Kate with her dog, Lupo, watching Prince William play a charity polo match.
I’m all for a well-dressed celebrity. Following the sartorial evolution of fashion icons is a huge part of a fashion writer’s job, whether it be how Rihanna went from the sunny Caribbean girl in belly chains and bra tops to the edgy head-shaving diva with shirts that say cunt, or how Kate Middleton went from the London party girl with the thick suede waist belts to the Duchess of Cambridge with an impressive array of Alexander McQueen outfits. Clothes are much more than things that keep us from being naked — they are a reflection of our times, of our culture, and of the people we idolize within them. Also, they’re FUN. So I see nothing wrong with obsessing over a certain celebrity’s style, the way some people obsess over a certain athlete’s throwing arm (or hair, if you’re Tom Brady).
So now that we’re about to find out the cost of Kate Middleton’s wardrobe — which the British papers estimate at around $54,600 so far this year — a no doubt hard-hitting debate shall ensue over whether or not this is an appropriate expense. (The money for Kate’s clothes comes from Prince Charles, who funds his public work through a private estate he holds as Prince of Wales. His accounts will be released for public view this week.) Of course it’s an appropriate expense. Kate hasn’t had to do much in her role so far other than wear clothes and not screw up — which isn’t easy to do when you’re the most famous woman in the world. In fact, she’s done a fantastic job of wearing her clothes and not screwing up!
Her designer things — by labels like McQueen, Roland Mouret, and Jenny Packham — have thrilled the fashion world and editors of the fashion magazines she seems destined to cover one day. Her clothes are consistently classy, appropriate, and conservative without being too boring. (We don’t turn to her for avant garde fashion experimentation — we have people like Anna Dello Russo for that.) One or two ice dancer-esque outfits excepted, she’s managed to be stylish without coming across as a scary raging fashion person that no one can relate to. And occasionally, she wears things twice (some shoes even more than that!) and throws in High Street pieces from Zara or Reiss or Topshop, stores she reportedly shops at like a normal person.
She has the option to employ a stylist, but is said to dress herself, and though she could get any item of fashion she wanted for free, insists on paying what normal people would pay for everything she wears. (Borrowing or accepting free clothes could be problematic — when designers stand to benefit so greatly from the exposure, free clothes could represent taxable income, which is why Nancy Reagan had to stop borrowing things.) All of Kate’s image-crafting has reflected pretty well on a once-scandal-plagued royal family so far. It seems like a worthwhile investment; the public doesn’t want to see the royals running around in $14 jeans and $4 rubber flip flops. Kate sits comfortably in that Vogue-approved place the people want her to occupy.
The problem with Kate’s image, while it’s been fun to follow, is that that’s all we’ve got — pretty princess wears pretty clothes, The End. She’s been married to Prince William for more than a year, and barely spoken a word publicly to her people. Sometimes it seems like all she does is shop, stand, walk from the car, pose, walk back to the car, repeat. And there are plenty of opportunities for screw ups in just that — she could fall or wear a politically polarizing outfit (like Michelle Obama did with an ill-fated McQueen gown) or forget her fascinator. Eventually the royal family will have to let her really vocally infuse her image with some more substance — charitable causes she’s passionate about, books she likes to read, etc. — otherwise Prince Charles’s estate is just footing the bill for a show pony. And that’s something that’s easy to resent.