When reports started circulating, three months ago, that the Queen had decreed that the Duchess of Cambridge's hemlines should be lower, they sounded a little preposterous. Her Majesty, the tabloids claimed, believed that the duchess needed to look more regal and conservative to fulfil her duties as a statesperson. But the duchess's New Zealand and Australia tour wardrobe so far seems to have proved those rumours right.
Gone are the beige Reiss bandage frocks and shimmering, pewter hip-skimming gowns. From the red Catherine Walker frock coat and pillbox hat she wore for touchdown in New Zealand to her blue, tweed, Rebecca Taylor skirt suit in Sydney, the duchess's outfits have embodied appropriateness, patriotism and diplomacy. Knees, for the most part, have indeed been covered. Catherine's outfits have practically sung the British national anthem, so many of them have been in block colours of red, white or blue. She has paid sartorial compliments to her hosts, too – a diplomatic trick the Queen often employs herself. The black Jenny Packham dress the duchess wore to a state reception in New Zealand, for example, was embellished with silver fern leaves – a New Zealand national emblem. By wearing local designers, such as Australian label Zimmerman, she has given her host fashion industry a shot of global publicity.
It would be naive to think that even the moments when the duchess has dressed down – when sailing or watching rugby – her look has not been carefully considered. She rewore an old Zara jacket, for example, in New Zealand, showing that she is still the same old Kate, after all. And the very literal use of sartorial signals – a Breton top to go sailing; a military-cut Alexander McQueen coat to visit an airfield – helps give visual emphasis to each part of the royal itinerary, until every feel-good moment is burned into the retina of our collective eye.
Though Catherine is undoubtedly a style favourite, she is not the sort of fashion template whose choices are universally adored by the style set – her look is too straight to please fans of directional labels like Christopher Kane and JW Anderson; she doesn't break rules, she follows them. The only dress that would have had all fashion editors swooning on this tour was the yellow Roksanda Ilincic shift. The Serbian designer is an in-the-know favourite who shows at London fashion week, and the unusual colour felt edgy and youthful. Given how meticulously put together the duchess's tour wardrobe has been so far, is it too much to imagine that she wore this dress to throw the style press a bone? After all, yellow is Grazia's signature colour (and gold is Australia's too, but that's a far less interesting analysis).
Certainly, the yellow dress wasn't Prince William's favourite of his wife's outfits. Demonstrating, beautifully, the chasm between the views of the fashion industry and the views of the royal family on matters sartorial, Kate told the crowds: "William said I look like a banana."
Treading the line between the desires of the firm and the whims of the style press is tricky, but the Duchess is managing it quite beautifully. Which is just as well, given that the family business depends on it.