Hats Off to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge

Kate steps up to her new role during the quintessential English party season.

By , Columnist

One advantage of being a Brit abroad is that you get to share the same mild amusement as the rest of the world at the quirkiness of the annual 'English Season'. From afar the pomp and ceremony of 'Trooping the Colour' and 'Garter Day', along with the mind-boggling preoccupation with eccentric headwear at Ascot, the British can appear to be on their own fabulously antiquated planet. One woman, however, has rocked this year's season in a thoroughly modern way - Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

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'The Season' is the time of year when the English aristocracy race from Royal Ascot to Henley Regatta. The hats defy gravity and the heels must be of the correct proportion to avoid sinking into grass. The rules over appropriate hem length and the biblical dress code for men (Top hat? With or without gloves? Lounge suit or tails?) are more complex than Lady Gaga's costume changes during her Monster Ball tour. One false move and you could find yourself swapping champagne in the Royal Enclosure for warm beer in the car park.

Since Kate Middleton walked down the aisle in Westminster Abbey and became the future Princess of Wales, I have found myself literally holding my breath every time a picture of her inaugural season appears. Partly the gasp is a reaction to just how stunning she looks. The Jenny Packham dress for the ARK Gala (pictured below) took my breath away. It is also tinged with anxiety. Part of me wants her to be exquisite, the fairytale princess every girl dreams of. Another part of me is fearful that if she is too much of a knockout, her fate will be uncomfortably similar to that of her stylish and unforgettable late mother-in-law.

I suspect I am not the only one who is holding my breath. Guilt associated with devouring every headline and picture of her every move prompts a feeling deep down that such a pattern of behavior indirectly caused Diana's tragic death. Watching how Kate has conducted herself in the several weeks since her marriage, however, is beginning to convince me that such worries are misplaced.

Take her first public engagement as Mrs. Wales as an example. She was poised and effortlessly elegant in the dreamy Jenny Packham dress. Comparisons lead naturally to Lady Diana, who infamously wore an off the shoulder, low cut black dress which revealed more than royal protocol would expect on her first public engagement. Video footage taken of the event shows a beautiful but shy woman who seemed overwhelmed by the event.


duchess3.jpegThe Duchess has also been demonstrating that she still has her feet planted firmly in the real world by the frequency with which she shops in chain stores. Just a few days ago she was spotted running an errand in skinny jeans and basic ballet flats to Boots, the UK equivalent to Duane Reade, reportedly buying an $8 Nivea face cream. Her two-outfits-one-hat extravaganza (see main picture) on Saturday for the Queen's 85th Birthday, followed by a friend's wedding, shows that she also has a practical outlook. Her frugality was further highlighted by her choice of a chain store Zara dress, which she had previously worn in 2007.

Apprehension about how the new Duchess adjusts to her new life is only natural. Living through the '80s and '90s, watching Diana blaze the trail of the modern princess only to have her taken away too soon, is enough to leave deep scars in everyone's mind. I think, however, it is time to move into the 21st century and let out a huge sigh of relief. With her clever blend of chain store chic, discreet designer outfits, and graceful confidence, this modern royal is showing us that her season has only just begun.

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Victoria Robertson is a freelance current affairs columnist and founder of thecolumnista.com. With her back foot firmly planted in some commonsense and a lively swing of the bat, she knocks today's big news stories straight out of the park.

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