· The Duchess of Cambridge and Elizabeth Holmes’ “Dressing for the Slideshow” ·
Last night, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended the BAFTA awards, as they have for the past three years. As always, the Duchess of Cambridge pulled out the punches in an ethereal Alexander McQueen gown, an elegant up-do, and a pair of heirloom earrings that belonged to her famous late mother-in-law, Princess Diana.
This was classic Kate: fitted bodice, swirling full skirt, and a tasteful amount of embellishment. Being classic, it instantly reminded me of several other gowns she’s worn before: the icy blue Jenny Packham to the Spectrepremiere in 2015 (at the same venue, no less), the inky blue Jenny Packham worn on three occasions in 2013 and 2014, and the red Jenny Packham (we’re seeing a trend, here) worn to the State Banquet given in honour of the Chinese president in 2015. However, it most reminded me of two specific looks: the lilac Alexander McQueen worn to Duchess’ first BAFTA event in 2011 and the glittering Jenny Packham worn to her most recent evening gown outing – the Queen’s diplomatic reception in 2018.
With the former, the two Alexander McQueen gowns feature a belted waist, Grecian-style ruching in the bodice, leading to a full, slowing skirt. Light in colour, with just a touch of embellishment – the 2011 gown in the glittery belt, the 2019 gown in the flowers on the one shoulder – the McQueen gowns could be a pair.
With the latter, the colour choice of off-white/white instantly draws comparison while the full skirt and gentle ruching on the Jenny Packham gown is reminiscent of the same on last night’s look, even though the two were made in very different fabrics.
It is telling that the Duchess of Cambridge’s gown evokes such comparisons. A little late to the game, I recently discovered Elizabeth Holmes and her “So Many Thoughts” (SMT) series. For those unfamiliar, Holmes dissects what both the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex wears in a specific style of commentary on her Instagram stories. Ahead of the Royal Wedding in May, Holmes’ SMT blew up, and she’s been diligently giving her thoughts ever since. You can check out her historic thoughts in her highlights on her Instagram. An important idea she has brought forward is what she calls “dressing for the slideshow” or “slideshow dressing.”
Dressing for the slideshow is something that you have probably noticed on an unconscious level. It makes complete sense when it’s explained, and once it has been, like me, you probably can’t stop thinking about it. On her website, Holmes explains that it’s something that celebrity stylists tend to do. “Styling is an art, and much more than just picking what looks pretty!” she explains. “Stylists are masters of dressing methodically to send a message. It’s especially true beyond a one-off event, when using a progression of looks to build a personal brand.” This progression in based around subtle themes like colors, silhouettes, or textures.
She first started to notice the Royal Family dressing for the slideshow with Meghan Markle, especially in the first days after the wedding. In the first events after the wedding, the new Duchess of Sussex wore blush dresses that had small connections to the previous look. The theme builds on itself and shifts quite easily as one theme blends into another. “The result is often a slideshow – literally – compiled by the websites and fan accounts that follow royal style,” she continues. “It makes it very easy, and visually appealing, for editors to draw comparisons and make collages of past looks.”
Holmes argues that Markle, a former actress, would be well-aware of this phenomenon and be purposefully implementing it. She also says that costume designers do this on movies and TV shows, which helps to build the character. In a way, building a character is precisely what the Duchesses are doing. They’re using their clothing, often the only thing the public sees of their engagements, to build a persona that they feel represents who they want to be in the public eye. Through dressing for the slideshow, they’re also, in a way, controlling the narrative on their events: when they repeat an outfit or wear something similar to something they’ve worn before, they draw attention to the previous event through the inevitable slideshow comparing the looks. This could shed light on the engagement, or, especially in Kate’s case as she draws (ever so slightly) closer to being queen, illustrate how much they have done.
Though Holmes finds slideshow dressing easily in Meghan’s wardrobe, it appears that Kate has been doing so, too, and especially in recent months. Before I discovered Holmes’ theory, I had noticed that since the birth of Prince Louis, the Duchess of Cambridge had really stepped up her style game, and perhaps had even found a formula. I had noticed how many of her outfits related to others and, of course, after reading about dressing for the slideshow, I began to think that this is what she was doing. I’ll look back at what the Duchess of Cambridge has worn since Prince Louis was born, and also at how she may have been playing the long game on this dressing for the slideshow all along.
I’ll start with Kate’s first official appearance after giving birth to Prince Louis: the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in May 2018. This was just shy of a month after he was born and a very high-profile event. Most likely out of respect for the couple, the Duchess of Cambridge wore an Alexander McQueen coatdress in a style very similar to one she’d worn no less than three times before (Princess Charlotte’s christening in 2015, Trooping the Colour in 2016, and a World War I memorial event in 2017). It was so similar that it took a few days to verify that it was not, in fact, the same garment. Cue slideshows of every time the Duchess had worn the style before: there isn’t much to argue about here.
But this was just the beginning. Though she was on maternity leave over the summer, Kate still attended several official events and she had one thing in common at all of them: Alexander McQueen. In June and July, she attended the annual Trooping the Colour parade, a service in celebration of the 100thanniversary of the RAF, Prince Louis’ christening, along with a few days at Wimbledon. It is these formal events where her slideshow dressing really stood out.
At the Trooping of the Colour, less than a month after the wedding, Kate wore an icy blue Alexander McQueen dress. Though not a coatdress, this look had similar shoulders and the same clean, McQueen lines. Even more, this look also harkened back to the previous year’s Trooping when she wore a hot pink McQueen dress with a similarly full skirt and clean lines, while both were monochromatic looks.
In July, for Prince Louis’ christening, Kate wore a white Alexander McQueen dress that looked very similar, though with a strikingly different neckline, to the Trooping the Colour dress. The v-neck nods to the wedding coatdress, which is a nod back to what she wore to Princess Charlotte’s christening. Do you see how this works yet?
As if to put the icing on this slideshow cake, she attended the RAF service, and here’s where things get really obvious. To this event, the Duchess wore the exact same coatdress she wore to the wedding in the exact same blue as the Trooping the Colour dress. Can you see how many slideshows can be created from just these four looks alone?
This version of slideshow dressing has slowed down a bit, but she did have one more obvious instance at Princess Eugenie’s wedding in October. Here, she wore, surprise, Alexander McQueen in a rich raspberry. This dress was exactly like the hot pink paper bag McQueen worn to Trooping the Colour in 2017 (referenced above). These looks make me want to map all the ways these similar looks can be slideshow-ed!
Though all of these were McQueen examples and bound to have similarities, since coming off maternity leave, she’s also worn some looks that could easily fit into these slideshows to more casual events. Two Emilia Wickstead repeats, a lilac one and a teal one could quite happily fit in, as could the blue Catherine Walker worn to her friend’s wedding and the grey Catherine Walker worn to Leicester. You could even argue that January’s green Beulah dress could be in this slideshow.
This may be the most obvious theme, and it’s truly become a signature style for Kate over the years. But it’s not the only theme we’ve seen emerge in the last nine months. She’s worn midi-length polka dot dresses with long sleeves and a collared, buttoned front in three colours on four occasions. Her casual looks consist of either trousers and a blazer or olive greens in a quintessentially English country look. We’ve already talked about her evening gowns and she likes to mix in some military elements.
We could go on and on, especially about her more recent wardrobe (and this is by no means an exhaustive list), but I think one thing is clear. Though she may be stepping up her game and these slideshow threads are becoming clearer, whether she knew it or not, I think she’s been playing the long game all along. Sure, maybe, in the beginning, it was colour; do you remember how much blue she wore in the first months after her wedding? But over the years she’s stuck to similar silhouettes, a rotation of designers, and largely a handful of colours. Even when she throws a curveball, she tends to come back to it, like she did with the floral Erdem in October 2015. The tiered skirt was a huge departure from what we were used to seeing on her at the time. But since, then, she’s worn another tier-skirted dress by Erdem on a royal tour last year, and an Alexander McQueen version to the BAFTAs in 2017.
One day, the Duchess of Cambridge will be queen, and she is well aware of this. Perhaps her former actress sister-in-law tipped her off to this kind of styling and she has taken it on board, I think she’s been subtly doing this since marrying into the Royal Family. Today, you can find any number of slideshows online looking back on the Queen’s fashion over the years. Of course, dressing for the slideshow didn’t exist when the Queen was young, but she was able to foster a personal style anyway. When the Duchess of Cambridge, or the Duchess of Sussex, are in their nineties, perhaps there will be slideshows of their fashion over the years, too. Lucky for future editors, they’ll have done most of the work themselves by curating a wardrobe that lends itself to a slideshow.
Now, please excuse me while I categorize my wardrobe for the slideshow.