Tomorrow, the Duchess of Cambridge will celebrate her 40th birthday — hooray! The British press is reporting Kate will mark the milestone “privately” at home with family after plans for a party were shelved due to COVID. I’m holding out hope that a rumored joint soirée, hosted by the Queen in honor of both Will and Kate turning 40 this year, will go forward this summer. How fun does that sound?
I wanted to toast my fellow January Capricorn and mother of three by looking back at 40 of Kate's most fashionable moments. These picks span the last decade, beginning with the royal wedding in 2011. I grouped the photographs by theme rather than chronologically; it was so fun to see which aspects of her aesthetic have stayed the same and which have evolved.
It was a challenge to narrow this down to just 40. So many great looks! As always, I’d love to hear what you think. Please hit “Join the discussion” and leave a comment with your favorite Kate fashion(s) or birthday wishes for the duchess.
PS: Hello! Royal Editor Emily Nash has a lovely look at how Kate has grown in her royal work and “why she’s more confident than ever.” Have a read here.
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(Photos below via Getty Images, Polaris/i-Images, and Shutterstock)
Kate’s style story begins with what might be my favorite royal fashion moment of all time: her wedding dress. Designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, the gown was an instant classic. It walked the impossible line of “fancy but familiar,” I wrote in my book. And it solidified the relationship between Kate and the iconic British fashion house. Burton became her go-to designer for special occasions, building off the smashing success of the duchess's bridal moment and nudging Kate towards more fashion-forward looks. A double-breasted white coat dress, which Kate wore to Trooping the Colour that same year and Order of the Garter in 2012, had echoes of its silhouette, down to the hint of a bustle.
Burton also designed the cream ensembles Kate wore to her children’s baptisms, tying in nicely to the royal family’s christening gown replica. My favorite was puff sleeve dress Kate wore with Prince Louis in 2018, along with her first hatband! I was a bit thrown at first by the oversize Jane Taylor piece; I’ve since become enamored with it. A few months later, at the 2019 BAFTA awards, Kate wore a bright white one-shoulder McQueen dress. The grecian vibe, paired with Princess Diana’s diamond-and-pearl earrings and an elaborate updo, felt modern and romantic.
After Will and Kate’s royal wedding, I naively assumed that the new duchess would get to sport a glittering tiara on the reg. Not so! Kate has worn a tiara in public only 11 times in the last decade. (Maybe she wears them around Kensington Palace just for fun? We’ll never know!). On her wedding day, Kate wore the Cartier Halo Tiara; she has also appeared twice in the Lotus Flower Tiara.
Since December 2015, Kate has only been seen in the Lover’s Knot Tiara, a towering diamond and pearl headpiece that was a favorite of Princess Diana’s. It's a versatile statement tiara — is that a thing? But really, it seems to work well with just about any style. We only saw a glimpse of it at a state dinner in 2017, but it looked fabulous with rubies and a pink lace plunging Marchesa dress. The following year, Kate wore it with a blue one-shoulder McQueen gown and then a sparkly white Jenny Packham number. I love how well it also works with the navy velvet McQueen gown from 2019, which called to mind Diana’s infamous John Travolta dress. Swoon.
On royal tours, it’s a gracious gesture to dress in pieces from, or inspired by, local fashion. It requires great care (to avoid looking costumey) but when done well it’s a WOW moment. I mean, never have I ever seen a white stetson look so glam as it did on Kate on tour in Canada in 2011. One can assume she knew this gift was coming; she had packed this Alice Temperley blouse — the style was called the “Rodeo” — for the occasion.
During a 2016 visit to Bhutan, the duchess wore a wrap-around kira for a round of archery (watch the video of her here!), marrying style with skill. For a stay in India on that same tour, Kate wore a blue Jenny Packham gown featuring beadwork done in India. Her shawl style was also reminiscent of a sari. And how about the striking shalwar kameez she wore to visit a mosque in Pakistan? It was by Maheen Khan, a celebrated Pakistani designer.
For these occasions, the duchess often wears standard casual fare. Her dressed-down uniform for years was a blue and white striped shirt, skinny jeans, blazer and wedges, which worked for a 2013 volleyball match. There are moments of whimsy (like the super cute winter hat she wore to play hockey in 2018) mixed in with the classics (a cable knit sweater to play soccer in Northern Ireland). While it most definitely works, I’m quite pleased to see her expand a bit lately into sportier apparel. Because A) it makes sense and B) she looks damn good in it. Her tennis skirt last fall? I die! So cute!
Can we talk about how Kate used her maternity style to veer from her safe silhouettes and signature solids? I am so here for her experimenting at an unexpected time! For her last engagement before having Prince George, Kate surprised everyone in an animal print over-the-knee coat dress for a boat naming ceremony. A few months earlier, she wore lemon yellow Emilia Wickstead for a garden party at Buckingham Palace. I’m not certain we’ve seen her in this shade since!
