“Pants!!!” fashion bloggers screamed through their keyboards this week, after Kate Middleton attended a charity engagement in pleated navy trousers from Jigsaw, a fashion label she worked for as an accessories buyer in the early aughts.
The look was instantly cited as an example of Middleton taking a page out of Meghan Markle's stylebook. Markle wore many tailored pants before pregnancy relegated her to a few months of maternity dresses (often paired with stilettos, which Markle absolutely commands).
But it was not the first time the duchess swapped her favored fit-and-flare dress for something more business casual.
“We’re pretty sure that the trousers Kate wore are the same pair she had on during a trip to Cyprus [last year],” Susan E. Kelly, writer and founder of What Kate Wore, told The Daily Beast. “It’s nice to see a change from the same old dress silhouette.”
After all, even Diana put on tuxedos for nights spent on the town or at Genesis concerts. Today, the style calls to mind European royals like Queen Letizia of Spain, who knows her way around a fitted suit.
The trousers ended up being the smart choice for a day where Middleton's itinerary included crawling around the floor with babies at the Henry Fawcett Children's Centre. The pared-down bottoms were not the only sartorial statement Middleton made that morning.
According to Kelly, Middleton’s lilac Gucci blouse, which had an impossible-to-miss pussybow neckline, was purposefully put on backwards.
“In all of the online descriptions of the blouse, the buttons are supposed to go on the back,” Kelly explained. “So Kate wore it technically backwards, with the buttons on the front. It wasn’t an accident; she did it for a reason. And I don’t think she would have done that three years ago.”
Seven years and three children into her tenure as Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton may have just hit her fashion stride. Just about every outfit she has picked this year has not only been a winner, but felt purposefully selected to match her mood and the event.
Most importantly, Middleton has injected personality and youthfulness into her closet. This has not always been the case for a 37-year-old woman who in the past has dressed like a grandmother of the bride in clunky coats that age her by approximately 57 years.
Take, for instance, Middleton’s first appearance post-pants. At a gala for the National Portrait Gallery, where she is a patron, the duchess changed into a floral-printed Alexander McQueen gown. She previously wore the piece while attending the 2017 BAFTAs, showing off her shoulders in its Bardot-style neckline.
This go-round, the duchess added capped sleeves to the tiered frock. Unlike her BAFTAs appearance, where she opted for a ballerina bun and shimmering chandelier earrings, Middleton kept her blown-out hair down and did not pile on the jewels.
Though it’s ridiculous to call a woman wearing a bespoke, expensive designer gown as looking “laid back,” the duchess did seem more chicly undone as she breezed past the cameras on Tuesday.
The obvious assumption for why Middleton is upping her style game right now is that she is trying to keep up with Meghan Markle, who has been dressing exceptionally brilliantly these last few months.
Suspicions that Middleton’s new wardrobe might have something to do with her sister-in-law might seem especially plausible for anyone who believes tabloid reports of a chilly feud between the two duchesses. Middleton could be working it as a way to symbolize that bad press does not faze her.
Kelly, the Middleton style blogger, does not subscribe to any sartorial conspiracy theories. “I think the biggest thing is that we’re seeing someone whose self-confidence has come to a really good place,” she said. “She fits into her own skin really, really well, and she’s become very comfortable in her role, and embraced it. When you feel that way, you enjoy dressing a little bit more.”
What’s more, Middleton spent six months of last year out on maternity leave with her newborn, Prince Louis. She has only been back in the spotlight since last October, and brings a renewed energy to all aspects of her post.
“I don’t think her style is a reaction in any way—good, bad, or indifferent—to Meghan,” Kelly explained. “I think it’s the trajectory of her life and when she came back from maternity leave.” As an extra wrinkle in the timeline, Middleton’s go-to stylist Natasha Archer is currently on maternity leave, which means the duchess either has a new dresser or has taken up those duties herself.
Even in the midst of Meghan-mania, the UK-based consultant company Brand Finance still lists Middleton as “the most powerful royal influencer” in the family.
Alex Haigh, director of Brand Finance, told The Daily Beast that in a recent survey, 37.6 percent of American subjects admitted to being more willing to buy a product worn by Kate Middleton, as opposed to 35 percent who would shell out for Meghan's 'fits.
The difference is slight, and Haigh blames Middleton’s higher margin on the bad press surrounding Meghan. He does not believe Kate’s lead will last for long. “I remember after Kate got engaged and married, there were similar tabloid stories about her, and now that’s mostly gone away as an issue,” he explained.
Unlike Markle, a native Californian, Middleton comes from an upper-middle-class British family. She was practically born to be a brand ambassador for a certain kind of inherently British, LK Bennett-esque style.
Her new looks do not totally abandon that lifelong ethos—after all, just two days ago she wore a red cap from Lock & Co, the world's oldest hat shop. But by experimenting, Middleton is presenting herself as a symbol of more modern Britain.
“She's taking that town and country British look, if you will, and then moving one step away from that,” Kelly said. “She'll wear a double breasted fitted coat to church, but the old version would be tweed, wouldn't have as many buttons or be quite as fitted, and wouldn't have a little bit of drama with a flared skirt.”
Middleton is stepping away from the cliché, while respecting her position as future queen consort. Hopefully one that wears trousers.