The fashion crowd went wild for the Prince William and Duchess Kate’s India tour. Although Kate has been dubbed the “Duchess of Drab” by the British press, her wardrobe was full of color and prints this time around. Although it was Kate’s first time in India, this is just one of the many visits made by English royals.
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II first visited India in 1961, which was a time of change for the nation. India was a young nation, a ten year old republic that was coming off years of British rule, while Elizabeth had been Queen for only nine years. Both were nations of early rule that were looking towards brighter futures.
While on her grand tour, Elizabeth sported a number of Western-style outfits in bright pastel colors. She wore suit sets in the popular cocoon coat style of the time over matching shift dresses and printed cinched-waist day dresses for casual affairs. She accessorized the looks with feathered or crillon-pinned hats, elbow-length gloves, and her signature white pointed toe heels. When at a reception, the young Queen wore a sleeveless lace gown accessorized with a diamond necklace and crown.
Diana, Princess of Wales
When Lady Diana visited India thirty one years later in 1992, the country was experiencing a rapid economic growth. Diana famously took a photograph sitting in front of the Taj Mahal, which later represented her isolation in her deteriorating marriage.
Just as with her mother-in-law, Lady Di sported bright colors and prints, but in a higher saturation. While visiting India, she wore broad shouldered, pencil skirt sets with sheer panty hose and matching heels by the royal shoemaker Rayne, and short sleeved midi dresses. While on a tour with Jemima Khan, Diana embraced Indian fashion with a loose-fitting blue salwar kameez by Ritu Kumar.
When at a banquet given by Indian Vice-President Shankar Dayal Sharma, she wore a black and silver sequin gown by Catherine Walker and the Spencer family tiara. By the time she was leaving the country, Lady Di took a somber note by wearing a black blazer and grey pencil skirt with black heels. It would only be weeks after that Lady Diana and her husband Charles, Princes of Wales would separate.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge
Duchess Kate channeled her mother-in-law by sporting dresses made by Indian designers. For her wardrobe, the pieces were by Anita Dongre and Naeem Khan and jewelry by the India-based jeweler Amrapali. Kate also wore brightly colored and printed pieces by English designers Alice Temperley and Alexander McQueen, all accessorized with her standby nude pumps. For less formal occasions, Kate was spotted wearing attainable brands like Topshop and Monsoon and re-wears from previous outfits.
The notion that the Duchess is sporting brands like Topshop in a country that creates fast fashion may or may not have been on purpose. Cheap retail has been lucrative for India, but not without a cost. Factory workers who create these products, whether in the dyeing process or other facets of manufacturing are being exposed to hazardous chemicals and dangerous machinery for the sake of $10 clothing.
By the Duchess wearing brands that were made in such factories, or nearby in other fast fashion manufacturing cities, it sends a message to her followers that anyone at any price can look fashionable, but also that fast fashion is worn by everyone. Some have seen the soon to be Queen’s penchant for fast fashion as charming, while others feel she could use her style for a bigger cause. Although some of her pieces may be controversial, