Catherine’s confidence and dignity have grown steadily over the past twelve months to the point where she can deliver major iconic moments. She is developing the ability not only to dress for the occasion as an immaculate royal but also to focus on a moment in history for a worldwide audience while continuing to be fashion savvy.
Fashion standouts in the year 2021 include the elegantly styled bow coat dress by Catherine Walker, for the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh, the red Eponine wool crepe coatdress with mandarin collar for her Hold Still book launch, and last, the show-stopping gold sequin Jenny Packham cape gown for the autumn Bond film premiere.
Throughout the year The Duchess of Cambridge has continued to push the fashion envelope, despite those who consider her style has been conservative, even matronly. Her more unusual choices might not be appreciated by all, but are considered no less chic by others. Included in this might be the superb Catherine Walker Beau Tie wool coatdress, from the Windsor Castle funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh, with the most dramatic bow at the low neckline she has worn in daywear. The entire garment being in black, it was kept well within the bounds of mourning while remaining a bold and inspired choice.
She wore the Queen’s Four Row Pearl Choker for the first time and Bahrain Pearl Drop Earrings. With a fitted black face mask and a repeat Philip Treacy veiled hat, The Duchess created one of her most iconic looks when caught in a shot by royal photographer Chris Jackson looking directly at the camera from the back seat of a departing car.
It turned out later that Kate liked the Catherine Walker so much she bought it twice, and it delivered all over again in red. The Duchess donned it in festive style for her December ‘Together at Christmas’ concert at Westminster Abbey, held to honour those who supported their communities through the pandemic.
Many appreciated the Queen Mother’s Diamond and Sapphire Fringe earrings that The Duchess of Cambridge brought out, and these sparkling gems came into their own when Kate was memorably seen to take to a piano keyboard and accompany singer Tom Walker in his poignant composition ‘For Those Who Can’t Be Here’.
Then there was the intriguing Self Portrait cream boucle and chiffon midi dress worn to a September Hold Still reception hosted by Catherine at Buckingham Palace for those who had worked on the photography project.
This was styled as a belted boucle jacket over a knife-pleat skirt, incorporating its own nod to fashion as the lower third of the skirt was made translucent with a chiffon overlay, which was left to reveal its lacy pattern below the layered skirt. The texture contrast between boucle and delicate lace was original and effective for a semi-formal evening.
Another fresh evening look was accomplished in November when Kate, accompanied by William, wore a sophisticated cobalt blue Eponine coat dress for a COP26 reception in Glasgow. A ladylike, slightly loose-fitting midi-length, this featured Kate’s favourite cross-over style on the bodice, cut with a plain v-neck, with two dark buttons at the waist which secured a belt visible only from the back. Elegance was evident in the slightly raised neck at the back and structured shoulders, as well as bracelet sleeves. Fine tailoring saw soft shoulder gathers repeated just below the waist buttons for a fuller skirt in a perfect regal choice for Kate to go face-to-face with world leaders.
During the year Kate also began to adopt a color-blocking theme when wearing dark pants, where she matched a contrast-color sweater and coat over the top. In particular, there was her pink Max & Co Runway Coat with matching Boden jumper and navy high-waisted Jigsaw trousers. Then there was her green Erdem zip front coat with plain Zara green top for meeting young Earthshot participants at Kew in October,
and, in November, a bold fuchsia London Hobbs single-breasted knee-length coat with matching Hobbs turtleneck for engagements on early childhood development. The trend through the year was towards an increasing number of sophisticated slim-leg trousers, away from the wide-legs she has favoured.
Her casual style also progressed as she discovered quality fabrics in casual and outerwear. When attending a Natural History Museum garden project in June, she picked out a most unusual casual-smart combination in a tailored Chloe woolen orange blazer, incorporating a gathered waist, styled like an ordinary anorak. The casual vibe was extended to contrast ribbed cuffs, equally tailored in quality. Later she skilfully upgraded an outdoor outfit worn to join outdoor activities with Royal Air Force (RAF) cadets in the Lake District by swapping her green quilted Seeland Hawker jacket for a new Really Wild tweed belted stalking jacket for a more sober meet-up with ‘Windermere Children’ holocaust survivors, part of a group of 300 who had originally come to the Lake District at the end of the war.
