A New Engagement for the Princess and Polarizing Looks Part 2

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Welcome to our final post on ensembles worn by the Princess  of Wales that I describe as “polarizing.” But before we get started on our primary topic, a quick update to the calendar:

  • This Saturday (the 9th), the Princess, in her role as royal patron of the Rugby Football Union will attend the Rugby World Cup 2023 match between England and Argentina at the Stade de Marseille in France. Saturday’s match begins at 3pm EDT/8pm in London/9pm in France. The match will be aired on ITV1 in the UK and Peacock in the US.  On Sunday, the Prince of Wales, patron of the Welsh Rugby Union, will watch Wales take on Fiji in another opening-round match at the Stade de Bordeaux. 

I also think we will see the Prince and Princess of Wales on Friday, the one-year anniversary of the Queen’s death. 


Now for our final group of looks worn by the Princess that stirred debate and discussion. One final refresher on how the styles were selected, as written in my initial post on the topic. I looked at the number of comments on posts, the content of those comments, people’s reactions when commenting on the outfits a second time in year-end polls, and how people reacted on the WKW Facebook page and other media. A couple of notes to keep in mind: 

  • These are not the most disliked outfits worn by the Princess.
  • In most cases, comments were divided fairly evenly between those fond of specific styles and those not fond of a look. 
  • The items are listed chronologically. The underlined dates link to the original post for each ensemble. 
  • If items worn by the Princess are still available to purchase, I have included links to retailers offering the items. 
  •  I’m sure there are ensembles I missed in compiling the lists. Please leave a comment or send an email to Susan@WhatKateWore.com

July 2017: We begin with a look worn during the 2017 visit to Poland when the Duchess chose a dress by Gosia Baczyńska, a Polish designer. 

The event was a party hosted by Jonathan Knott, the British Ambassador to Poland at the time. 

The Duchess accessorized with her black Prada clutch, her Gianvito Rossi Ankle Strap d’Orsay heels, her Balenciaga ‘Eugenia’ faux pearl and silvertone clips, and her asymmetric pearl necklace. Ms. Baczyńska is one of Poland’s most notable designers, and she was also at the event where the Duchess wore her dress.

As noted by Bethan Holt in her Telegraph piece, ” The jagged, black-edge pleats on the bottom part of the dress offer a playful contrast to the delicate floral black applique at the waist while the deep v-neckline framed her pearl necklace – debuted during a visit to Paris in March – elegantly.”  Below, a closer look at some of the dress details.   

As I said at the time, this was “a dress with an edgier design (no pun intended)” than what we normally saw the Duchess wearing. In the Telegraph story, the designer is quoted as saying, “I would like women who wear my outfits to feel special and modern. Classy and a little bit rebellious…” and I thought this dress fit that description.

A fan of the look, Fashionista wrote, “This is an edgy, avant-garde piece, and the Duchess “balanced” that edginess for this official event with safe, conservative accessories and hair…and she pulled it off!” Ulku also appreciated the ensemble, writing, “The more I look at this look, the more I like it. Sophisticated, with a little edge. Everything about this dress is thought and planned, the fabric, the jagged pleats with black details, and the pointy darts at the bodice. She is wearing a piece of art, and it looks divine.” And JR wrote, “This dress is so cool – to me it’s beyond edgy and straight into avant-garde territory. I almost called it an Eastern European influence, but it’s even more specific than that – it communicates an absolutely Polish vibe, so striking, and certainly not conservative, despite the demure length. ”

The primary quibble for those who didn’t care for the look: the darts on the bodice, with Sara writing, “Oh, those bust darts. As a sewist, I understand the demands of the design and fabric, but it looks like the darts are purposefully exaggerated and I just can’t be a fan of the torpedo-bra look. ” This issue was followed by the choice of jewelry to go with the dress. Rachel wrote, “At first, I liked the necklace but after reading some responses I changed my mind. It’s too costume-y for this look.” Another commenter, Mocro said, “Love the dress, but not as Kate styled it. Her hair down, a la Wimbledon, would have been better but I think this architectural dress was a miss with an updo and a clutch. It felt to me like she just couldn’t commit to the dress.”

JANUARY 2018: Now for a design many think of immediately when raising the topic of “polarizing choices” worn by the Princess, the Erdem floor-length style worn during the Sweden tour. 

The event was a black-tie dinner at the British Ambassador’s residence. Before the dinner, the Duke and Duchess had a private meeting with Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and his wife Ulla. The Duchess carried a clutch by Jimmy Choo and appeared to be wearing Gianvito Rossi heels. Her jewelry included the Collingwood diamond and pearl earrings, as well as a pearl bracelet that belonged to Diana, Princess of Wales.

The dress was the designer’s “Stephanie” style from the Autumn/Winter 2017 collection in a print called “Winterbourne.”

Made from 100% silk satin, it showcased an Edwardian-influenced high neck with a ruffled placket and collar, gathers at the shoulder, a tiered skirt, belled sleeves, and a self-bow or sash. The yellow-gold background color (described as ‘mustard’ by many) and blue flowers would have been a nod to Sweden’s flag.

No one will be surprised to read there were more than 200 comments on this post. Ellen H. summed up her thoughts this way: “I have no idea how I feel about this haha. Part of me hates it…if I saw this in a store, I wouldn’t have touched it with a ten-foot pole. After going through the pictures, however, I find myself liking it more and more on her.” Traveling Blush wrote, “A stunning look, very opulent without being stuffy! Such a treat and refreshing choice in a sea of boring black,” while Maryam said, “This dress has everything I would normally love to HATE, but for some reason, it actually seems to work! I think somehow it just looks flattering …it’s amazing that she can pull off that color, but it works…”. Another commenter appreciative of the ensemble, Fliss, wrote, “I love this look. This dress is pure ‘English eccentric’ just the thing a duchess should wear to dinner then eventually in the garden to feed the chickens with a pair of welly boots – v Mitford sisters.”   Below you see the Duchess with the British Ambassador to Sweden, David Cairns. 

Among those not fond of the ensemble was Celeste, who commented, “The Duchess of Cambridge is unfailingly lovely and in good form so my comments apply only to the Erdem dress. It is hideous. I can see from the photographs that the fabric and the design on the fabric are luxe and gorgeous. The problems stem from the darting, the belting, and the ruffling in various locations which all serve to chop the design of the fabric into quarreling quadrants.” Hannah articulated what several others said in their comments, writing “The dress is fabulous, it is the styling that lets the look down.” Alyssa noted, “This is my least favorite thing she’s ever worn and I have TRIED to like this dress for hours today (I know that sounds excessive, and I’m okay with that).” 

Emily K. summed up the thoughts of those who went back and forth on the look, trying to determine if they liked it or not; she said, “I really can’t decide how I feel. On one hand, I love that she chose such a different dress than what many would probably expect. The colors look good on her and it looks comfortable. I agree with a few who said unbuttoning the top would make it look like a dressing gown – that was my first thought when I saw the model wearing it that way. Something about it though is just not doing it for me.”

FEBRUARY 2018: Two days later, another gown prompted discussion, this one a blush Alexander McQueen design worn at a black-tie dinner in Norway. 

The event was hosted by King Harald and Queen Sonja at the Royal Palace in Oslo, and attended by other members of Norway’s royal family. Below you see (l to r): Princess Martha Louise of Norway, King Harald, Queen Sonja, the Duke and Duchess, Crown Prince Haakon, Crown Princess Mette-Marit, and Princess Astrid of Norway.  Martha Louise is the older sister of Crown Prince Haakon and fourth in line to the throne. Princess Astrid is King Harald’s older sister.

The Duchess accessorized with a “Celeste” handbag from Jimmy Choo, her “Cabrina” lamé heels by Oscar de la Renta, the Queen’s diamond drop earrings, and the Queen’s Wedding Gift Bracelet, so called because it was a gift from Prince Philip to HM when they were married in 1947.

The blush pink gown by Alexander McQueen looked like it was made from lightweight silk embellished with a hand-sewn floral motif at the round neckline, a sleeveless bodice, and a sheer overlay that transformed into a cape covering the sides and back of the dress. 

Those who liked the ensemble included Jenn, who said, “Now, THAT is an evening gown. Simple and elegant, and somehow daring and unquestionably classic at the same time.” Tracy B. wrote, ” It is – by far – my favorite formal dress on her of all time! And, absolutely perfect for when pregnant. The sheer cape feature is NOT aging at all…IMO. If anything, it adds to the “floating” statement of the dress.” Sara commented, “Such a beautiful, ethereal, queenly gown, she looks absolutely gorgeous. This is perfect from head to toe, I love the sparkle of the cape, jewels, and shoes along with the floaty lightness of the fabric.”

Dislike of the cape was top of mind for several, including SG, who said, “I may be the only one, but I am not into this dress. It is SO matronly to me…it is very mother of the bride. I really want to like it too, because I am very into capes/cape dresses at the moment. But I just think it is very aging on her, particularly when combined with the stiff updo.” JK wrote, “For a woman under 40, who is fortunate to have a lovely maternity figure, direct access to designers and bespoke clothing, this gown while beautiful, is to me very matronly. I actually think a shorter hem, like the similar gown shown, might have helped along with a more vibrant color but even then don’t think I’m sold on it.” Casey noted, “As to this particular gown, the cape effect ruins it for me. I find that feature in combination with the hairstyle to be aging the lovely Duchess.”

Some readers of the Erdem “Stephanie” post expressed curiosity about how the Erdem gown would fare in our year-end evening gown oll. Here are the results of that vote with the blush McQueen at the top and the Erdem “Stephanie” at the bottom.

OCTOBER 2018: Another Alexander McQueen prompting debate was the icy blue design worn for the Netherlands state dinner in October 2018. 

The function was in honor of King Willem-Alexander and his wife Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, held during their two-day state visit. This was the first time we saw the Duchess of Cambridge wearing the Royal Family Order of Queen Elizabeth II. (The order was first worn to the 2017 diplomatic reception, but we do not have photos from that event.)

Jewelry worn by the Duchess included the Lover’s Knot tiara, the Collingwood pearl and diamond earrings, and the showstopping necklace from Queen Alexandra’s Wedding Gift Parure. The necklace was described by Her Majesty’s Jewel Vault as featuring 8 pearls surrounded by diamonds, each connected with festoons of diamonds, and three detachable diamond and pearl drop pendants.” The Duchess also carried Jenny Packham’s “Belle” clutch. 

The figure-skimming gown was crafted with layers of ruched and pleated silk on the upper portion of the dress, a soft rosette at the right shoulder, and a dropped waist flaring into a dramatic trumpet-style skirt. (I say ‘trumpet’ because the flare starts above Kate’s knee).  

Opinions were really divided on this one, as noted by Brandi, who wrote, “Wow, I don’t recall a dress Kate has worn recently that has had such a split reaction! Haha… at first I wasn’t blown away. Another blue dress. But I looked again and thought it had sort of a vintage feel to it?” Stephanie, a fan of the look, commented, “I love state dinners, go big or go home! The jewels are Royally Fabulous. The dress is unique and difficult to pull off, which she does flawlessly.” JuLee commented, “I think the dress is right for the occasion, and jewels like these require a dress with substance and “presence”. Something with fullness or weight.” Many commenters said they loved one half of the dress; MickyO noted, “I am in line with the camp that loves the dress from the skirt up. The fit is perfect and I love the color. And the jewels – stunning.” LeeLee commented, “I really like the top half of this dress. I think it suits her and I like the color.” Sue D. wrote, “I love the top of the dress but cannot stand the shape of the skirt bottom. LOVE the jewelry, hair, giant necklace.”

MARCH 2022: Our next look is the Alessandra Rich design worn as the Cambridges departed the Bahamas at the end of their Caribbean tour. 

The couple boarded an evening flight after departure ceremonies at Lynden Pindling International Airport in Nassau.

The “Belted Floral Silk Jacquard Peplum Dress” was an 80s-inspired design in a finely woven polka dot silk jacquard with a roses motif. The product description at one retailer noted the dress had “a bow-detailed ruffled collar, puffed sleeves, and a pleated peplum at the waist. The crystal-embellished buckle and faux pearl buttons are a nod to the decade’s glamorous excess.” The Duchess accessorized with a Ferragamo clutch, white Gianvito Rossi pumps, and her Patrick Mavros Ocean Tide Milky Quartz earrings.

Below, a closer look at some of the dress details.

There were more than 250 comments on the post and while some related to the tour wardrobe as a whole, that volume also speaks to the divided opinions on this look. Sam liked the ensemble, writing, “Quirky indeed, fun, reminiscent of 80s styles, pleasant color combination, fitting for the tropical theme and let’s be honest, it looks amazing on her!” Larissa noted the mixed opinions, writing, “This is certainly an interesting dress, and I can see how it would divide people. I actually don’t mind it. Yellow can be a hard colour to wear on light skin tones, so I think the floral pattern making an almost creamy mixture of yellow and white is a great way to wear it.” Another fan of the look, Ye, commented, “This dress is so out there that I actually love it. I doubt that the DOC would wear anything like this in normal life outside of the context of an official tour. I have a feeling the dress actually felt very much in place where it was worn.”

For some, the 1980s inspiration was not a plus, including Kiki in Vancouver, who said, “It has absolutely every terrible feature of 80s dressing all in one garment – puffy sleeves, deep frill, bow, large peplum, jeweled belt buckle, pearl buttons and a shiny printed fabric – good grief.” Laura even referenced the Erdem “Stephanie” dress seen earlier in today’s post in her comment, “Okay, first, Kate wears the heck out of this dress. She looks confident, poised and relaxed. Her hair, smile, makeup, shoes, and accessories are perfect. This is…. quite a dress. It reminds me intensely of the mustard floral Erdem dress Kate wore when pregnant and on her Scandinavian tour. I think if the designer had subtracted about three or four elements, I would have liked it.”

FEBRUARY 2023: We conclude our look at the more polarizing designs worn by the Princess of Wales with the Alexander McQueen gown worn to the 2023 BAFTA awards.

The gown was very much a favorite look for many readers when it was first worn to the 2019 BAFTA Awards, but it received a different reception when paired with black opera-length gloves this February.

Another view of the Prince and Princess as they arrived at the awards in February. 

The dress was updated with alterations to the left shoulder: the floral petals were removed, and additional fabric was added and anchored to the shoulder. 

The Princess accessorized with her Aquazzura “Fenix” pumps and “Celeste” clutch by Jimmy Choo. Her statement earrings were by Zara, the brand’s “Cascading Flower” style. 

This engagement generated more than 300 comments. Fans of the look included Izzy, who wrote, “I love the black gloves! White ones would have looked too wedding-dressy and none would have looked, well, repetitive. I thought it was glamorous.” Sue V commented, “For myself, the more I look at photos and clips the more I like/appreciate the ensemble in general. The bit I like the most is that so many of us (me included) often bemoan that Catherine plays it too safe (more in the UK than abroad, perhaps) that this ‘risky look’ dressing was such a jaw-dropping sight to us all. And she carried it off with aplomb.” Berenike noted, “I absolutely loved Catherine’s whole outfit. The white dress is impeccable and changing the shoulder embellishment was a great idea. It gave the dress a more modern look. Those long opera-style gloves are fashion right now, and gave her look the edge that is so often missing, as she usually dresses quite conservatively.” Annie wrote, “Love the update – much less bridal. I actually like the graphic mixing of black and white – somehow long black gloves always read “super hero” to me, and also edgy.” The ensemble grew on several readers, including Sophie, who wrote, “The gloves are a really bold contrast, that I didn’t like initially, but I’ve changed my mind!”

K van Voorhees was not fond of the updated look, writing “Sadly, the longer I look at this ensemble the less I find it works and the problems become more glaring. As many others have noted the too-long black suede gloves are bulky with the white floaty delicate Grecian style Alexander McQueen gown.” DuchFan commented, “I loved the 2019 version of this gorgeous frock, and while I’m also enthusiastic about experimenting and having fun, this particular mix didn’t do it for me. The two looks are worlds different…apples and oranges.” Kate-in-Canada commented, “While I love the gloves by themselves, to me they don’t belong with a floaty gown. Had she been wearing a structured white satin gown yes.” Our final comment by a reader who didn’t care for the ensemble is from Bonnie, who wrote, “The dress is light, flowing, frothy and so very delicate. The black gloves add such a heavy touch, in their exaggerated length, velvet texture, and dark colour.” 

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