-based designer.

Occasional nods to her Canadian hosts have been carefully inserted: a flag-red fascinator topped with a fabric maple leaf worn to Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill along with a diamond maple leaf brooch borrowed from Queen Elizabeth II. In Charlottetown, fittingly, there were natty nautical details on a cream knit Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen dress.

The woman suddenly catapulted to world-class style-setter status has been careful, even staid, revealing a preference for sheath-like dresses, a cream/navy palette, four-inch stilettos and discreet jewelry. The high-end labels are punctuated with bursts of frugality, such as a cream crepe dress from U.K. high-street designer Joseph, and a recycling of previously seen items, like the Issa navy bird-print dress worn to a dinner at Rideau Hall.

Nor is the duchess necessarily changing her outfit every day. In both Ottawa and Montreal she wore a tailored grey short-sleeved dress by the British design house Catherine Walker, who was a favourite of Princess Di’s and who also dressed the duchess’s mother, Carole Middleton, for the royal wedding.

Kate’s public style sense is evolving, with designers Issa London and Sarah Burton providing mainstay ballast. She’s also introducing new names, such as Tabitha Simmons, an up-and-coming high-end British shoe designer who produced the sparkly grey pumps Kate wore in Ottawa and Montreal.

Bumps and criticisms are inevitable. Photographers on tour gripe among themselves about the absence of vivid colour, which was never a problem with Diana. There’s a staid sameness, most notably the Erdem navy blue dress with a lace overlay worn in Quebec City that echoed the navy blue Erdem worn in Ottawa. Of course, this is likely strategic, part of the plan to present the couple as down to earth and accessible. But in avoiding the trendy, the duchess’s clothing has veered into matronly ladies-who-lunch territory; many of the outfits worn during the tour’s first five days could be worn by women three decades older. That point was showcased by her dressed-down appearance in Dalvay by the Sea, where she wore a Nike windbreaker and jeans with moccasin flats and was at her most radiant.

The pressure and scrutiny is intense, evident by blogs What Kate Wore and Kate Middleton Style that obsessively track every item of her clothing (and their facsimiles) with forensic glee. There’s a huge audience eager to imitate whatever the new fashion superstar puts on her sylphlike frame, like 26-year-old Jennifer Thomson, who was standing in a Charlottetown crowd with the sign, “Kate can I borrow your outfit?” Welcome to the new emperor’s—or rather new duchess’s—clothing: no matter what she wears, women are going to buy it.