Just what is it like to be brought up as a royal baby these days?
For Prince George and his baby sister Princess Charlotte, royal life is nothing like as arduous or formal as it once was.
Their mother Kate is on a mission to normalize royal infancy.
For example, Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Day rather than Christmas Eve, (with stockings and Downton Abbey), Kate and William have made it clear they intend to treat their children equally as opposed to favoring the boy and they are regularly taken out and about in London’s parks when at Kensington Palace.
Soon, it is expected George will join a local playgroup in both London and Norfolk, to meet other kids his own age.
But in one important and highly symbolic aspect of child rearing, Kate appears to be more royal than the royals—clothing. Prince George’s public uniform is now becoming familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in the royal family.
It was on display at the Royal christening last Sunday, and we were reminded of the outfit once again on Thursday, when adorable family pictures of the event, taken by Mario Testino, were released to the world.
On this occasion George was wearing a replica of the outfit Prince William wore to his brother Harry’s christening, but the general pattern in which the royal tot is clothed is starting to emerge.
Leather, often sandal-style shoes give way to socks pulled up over those delightfully chubby legs, but, long or short, the socks stop before they reach the knee.
Then come the traditional, prep school-style shorts followed by a blousy shirt, usually one embroidered with a particularly old-fashioned motif. On chillier days, a very traditional cotton jumper might be layered on top.
It sort of works, but it is undoubtedly a deeply anachronistic look, at least 50 (and possibly 100) years out of date. George’s clothes also seem to many observers to mark a most un-Kate-like elitism—his garb is the ermine robe of childhood, and has none of the artful common touch that Kate so effortlessly brings to all the other business of being royal.
George’s starched clobber from another century is actually quite alienating to any parent who has ever struggled just to keep a child’s face clean. How does Kate manage it? And more importantly, why does she do it?
The answer has less to do with Kate’s personal style or an honoring of the royal tradition of dressing royal children as mini Lords and Ladies than it does with an inventive strategy by Kate for securing an element of private life for Prince George.
Put simply, this is not how George dresses all the time. Sources say that the clothes he wears when on public view are actually a disguise, specially designed to throw the general public (and the photographers who shadow his every movement) off the scent.
Put out enough pictures of George with his hair smoothed down in a cow’s lick and wearing “something Pinocchio might angrily refuse to wear, on the grounds that he was a real boy and not a toy” (as Peter Bradshaw wrote in The Guardian last week) and people simply won’t recognize the little chap with scruffy hair and a polo shirt sitting on his grandma’s shoulders at the petting zoo.
When Prince George is out and about with his parents ‘off duty’ or being taken on playdates to Kate and William’s friends children, sources say he is dressed like other toddlers of his age and class—a bit of Petit Bateau, a bit of Mini Boden and a lot of Bonpoint.
But it is the hair—not pressed into place when he is ‘off-duty’—that makes him look more Just William than Prince William.
“It’s the oldest trick in the book,” says one source. “William and Harry are out wandering down Kensington High Street the whole time, but because they are wearing jeans and baseball cap, no-one gives them a second glance. Harry’s in Starbucks the whole time.”
The Queen is of course the grand master at delineating between her public and private selves with her dress. She is barely recognizable in the odd sneaked paparazzi shot—just another redoubtable old lady in a rain jacket and headscarf.
Kate has no doubt decided to attempt to explicitly create a specific public persona for George by shoehorning him into a very clichéd and consequently very memorable, public uniform whenever she knows photographers are around.
When the palace permitted George to be photographed at the Polo a few weeks back, observers commented on the fact he was wearing Crocs.
In fact, the element truly worthy of note was that although he was wearing rubber shoes, the rest of his uniform was still intact.
It may have been slightly toned down, but let’s be honest: Not many kids wear a collared shirt, a cardigan and knickerbockers for a day out in a field covered in horse droppings.
Kate has learnt from her own experience. Nobody could call allowing her own personality to flow into the calcified, barely beating heart of the British monarchy a mistake.
It is of course arguable if the British monarchy will still be around in 50 years time, but without that injection of Kate-ness there would be no argument, it definitely wouldn’t be.
But allowing so much of ‘the real her’ to become part of the role has come with a price—it means that when she goes out shopping on Kensington High Street, the pictures are on Twitter before she reaches the checkout.
But Prince George can happily play in Kensington Park, as he often does, with other mothers blissfully unaware of the celebrity baby in their midst.
Bringing two children into the world knowing they are going to have their entire lives documented, analyzed and picked apart by the public is perhaps the ultimate parenting challenge.
Kate went into the business of being a Royal with her eyes wide open and of her own volition.
George (and his little sister Charlotte) have made no such choice, and his public dress code is one of the ways Kate is trying to claw a few degrees of privacy back for her kids as she rears them.