Some people get their end-of-year thrills from lists telling them just how much house prices have risen in their postcode, or how many steps they’ve walked. Mine come from the annual sums done by the royal fashion website ufonomore.com (the UFO here stands for Unidentified Fashion Object).
Every year, it adds up the total cost of the new items (for which prices can be verified) worn by queens, princesses and royal duchesses around the world. In 2020, our own Duchess of Cambridge came in second place (out of 14 – Monaco’s Princess Charlene was top), having debuted 115 new items with a total value of £76,200, making the average cost of each item £665. Once bespoke pieces are taken into account, the value could easily rocket above £100,000.
You might assume that the headline news about the Duchess’s wardrobe in the year of Covid would be about her relatability, how she was buying high-street basics just like the rest of us, and then sharing outfits with her mum and sister. But for every M&S trouser suit or Zara jumper, there was a dazzling pair of £17,300 diamond Asprey earrings or a £1,635 Emilia Wickstead dress.
Over the past decade, the Duchess of Cambridge has crafted a reputation as the ultimate in-touch royal. She’s told us about her love of Strictly Come Dancing, and of playing in the garden with her kids; she’s even worn the same boots more times than you can count on one hand. These are the touchpoints for most people when they first think of Kate’s clothes. But with a busy schedule of royal duties, a wardrobe full of bargains won’t cut it. Amid all that normality is regal glamour galore – couture creations (the prices of which remain closely guarded secrets), grand gowns for state banquets and jewels worth a king’s ransom.
The Duchess’s wardrobe has become more overtly luxurious the more she and Prince William have stepped up as royals. Now that she is meeting presidents and launching ambitious initiatives of her own (see last year’s survey into the early years), she requires a wardrobe to match.
If I’m sounding judgy about all this expenditure, I really don’t mean to. In fact, I think it’s brilliant. For generations, the Royal family has been the British fashion industry’s best PR tool – they promote our skills, labels and materials on the world stage. They have also made the UK one of the handful of countries that can claim a certain way of dressing as its own: Barbour jackets and silk scarves are to British style what a Little Black Dress and a messy fringe are to the French. Thanks to Kate’s luxury habit, her favourite designers – Erdem, Alexander McQueen and Alessandra Rich among them – are elevated to global status.
Quite often, the Duchess doesn’t go British at all, dabbling instead in fashion powerhouses such as Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana. When the sky’s the limit budget-wise (Prince William inherited millions from his mother and is bankrolled with income from his father’s Duchy of Cornwall), why wouldn’t you pepper your wardrobe with the best pieces coming out of Milan and Paris? It ensures Brand Britain remains glossy. And she is our future Queen, after all.