Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, was in the news this week — or, at least, her clothes were.
She was photographed in Aldershot, England, decked out in green while at a ceremony with the Irish Guards on St. Patrick’s Day. Don’t know what she said to the soldiers, because all the photo caption added was: “Kate is wearing a coat by Laura Green and a hat by Lock and Co.”
Apparently this is her life, the world paying more attention to what she wears than what she says or does. She could bark out, “I have a cure for COVID,” or, “I knifed a man in Lancashire,” and no one would pay attention. Or, if they did, it would only be because she triggered a run on orange jumpsuits.
Remember when she and Prince William visited Victoria in 2016? Shortly after their plane touched down, a functionary rushed in front of the assembled media to breathlessly announce: “She’s wearing Jenny Packham.” Everybody else scribbled this down as though it were vitally important, so I wrote it down, too, though what seemed more remarkable was how Kate, with the cameras and Trudeaus watching from the tarmac below, managed to descend the steep stairs from the RCAF Airbus in stiletto heels, Princess Charlotte in her arms, without taking a YouTube-quality face plant.
But no, what Britain’s Daily Mail decided was headline-worthy was this: “Kate Middleton wins round one of outfit war with Canada’s First Lady.” (We have a first lady? There’s an outfit war?)
This fashion fixation continued throughout the week-long tour. When the royals were dropped into the breathtaking, wild beauty of B.C.’s central coast, People magazine had eyes only for the duchess’s boots, along with “a Holland and Holland jacket, her go-to Zara jeans and earrings by Canadian designer Pippa Small.” Likewise, ABC News found Kate’s “striking Carolina Herrera coat” more inspiring than the Yukon splendour in which she wore it.
Even The Times, its serious-journalism roots going all the way back to 1785, couldn’t resist weighing in on its website: “Plain red dresses do not generally make headlines, even when they’re worn by the Duchess of Cambridge. Yet the dress she wore this week to a dinner at Government House in Victoria, British Columbia, was not just any red dress. It’s the best dress she’s worn since the day she got married. It’s possibly the best red dress in the history of red dresses.”
Now, forgive me if I’m being overly sensitive about this, but as a fashion icon like the duchess I do grow weary of having the public focus so heavily on my admittedly stunning appearance. I can’t count the times I have done something super-interesting (really, the story of how I burst my appendix can drag on for a solid 45 minutes) only to have the subsequent news report reduced to something like “Jack was wearing jeans that, while ill-fitting, cost just $16 during Boxing Week, a deal that he will still gush about to anyone who will listen.”
While it’s understandable that my adoring/envious public would yearn to know what label I, as an influencer, am wearing (FYI: probably Zellers, or something donated to Value Village by a dead guy’s family) it does trivialize one, the implicit message being that the wrapping paper is more fascinating than the gift inside. Being objectified like that can be wearisome. Sometimes people will gawk at the mustard stain on my 2003 TC 10K shirt and I’ll have to say: “My eyes are up here, pal.”
True, apparel can be part of a story. If you’re the Canadian prime minister and swan around India dressed like an extra in a Bollywood wedding scene, or if you’re wearing a flag, a F*CK Trudeau T-shirt and a MAGA hat topped by a tin foil protective dome, it counts as telling detail.
Yet sometimes such references serve only to distract from the meat of the matter. This week, after watching Volodymyr Zelenskyy address the U.S. Congress in his familiar military-green tee, American financial commentator Peter Schiff tweeted: “I understand times are hard, but doesn’t the President of the Ukraine own a suit?” This may have said more about Schiff, a guy who looks like he polishes his Guccis before wearing them to bed, than it did about Zelenskyy. Read the room, Peter. Or the planet.
Style matters, but don’t forget the substance.