How Kate Middleton Became the Biggest Royal Force to Be Reckoned With

The Duchess of Cambridge has emerged as a massive fashion star and influencer amid the coronavirus.

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Between the stunning revelations in the new tell-all about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and the headlines about Prince Andrew's alleged role in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, this hasn't exactly been a banner year thus far for the royal family. But luckily, there is one royal who Palace insiders have described as "a steadying force during this positively dreadful period"—and that's Kate Middleton. During the pandemic especially, Kate has proven what "a poised and elegant future queen" she is—and her fashion choices have proven how much power she yields.

According to the Daily Mail, Kate has emerged as "the biggest royal influencer" in the wake of months of lockdown in the U.K. In June, she was named Britain's favorite royal, besting Queen Elizabeth by nearly 500 votes in a poll of 4,000 people conducted by the Daily Mirror. Thirty-five percent of respondents awarded the crown to the Duchess of Cambridge. Now, it seems, with her heightened profile during the pandemic through numerous Zoom calls with Prince William to cheer on essential workers and recent visits to family-centric organizations, Kate is not only tops in popularity, but is also the most powerful influence in the royal family.

"The Duchess of Cambridge has an aspirational yet accessible style," said a Palace insider. "During the lockdown, she looked appropriate and polished—nothing too dressed down or fussy. Like Princess Diana, she has become an international style icon. But with the duchess, who has been known to wear her favorite outfits time and again over the years, women can actually afford many of the things she wears. Catherine has helped make the royal family seems more relatable and approachable, which these days is a very good thing."

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During the pandemic, royal watchers and fashion fans pored over every detail of Kate's wardrobe and sought out the clothes she wore on video calls, even though they could only see them from the neck up. LovetheSales.com reported that Kate's Zoom calls garnered 1 million views on YouTube and global fashion searches for the low-down on the duchess's favorite looks increased by 96 percent over last year. "Virtually everything she chooses to wear sells out in no time," said my source. "Even though she is a future queen, Catherine has an appealing quality that makes her very relatable."

In April, a simple mustard-colored sweater from Zara that Kate wore on a video call sold out almost immediately. Later that month, she appeared in a blue floral dress by Ghost, a popular British label, along with Prince William and their children—Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis—in a video posted in support of "clap for carers" on their Kensington Royal Instagram. LovetheSales.com reported that searches for the dress increased 121 percent before selling out. (As a result, Ghost donated a portion of the profits to the U.K.'s National Health Service.)

In May, Kate wore a floral midi dress during a virtual visit to a maternity ward, this time by the moderately priced British brand Boden. It sold out within 24 hours of the video of the Zoom call being posted on @KensingtonRoyal. The company reported inquires about the dress shot up by 198 percent before it sold out completely. Kate was previously seen in the dress on the Cambridge's 2019 Christmas card. Later that month, in a video call to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Kate wore Belulah London's red and white floral "Calla Rose" dress, which then also sold out online within 24 hours. Royal watchers had to do their due diligence to find the frock since the duchess was only seen from the neck up in the video.

For one of her first post-lockdown in-person appearances to visit East Anglia's Children's Hospice, Kate chose what has emerged as her favorite look for the summer—a flowing floral midi dress—this time from Faithfull the Brand. CEO Sarah-Jane Abrahams told Vogue Australia the floral printed dress (worn with Kate's favorite Russell & Bromley espadrilles) sold out "almost immediately" after Kate was seen in it. The company was inundated with emails from customers asking where they could buy the dress. Consumer demand was so great, that Faithfull is planning to make more versions of the dress available in late September.

"Clearly, what the Duchess of Cambridge chooses to wear is hardly the most important news of the day, but her clothes do telegraph a powerful message," said my source. "At a time when people are reevaluating what is important in their lives while grappling with unsettling change, Catherine represents the future of the royal family as a stable and sensible figure. To a lot of people, that's very reassuring." And for more on Meghan's newfound sense of style, check out The Powerful Messages Behind Meghan Markle's Post-Royal Wardrobe.

Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.

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