A new style of wearing her hair seemed to emerge when May brought a memorable shot of The Duchess embracing workaday casual with some elan while receiving her Covid jab. With a simple white H&M scoop neck t-shirt, light blue Favourite Cut mom jeans, and her hair pushed over one shoulder, she epitomised the natural glamour and panache which comes easily with her natural beauty.
and again with the repeat Jenny Packham dark green column dress at The Royal Variety Performance. On each occasion, Kate’s side-swept curls became tighter, and the last look was vamped up with darker lipstick.
Over the twelve months, Kate continued to embrace signature favorites, like a Breton top in black-and-white, and polka dots in both tops and skirts, but with variations in print size and color. Swishy knife-pleat skirts have been a consistent feature, from the intriguing color-block Hope Contrast skirt she teamed with a blue Zara blazer at the opening of the Scotland tour. Not least must be the sparkly Joseph pleated lurex skirt which peeked out from under her colorful tartan trench coat in Edinburgh, worn for the premiere of the Disney Cruella film at Holyroodhouse. Later came the striking red Christopher Kane midi skirt with matching Polo Ralph Lauren cashmere Turtle to deliver a keynote address for the Action on Addiction campaign in October. Same style, but a variety of looks.
There were also examples of developing her use of monochrome to a greater level of chic. She first used her camel Massimo Dutti coat for a visit with William in March to the London Ambulance Station, to hear about the challenges of working during the pandemic. She repeated the tan midi-length, double-breasted coat with a new Reiss knitted roll neck in a relatively low-key outfit. The same coat was used to extra-svelte effect with an all-camel ensemble in May when opening the Balfour Hospital with William in Kirkwall, Orkney, on the Scotland tour. This time it was worn with UFO wide-leg pants and new tan accessories from Emmy London, plus a new Temperley layering top, with edgy unfinished cuffs.. The whole was much enlivened by her red tartan Strathearn silk scarf which was a better colour against her complexion than the previous neutral roll neck.
As lockdown continued at the beginning of the year, we had only seen Kate from the waist up in video calls. The trend, in common with other royal ladies at the time, was for re-wears, refreshed by the occasional new top. It was March before we had our first sightings of the couple on in-person engagements.
Towards the end of the month came a big treat when they visited the Westminster Abbey vaccination center on a National Day of Reflection. We saw The Duchess of Cambridge, full-height again, in a new winter-white Catherine Walker Valeria coat, featuring scalloped edging and delicate ivory floral lace hand applied in bands down the front, with repeat tan suede accessories. Our polished and glamorous Duchess was back.
At the end of the month, more relaxed images of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were released in honour of their tenth wedding anniversary. Kate had embraced a casual look for a photoshoot by repeating her blue Ghost Avery Wrap Floral Print Dress, first seen on the 2019 Pakistan Tour.
She was wearing a new daisy pendant, thought to be the Asprey London Daisy Heritage Diamond Pendant. Kate also later went on to re-wear her Whistles engagement blouse, with grandad collar and front frill detail, when phoning Hold Still participants in early May of her anniversary year.
May saw Kate branch out further from pandemic recycling to emerge in three outfits with new items. She made a bold statement when launching the publication of the Hold Still project photographs in hardback. For a full day of engagements, she debuted the bright orange-red Eponine wool crepe coatdress with a stylish mandarin collar, which she teamed with tan accessories for a fashion break from more conventional dark tones often worn with red. Along with the distinctive collar and scoop pockets, she continued to add touches of fashion to bring her appearance alive while maintaining dignified royal daywear.
The four-day Scotland trip came at the end of the month, and highlights included everything from a pink princess dress to evening wear of a tartan coat with royal jewels. Kate first joined William, who had spent the weekend in the North, in a bright Saltire blue outfit, where she embraced current fashion with her long Zara cobalt double-breasted blazer, from an earlier video call, over the knife-pleated Hope Contrast skirt with interesting block colour shades.
It was on the next day that Kate achieved peak tonal camel chic with the Massimo Dutti coat in Orkney. Then, on the couple’s return to St Andrew’s, Kate debuted a new Holland Cooper double-breasted blazer over a Breton stripe top, this time from Erdem in black and white, with slim trousers emerging again, with student-friendly sneakers.
That same evening The Duchess began to bring back post-lockdown glamour in a striking tartan Holland Cooper trench, a masterstroke in adapting outerwear for an evening engagement. The Cruella film outdoor premiere was held at Holyrood Palace for NHS workers.
It was under this coat that Catherine wore her sparkly Joseph gold pleated Lurex maxi skirt, while with her semi-updo she showcased Sapphire and Diamond Loop Stud Earrings on loan from the Queen.
The next day she continued in full princess mode for a special visitor, five-year-old Mila Sneddon, who had been featured in the Hold Still project. For their afternoon tea, Kate kept her promise to the little girl that they would both wear pink and charm her young guest in a floaty bubblegum-pink ME+EM colour block silk coat dress, another signature style for Kate. With a classic shirt front, the design elements varied the look with a pleated front panel and dipped hem in the back, to which The Duchess added a Boden skinny suede belt,
June saw Catherine’s style mature further, confirming her status as future Queen Consort, as she took to the world stage for the G7 Summit in Cornwall. She debuted a bold pink Alexander McQueen sheath with unusually structured shoulders creating an extra-long, lean look. The belted Leaf Midi Pencil dress in dahlia pink featured pleats at the round neck, short sleeves, and a length hitting just below the knee. This was followed at an evening reception by a supremely elegant ivory cream coatdress thought to also be by McQueen as it boasted signature features like fit and flare, long sleeves with cuff buttons, plain waist seam with further button detail, and a very full skirt.
For the landmark launch of her Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, the culmination of many years of preparation by The Duchess, Kate returned to an old favourite label, LK Bennet. She wore their Dee pale blue crepe shift dress, with sweetheart neckline, short puffed sleeves, a fitted silhouette, and pencil skirt with back vent to look both businesslike and approachable. Shift dresses were becoming less frequent for Kate as tailored trousers became more of a wardrobe staple.
July saw sport begin at Wimbledon where Kate took her style level to a fresh sophisticated high. Attending as Patron of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, The Duchess of Cambridge favoured more polka dots, this time in a new drop-waist pleated skirt from Alessandra Rich, worn with her Smythe Navy one-button blazer. She also had a very pretty new Mulberry small white Amberley bag, and turned fashion convention on its head by wearing plain white court shoes, albeit cunningly styled away from the Essex Girl vibe, by Jimmy Choo.
The couture came out for the Women’s Final with a striking new green fit-and-flare dress from Emilia Wickstead, with precise darting through the bodice, tiny cap sleeves, and luxurious drape in the skirt from skilfully placed panels. The white accessories from the previous engagement were repeated.
The Duchess then attended the Men’s Final with her father when she debuted the Beulah Ahana Crepe Midi shirtdress in soft pink, with a short stand neckline, button front, cropped sleeves, full sweeping skirt, and wide belt.
There followed a long summer break for Kate who eventually reappeared mid-September at RAF Brize Norton where she met those who had supported UK civilian evacuation from Afghanistan. She teamed wide-leg navy trousers in a working outfit with a new Reiss Larsson double-breasted blazer in neutral, Tusting mini Holly Bag in taupe, and her white Goat Binky blouse.
It was towards the close of September that Kate debuted her most astonishing look of the year, and possibly of her entire public life, dressed from top-to-toe in sparkling gold sequins and embroidery on a caped gown from Jenny Packham.
Along with Prince William, Prince Charles, and The Duchess of Cornwall, she was at the red carpet Royal Albert Hall world premiere of the much-delayed Bond movie, No Time To Die. Her dress was appropriately called Goldfinger, being one of a capsule collection of eight created by Jenny Packham in collaboration with EON Productions, to honour the legacy of powerful female characters in Bond movies.
The image of the dazzling gown was flashed around the globe in an iconic traffic-stopping moment that for many encapsulated the emergence from lockdown and the resumption of greater social contact. The Duchess of Cambridge’s poise in carrying off such a historic entrance was magnificent.
The next day she surprised fans yet again when the couple was revealed on a day trip to Northern Ireland, with Kate sporting a bright purple Emma Wickstead pantsuit in Londonderry. The boxy Dida wool-flannel blazer was matched by more coordinating slim-leg tailored pants and teamed with navy accessories and a new UFO turtle neck in classic power-suit style.
October saw The Duchess of Cambridge step out in a striking all-red outfit to deliver a keynote address to launch the Taking Action on Addiction campaign led by the Forward Trust. Kate again returned to midi-length knife-pleats in a flowing skirt by Christopher Kane, matched with a Polo Ralph Lauren cashmere turtleneck, and more pale nude accessories.
Her next outing was again center-stage for the first-ever Earthshot Prize Awards at Alexandra Palace, London. In the spirit of conservation, Kate recycled a dress not seen for ten years since she wore it on her first North American tour. Switching the outfit up with a fresh beaded belt from Jenny Packham, Kate swept onto the appropriately green carpet in her Grecian-inspired lilac Alexander McQueen, first worn to a Bafta gala in Los Angeles. This was when she first wore a sophisticated side-swept, wavy hairstyle.
In November the solemn theme of remembrance returned, starting with a solo trip for Kate to officially open two new galleries at the Imperial War Museum, one of which, the Holocaust Galleries, included two of her own portraits of survivors.
In a skillful recycle, Kate re-wore her Alexander McQueen Military Silk Blouse, with its distinctive navy bands on white, and matched it for the first time with fitted slim leg pants, underling her move towards greater reliance on tailored trousers. She also repeated her Catherine Walker long wool coat first seen in May.
Next came another monochrome soft top and skirt outfit, this time in forest green, for an interview Kate held to mark 100 years of the Royal British Legion. The Duchess embraced the generations by talking with 98-year-old veteran Colonel Blum, and 10-year-old Cub Scout Emily. She debuted separates from Iris and Ink, a house brand for The Outnet, choosing the Eloise turtleneck and matching Ernestine wool-blend midi skirt, both featuring contrast bands of ribbed knit in low-key styling. Over the outfit, Kate wore a new coat from Holland Cooper, this time in distinctive double-breasted Black Watch, with gold-tone buttons, notched lapels, and welt pockets.
For the rest of the month, Kate turned to familiar labels. The Remembrance Service at the Royal Albert Hall saw her revisit a modest Eponine shirtdress in black boucle, worn earlier in the year for a theatre outing and accompanied this time by Princess Diana’s Collingwood pearl and diamond drop earrings and three-strand pearl bracelet.
For the next day’s Cenotaph ceremony, Kate brought back her white-collar, fitted Alexander McQueen coat with military details plus the Collingwood earrings and new wide-brim Lock & Company hat. There was extra sadness that day as the Queen had unexpectedly had to pull out of attending at the last moment.
As the year came to a close, fresh restrictions were being brought back as another wave of Covid intensified. Royal outings were curtailed and the final glimpse of Kate’s style came in a video to promote the Christmas Eve tv broadcast of her ‘Together at Christmas’ concert. For this Kate wore an elegant version of a Christmas jumper in the form of a cashmere Miu Miu cardigan with a diamond pattern and red and white roses, bobble detail, Peter Pan collar, and mother-of-pearl studded buttons.
Following a year that emerged from the repeat outfits of lockdown into fresh looks for post-pandemic touring and world stage events, I think we can rely on The Duchess of Cambridge continuing to ring the changes and explore contemporary fashion in 2022. She encompasses adroit choices that see her segue naturally from hands-on casual outdoor activities to full glamour, always maintaining her royal dignity with grace. The moment she stepped out in her glittering Goldfinger dress there seemed to be a general reappraisal of her style, as some who previously downplayed her contribution, discovered that in fact Kate has never shied from experiment and style, and has emerged as a world player in her many polished choices.