Published on August 31st, 2011 | by tomkolovos6
Shhh: The Secrets of Catherine Middleton’s Style
UPDATE: THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JULY 15, 2011 TO ACCOMPANY AN NBC5 SEGMENT ON KATE MIDDLETON. IT’S BEING REPUBLISHED TODAY to coincide with USA Today’s “Duchess Catherine, Michelle Obama wield style power for good” by Maria Puente, in which I am interviewed.
Being ladylike does not require silence– Betty Ford
What is it possible to tell about you simply from your clothes? I don’t mean that as a rhetorical question. I actually want you to answer it.
Alright, before you do that, consider what people did say about Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, on her recent visit to Canada and Los Angeles.
It’s important to note that she made no public statements during that visit. Private chit chat to which a select few were privy, yes, but the Palace deemed that she make no public statements. Those were left to her husband Prince William.
Temporarily suspend your disbelief about just how disturbing this is in 2011; that the silence was imposed on her by the current Queen of England, not to mention from the land that produced John Stuart Mill and his feminist tract “On the Subjection of Women.”
That will have to be a subject for another day.
Today, let’s just consider that all we came to “know” about the Duchess during her first North American visit was exclusively through what could be divined from her wardrobe. You never heard the woman say a word for 10 days but I bet you feel like you know her, don’t you?
And you like her. You really like her.
How is that possible?
And since it is, in fact, possible, I ask you again, what do your clothes say about you?
And while I’m asking, what effect does your spouse’s wardrobe have on what people think about you?
Uncomfortable questions, yes?
Let’s demystify the questions then.
This site derives its name from my copyrighted claim that “style is a controlled substance,” by which I mean that style and substance need not be oppositional qualities on some theoretical spectrum. Properly understood, personal style should communicate what is substantive about you.
Or, to put it another way, style is the means by which you can control or reinforce that substantive “you” before any audience.
I always thought that the truest measure of Catherine’s style would come from her wardrobe choices in Los Angeles, the land of swimming pools, movie stars and the unbridled hotbed of celebrity culture. She’s a celebrity herself now, so how would she fare in the land of the self obsessed?
The Canadian visit was really an unofficial State visit, that is to say, it was a test run for both the Prince and the Duchess in fulfilling their future official roles as sovereign of Canada since Canada is one of the Commonwealth of Nations headed by the Queen of England.
Los Angeles was the party after the overseas business trip, if you will. It was my feeling that she would have more freedom in Los Angeles to express herself and that freedom would allow her to authentically display her sense of style.
The black tie BAFTA event was, I thought, the most instructive. I must admit that I was initially underwhelmed by the lavender plisse Alexander McQueen gown with the embellished belt. It was pretty but I was honestly expecting something more “red carpet,” something a bit less subdued perhaps, and I already had an Erdem gown picked out for her in my mind.
Then I looked at the photos a bit more and realized that it was one of those dresses that looks much better in person than it photographs. Simple and very pretty. I really noticed that the only embellishment was on the belt of the gown and I though that was very a thoughtful touch.
Actually, once I saw the photos of the guests, I instantly realized the dress, especially the belt, which we will talk more about below, was a strategic line in the sand.
Want to know why people respond and relate so favorably to Kate, even as she is in reality a complete stranger to them?
Because she dresses in such a way that is the antithesis of the vulgarity of the tabloid culture’s Tits and Ass/Botox/Viagra vultures that will show up at the opening of a door as long as there is a red carpet and a photo op.
And she still looks good!
Catherine knows –and people seem to have picked up on the fact that you can look good–great even– without the obvious, torturous, enhanced and expected displays of every possible square inch of skin taped to half a sequin that can pass for a dress on a red carpet.
She was bound to be in a room at the BAFTA party in Los Angeles with more than a few such women–and men–so, why dress in such a way that you could be mistaken for any of them?
BAFTA, for those of you who don’t know, is the equivalent of AMPAS, the association that hands out the Academy Awards in the US, so the event was meant to promote the British film industry in Hollywood.
Let’s just say that Jennifer Lopez–who more than helps me out by making my point, rather conspicuously, might I add–apparently got confused and thought she was attending the AVN Gala–that would be the porn industry’s version of the Oscars–and dressed like a well paid stripper. (That or she came straight off the set of “Batman” where she went to kidnap Commissioner Gordon.)
So in that particular room of what passes for Hollywood glamour these days, Catherine looked like a young, lovely, carefree fresh faced girl, untortured by the fashion lashing outs that come with the aging process in Hollywood. And untortured by any of the other demons that the likes of Nicole Kidman (who, let’s face it, at this point looks like Joan Rivers with a better body) or Jeniffer Lopez look like they battle every day.