Fast forward to 2018, when Kate was pregnant with Prince Louis. During a tour of Sweden and Norway, Kate had people talking with a pair of printed Erdem dresses. Such a departure for the duchess! The high neck and voluminous cuffs on both made for a charming slideshow, while the ribbon at the waist perfectly accentuated her bump.
Had to! I spent a lot of time thinking about the cover color of my book, HRH, before picking light blue. One big reason that hue was the winner: It works well for so many occasions, from a day dress to an evening gown.
I love how often Kate has worn this soft shade. Perhaps her most famous light blue moment was the Jenny Packham dress the duchess chose to present baby George on the hospital steps. It was such a thoughtful throwback to Diana’s polka dot dress when she had William. For the 2015 premiere of the James Bond movie, “Spectre,” Kate looked sultry in a light blue sheer gown, also by Packham. The color also worked perfectly for the Mulberry coat — with that chic little capelet! — that Kate wore on a visit to Belfast. But if I had to pick a fave light blue fashion, it’s the shot I used for the HRH cover, the Elie Saab ensemble Kate donned at Royal Ascot in 2019. Talk about a Cinderella moment!
As a mother, I adore how devoted Kate is to her kids — including with their style. She is the queen of coordinating-but-not-matching fashion, which is much harder than it sounds. The pulled-together outfits give every family outing an immediate sense of harmony, even when the elements or the surroundings are a bit overwhelming to the little ones. An airport runway? A red carpet? With kids in tow? It’s a lot! But their fashion keeps everything adorable from the moment the family steps in front of the cameras.
Prince George’s tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2014 was Kate’s first big test. She aced it, obviously! Above you can see how together the Cambridges form the colors of the flag on the airplane behind them. For visits to Canada and Germany as a family of four, she went with shades of blue. <chef’s kiss> Also, the amount of crouching and cuddling required of Kate in these moments, I bow down! And finally, for their holiday outing in December 2020, Kate’s black dress helped Charlotte stand out. But it’s little Louis and his sweet blue coat that really popped.
In the fall of 2018, Kate returned from maternity leave with Prince Louis and took my breath away in a burgundy Prince of Wales check dress by Erdem. It was her first evening event in months, a visit to the V&A’s new photography centre, and signaled the start of a fashion-forward push for the duchess.
Since then, she’s experimented more with plaids, checks, tartans, you name it! Just look at the fabulous rich purple and green tartan trench by Holland and Cooper she wore for her tour of Scotland last year. This feels very much in the spirit of Diana, who loved to take fabrics traditionally seen as stately or stuffy and have a bit of fun with them.
Kate has also been playing more with proportions, too, experimenting beyond her traditional tailored pieces. I adore the oversize check Massimo Dutti coat for a 2020 visit to University of Derby and marveled at the red and black Alessandra Rich dress for the re-opening of the V&A the following year. The statement collar and the drop waist made for the perfect ensemble to see the new Alice in Wonderland exhibition.
So many of her more recent red moments linger in my thoughts. I’m still wrapped up in the red Catherine Walker coat dress she wore to last month’s carol concert, a touching tribute to the late Prince Philip. Red was also her signature color around her Hold Still pandemic photography project, worn for several different launch moments. The long red double breasted coat by Alexander McQueen, for the unveiling of the outdoor community exhibition, felt so sophisticated — and so patriotic when paired with a white top and navy skirt.
But don’t assume the vibrant shade is just for standing out! Kate wore a red Alexander McQueen dress to a jubilee boat ride for the Queen back in 2012. She faded in with the decor on the vessel, which kept the spotlight on the monarch clad in bright white.
“Princess promise” was a term I learned while reporting the Diana section of HRH. It sums up this idea that people expect a certain amount of razzle and dazzle when a member of the royal family appears. Today’s members, however, must tread a bit more carefully — the public wants them to be both accessible and aspirational. But delivering on the “princess promise” is still part of the equation.
Kate sparkling in sequins checks that box! And she’s got a go-to name for her most glittery moments: Jenny Packham. The British designer has such a way with megawatt gowns. The duchess leaned in during two of her pregnancies (which I obviously LOVE), choosing metallic for the Tusk Awards in 2013 and light blue for the Royal Variety Performance in 2017.
But my two top Packham sequin moments bookend Kate’s royal tenure thus far. There was the light pink dress Kate wore for her first appearance after her wedding in 2011. She absolutely glowed at a charity dinner, setting the stage for so much to come. And then there is last year’s James Bond movie premiere gold caped creation; I want to write another book just so I can include a photograph of it!
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But mostly: My cheeks hurt from smiling while compiling this list! SO MUCH GOOD FASHION. We love to see it. That said, I’m sure I missed a standout style — or several. Hit “Join the Discussion” and let me know what Kate fashion moment is your fave.
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Have a wonderful weekend, friends. I’ll see you back in your inboxes next Tuesday.