If Prince George, Princess Charlotte or Prince Louis were ever to wander into the storage vault/wing where their mother Kate, Princess of Wales keeps her old frocks and approximately 3024 useless clutch bags (whatever could she keep in there besides a single tube of lip gloss and the keys to the royal helicopter?) at some stage in the future, I wonder if they would find it divided into two.
Those that date before November 2022 and those that came after.
The reason? The Dress.
Maybe I’m getting a tad too overexcited but after having been starved of royal glamour for so long and with a dearth of white-tie dos in recent years thanks to the ravages of the pandemic, when Kate arrived at Buckingham Palace in the early hours of Wednesday, AEDT, for the state banquet for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa things got exciting. Very exciting.
There was not a frill, a pastel or a demure ladylike neckline in sight. This was not a gown that anyone would use the adjective (or in my case, the pejorative) ‘pretty’ to describe.
This was glamour with a capital ‘K’.
In the place of the usually girlish froufrou number we might have seen in years past was a structured white-caped Jenny Packham gown that well and truly injected some drama into proceedings.
Let’s get a bit philosophical here. This is a woman who very, very rarely gives interviews and despite the ubiquity of her image in the media is actually a Sphinx-like, inscrutable mystery. Her comments in public are generally restricted to sweet conversations with little kids, discussing mental health and early childhood issues with various experts and smiling like a woman whose job depends on it, which to some degree it does.
Kate’s voice – both literally and figuratively – is something we really don’t hear all that often.
So, when something like Wednesday’s state banquet outfit happens then it feels a bit like her yelling across the room with a certain heady bravura.
When Kate attended her first state banquet in 2015, where she was seen ‘cheersing’ with Chinese President Xi Jinping, she had been an HRH for four years.
Despite doing a smashing job of duchessing, popping out two kids and proving she could open a plaque with the best of them, there she was at that dinner wearing a get-up that would not have looked out of place on Queen Elizabeth’s 1954 tour of Australia.
It was boring and about as fashionable as the discount bin of a Marks & Spencer outlet store.
The biggest takeaway from this and the other evening gowns she rolled out for subsequent state banquets was a certain timidity, a certain sense of her fretting about putting a foot wrong. Better to play it safe. More lace anyone?
It was nearly like Kate had a list she checked off in her monogrammed Smytshon notebook every time she needed a dress for a grand soiree: Relatively demure? Uncontroversial? Lacking any soupçon of fashionability? All done in some soft shade right out of a Laura Ashley’s vision board? We have an insipid winner!
But then … something happened, a ‘something’ that is very much up for debate. Was it sailing through the pandemic with flying colours, rallying the nation after having mastered Zoom? Surviving the convulsions of Megxit and the drama-filled post-Megxit era? Or even all of the above? Or just that after 11-years of HRH-ing we are seeing her new-found, hard-won confidence shining through?
Who knows? Whatever that ‘something’ was or is, the end result is Wednesday’s stunner of a frock that should go down forthwith in the annals of power dressing.
The Princess clearly understands the power of image and the Kate who stepped into the Buckingham Palace ballroom was reeking, in the best possible way, of not only power but of a woman clearly very comfortable with owning her power completely. (Queen Victoria is probably rolling over in her grave. ‘And from the middle classes did you say?!’)
If previous outfits from Banquet Kate have been pretty much mute, telling us nothing about the woman inside the thousands of dollars worth of tulle, then this new Kate was a universe away. Gone was some get – up that made her look like an extra in a big-budget Cinderella remake and in her place was a woman who looked distinctly like a 21st century future queen.
This was an outfit designed to make a very clear statement; this was a look about making an impression and being seen, not melting into the scenery.
Now sure, the royal wore much more sophisticated dresses to the premieres of the new Bond movie No Time To Die and the Top Gun sequel but there is a world of difference between what someone – especially someone who is scrupulously conscious of playing by the rules and not rocking the boat – might wear for a red carpet outing with Daniel Craig and for a diplomatically charged state event.
There are other factors to keep in mind here when it comes to understanding this very clear style shift.
Notably, this is 40-year-old Kate’s first state event as the Princess of Wales, an elevation that carries with more weight than just a title change. No longer is she two steps removed from the throne but is beginning her lengthy apprenticeship that will ultimately see her being crowned inside Westminster Abbey.
If you were paying attention, you might have noticed that when Kate and husband Prince William popped up at the Corinthia Hotel to officially meet President Ramaphosa and his wife Dr Tshepo Motsepe, the Princess was wearing the Three Feathers Brooch for the first time, a piece that features the heraldic trio of ostrich plums that have been used by the Prince of Wales since the 14th century.
(Diana, Princess of Wales was known to wear the piece as a necklace.)
The royal family is an outfit built on symbolism and that these two firsts took place on the same day is interesting indeed. (Everyone now raise an eyebrow and make a ‘hmmm’ noise …)
The bottom line here is Kate is, right now, stepping up. Stepping up to being the Princess of Wales and maybe just maybe like women around the world, stepping up and making herself heard.
If you were Queen Victoria (who thought the women’s rights movement was a “mad, wicked folly”) then one might not be amused by Kate’s sequined chutzpah, but us? Brava Your Highness! To badly paraphrase another 19th century star, please ma’am, we want some more.
Daniela Elser is a writer and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
Story Credit: news.com.au