When you are secure enough to know you are definitely the most important person in the room, there’s no real need to overdo it, now is there? Just smile and sparkle at the waist.
Ah, the waist. Along with the Alexander McQueen gown, the 3 other dresses Catherine wore in Los Angeles should make it clear that her personal style is built around accentuating her waist.
She is tall and not particularly busty. Much has been made about her ladylike knee length hemlines. That’s not the total picture, however. The knee length hemlines are indeed ladylike and so are the higher necklines that she favors. But let’s face it, Laura Bush by the end of her tenure as First Lady, could be described as ladylike in her Oscar de la Renta suits, but surely Catherine doesn’t bring that sort of ladylike image to mind.
That’s because the higher necklines and lower hemlines provide the right proportion to accentuate her waist. By smartly taking advantage of her figure in this way, the dresses transcend “ladylike.” In Los Angeles she looked chic but still sexy in body conscious brilliantly chosen dresses from Roksanda Ilinicic, DVF and Jenny Packham.
In what now seems like the distant past, they used to say a woman like Catherine dresses with class. Remember class?
On the one hand, what resonates with women is that Catherine’s look can actually be achieved. Do your hair, put on a little makeup and a flattering dress that you look pretty in and voila! It’s a refresher course in effortless chic.
If you want to see what tortured chic looks like, you might want to Google a clip of Rachel Zoe commenting on Catherine for Good Morning America: more makeup than they sell at Sephora, a chunky necklace that looked like it weighed more than she does and hair so processed I lost count of how many processes.
Sure, you too can look like Rachel, but why? Enhanced interrogation, indeed.
On the other hand, I don’t think that it’s an accident that the international fascination with both Diana and Catherine began during steep recessionary economies when uncertainty about one’s social class can cause sleepless nights. One can live vicariously through those whose social class in in no imminent danger.
. . .
In Canada we saw Catherine use her wardrobe to communicate her role as a diplomat and her role as the the successor to both the Queen of Hearts (Diana) and the Queen of England.
She arrived in Canada wearing a body conscious navy lace dress by Erdem, the London based Canadian designer, essentially announcing, without a word, I understand that we are about to embark on a special relationship between (you) Canada and (us) the monarchy. She wore another Erdem dress in electric blue later in the week to make the point even clearer.
She was engaging in on the job diplomacy while at the same time showcasing one of best designers you probably have never heard of and looked terrific all at the same time.
Properly understood, style is a controlled substance.
And no more so than when Catherine was dressing for the Canada Day parade, for the day of the 50th anniversary of Princess Diana’s birthday and for her departure on the final day in Canada.
On Canada Day, she wore the same cream Issa dress as she wore in the engagement photo taken by Mario Testino. Much was made about how thrifty she is because she recycled that dress. She did not wear that dress on Canada Day to show she was recycling old frocks. That is a complete misunderstanding of what she was actually up to.
She was referencing the first dress that she wore in the official introduction to the international media. Short of wearing her wedding dress, this was the dress to wear if she wanted to make the Canadian crowd feel like they were sharing in a personal experience.
“Oh look,” you might say if you were in the crowd of 500,000+ people and in that steamy 90 degree heat, “It’s that dress. She’s wearing it for us! And look at the red maple leaf fascinator on her head and all the red accessories. She looks like the Canadian flag!” If you were a bit more savvy, you might have noticed the diamond maple leaf pin on the dress which was loaned to her by Queen Elizabeth II who herself wore it on her first trip to Canada.
Of all the outfits she wore, none was less flattering than this one (well, unless you count the Alexander McQueen cable knit dress), because where but in this context would you want to dress like a flag?
But in this context, the audience loved it. She clearly came to reign on their parade. (Later that evening she looked stunning in a brand new purple Issa dress and still sporting the maple leaf pin. Purple reign, anyone?)
On the day of what would have been her mother in law’s 50th birthday, she chose to wear a dress by one of Diana’s favorite designers, Catherine Walker. The dress was awkward but the gesture was not.
And after the awkward rodeo side trip, as she left Canada behind for Rodeo Drive territory, she again wore a Catherine Walker coatdress, this time in Canadian flag red, and the maple leaf diamond pin.
The future Queen said goodbye to her subjects, only this time the Queen of Hearts and Queen Elizabeth II waved till we meet again along with her.
I am truly fascinated by the women who run out and buy the clothes Catherine wears. They shouldn’t be buying the clothes. And neither should you.
You should be buying into the idea that what you wear can say a lot about you, even if you’ve said nary a word.
Style is, indeed, a controlled substance. Any questions? Speak up.
Tom Kolovos is Editor in Chief of aControlledSubstance.com
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