Will Kate Middleton Change How Women Dress?

The duchess effect.

I recently watched the bizarre train wreck that is NBC’s Fashion Star. (Haven’t seen it? Consider yourself lucky.) I felt rather sorry for the contestants. They seemed so misguided. Sure, it seems important to get your designs into stores like Macy’s and Saks and H&M—especially when judges Jessica Simpson, Nicole Richie and John Varvatos keep telling you it is—but really, I think the contestants are thinking a bit too … big. Forget the masses! We don’t know what we want. The key to becoming a mind-blowing overnight planet-dominating success is relatively easy: Get your duds into Carole Middleton’s closet.

You see, shooting for Princess Kate is, obviously, a bit of a stretch. There are all those cute armed guards, for starters. But sweet, behatted Carole, that’s thinking more logically. You don’t design for uber-conservative middle-aged women, you say? Pah! It’s not for her you’re designing—it’s for that duchess daughter of hers who, if you haven’t noticed, has quite a fondness for raiding mum’s wardrobe. (Stars! They’re Just Like Us!!!)

Kate has a long history of borrowing from mom, though her closet-raiding really made headlines last week when she wore a cobalt double-breasted “Trina” Reiss dress that belongs to her mom (who actually wore it much better than her daughter). The concept of mother-daughter outfit-swapping is lovely—in fact, I’ve recently acquired two 1970s Coach “Station” bags from my mom, along with countless jewelry. But I can’t dip into her clothes: My mom is too tiny; what fits her like a glove would, on me, look like expensive sausage casing. And what looked nice on Carole just looked dowdy and ill-fitting on Kate.

Still, though, the masses went nuts—because that’s what we do when people like Kate wear things—and clamored to get their hands on Kate’s mum’s dress (which is no longer available; the company would do well to reissue the design, though I’d recommend an updated belt).

In fact, the entire Reiss line has done gangbusters since Kate took a liking to it. Sales for the Theory/Tibi/Robert Rodriguez-like apparel company (“high street,” in Brit speak) shot through the roof once the duchess started wearing its designs. First, there was the chic white number she wore in her engagement photos, which incited fashion pandemonium. Then, last year, she wore a sleek nude Reiss bandage dress to meet Michelle Obama (who wore a bizarre Pepto-colored bolero that made her look like she was a five-year-old going to church on Easter Sunday. Seeing photos of the two women together—Kate, the picture of modern sophistication, and Michelle, a pastel mess—made me seriously concerned for US-UK relations.) Anyway, the Reiss website crashed soon after, as thousands suddenly discovered their love for nude, cap-sleeved bandage dresses.

Reiss naturally capitalized on the “duchess effect,” recently expanding their U.S. exposure. This week, the brand opened up in-shop Reiss boutiques in several New York Bloomingdale’s stores. (No word on whether our Bloomies will be getting a Reiss fix; the closest Reiss store is in Short Hills, New Jersey.) I’d be happy to get the line in Philadelphia. Though the pieces are achingly similar to lines we already have, the clothes are well-constructed and the designs are perfect business-to-cocktail attire. You talk about Reiss like you talk about Kate: stylish, but in a subtle way. Nothing iconic, nothing ground-breaking, nothing to clutch your pearls over. It’s fine.

So, Kate, we get it. You’re a princess of the people. You shun wildly expensive things like cocktail dresses hand-embroidered with diamonds and sprinkled with gold and fairy dust. But how about bringing the U.S. something we don’t already have? Some really great fascinators, perhaps? Or royal-guard-like fashions for security guards? Now that would be something I could get behind.

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