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Big problem with Kate’s glam new look

This year will go down in history for a number of truly horrible reasons, however, when historians look back on this period in the future, I hope at least someone notices one truly significant and positive development in royal life: Kate Duchess of Cambridge has started to wear pants more often.Over the last 12 months…

This year will go down in history for a number of truly horrible reasons, however, when historians look back on this period in the future, I hope at least someone notices one truly significant and positive development in royal life: Kate Duchess of Cambridge has started to wear pants more often.

Over the last 12 months or so (this is not an exact science) the royal has, with vaguely more regularity, traded her signature floral frocks, of which she must have so many that they require their own temperature controlled storage shed, for trousers. (Simone de Beauvoir, eat your heart out).

This week we saw her most (literally) headline-grabbing ensemble yet when she wore a particularly sharp black Alexander McQueen blazer and pants to film a video at London’s Natural History Museum for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

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And there the story should have stopped: Kate has dialled up the daytime glamour! She’s not wearing a mid-priced dress! Hold the front page!

Instead, a slew of eagle-eyed royal watchers swiftly took to social media to claim that Kate had taken inspiration for her sophisticated ensemble from her sister-in-law Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who once wore a very similar Altuzarra black suit to an official engagement.

Let’s just ignore a few of the peskier issues with this argument, namely the farcical notion that Kate is spending her nights trawling Meghan-related Pinterest boards and Insta-fan accounts for style ideas or that it never occurred to Kate to wear a black blazer until the former Suits star donned one and then she patiently waited two years to have her own turn.

The bigger problem is this: No matter what Kate does, wears or says, forever more she and Meghan will be eternally held in constant, ceaseless comparison.

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What is exhausting and dispiriting is that, despite it being a good century since women’s suffrage in the UK, Kate’s (moreover than Meghan’s) achievements, projects and style are not judged on their own merits but in opposition to the other duchess’.

And this thorny, tricky issue looks set to plague Kate in particular for … well, forever maybe.

Before Meghan came along, Kate existed in something of a royal vacuum given there was no one of a similar age and position to hold her up against and to be compared to.

So, for years, she was widely viewed as being essentially a bland, lovely figure. That blandness may very well be studied, a conscious means of never, ever giving critics and the press any ammunition. (After all, vivacious, charismatic personalities don’t tend to thrive in Windsor life.)

She splendidly filled the job requirements of ‘future Queen Consort’ by transforming in front of our eyes from real life woman into some sort of cipher of fecund majestic banality over the better part of a decade.

Looking back, the most audacious thing Kate did in her years as a Windsor wife in the years BM (Before Meghan) was to briefly flirt with a fringe, truly a red-letter day for royal watchers everywhere starved of anything remotely controversial to write about.

With the arrival of Meghan on the royal scene in 2017 with her impeccable fashion sense and thrilling, modernising bent came the sort of juicy, tabloid-ready plot line that Fleet Street editors must dream about – two famous women who could be pitted against one another on their front pages ad nauseam.

Suddenly the world had a new electrifying vision of what being a 21st century princess could look like and nude hose were not on top of her priority list.

Within a heartbeat of Meghan becoming an HRH-to-be, the two women were played off against one another in the press, no matter their real relationship, creating an addictive if hardly edifying new royal story arc.

Even a casting director could not have conjured two better foils: One British, one American; one with no previous career, the other a highly successful actress and businesswoman; one white, one bi-racial. They are two sides of a perpetually polished coin.

That relentless comparison goes beyond the superficial.

When Harry and Meghan officially quit as working members of the royal family in March this year, the Duchess sashayed off into the sunset to start a new life ensconced among the entertainment and corporate elites.

This week she took part in a video chat with Nobel Peace Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai (alongside Harry) before she later appeared as part in Fortune magazine’s Next Gen Summit.

However, while Meghan Zooms her way to US dominance, Kate faces a different fate. Instead she now seems trapped in her sister-in-law’s shadow.

The tragedy here is that it has been a bumper year for Kate with her rolling out her Five Big Questions parenting survey and stepping up to push her early-childhood support agenda with an impressive new-found forcefulness.

Then, during the COVID lockdown, Kate played a belter with her at-home video appearances, all big lovely smiles and bouncy blow dries, and launched her widely hailed Hold Still photography competition.

However, rather than basking in the glow of a cracker of a year (professionally at least – even she surely didn’t enjoy being trapped in Norfolk far away from the retail delights of the King’s Road), Kate is still being judged in relation to how she measures up against her sister-in-law.

(Interestingly, the Kate/Meghan scenario is nearly a carbon copy replay of the late ’80s, when the bubbly, outgoing Sarah Ferguson married Prince Andrew and suddenly the demure Diana started to seem a bit staid and stale.)

There is an even bigger point here which is; being a female member of the royal family requires walking a much more difficult tightrope than their male counterparts who can put on a nice suit, give a nice speech and get lots of nice praise for doing a nice job.

Last year, during the famous TV interview where Meghan said that “not many people have asked me if I’m OK” she said something else of note. Speaking to journalist Tom Bradby and reflecting on the intense scrutiny that came with her royal role she said, “I never thought that this would be easy, but I thought it would be fair.”

And therein lies the uncomfortable truth about being a female member of the royal family: It is not fair. Taking on the job means accepting a certain inherent inequity and while Kate might still be brushing up on her style nous, when it comes to the unfairness of this particular game, well, she learned that lesson long ago.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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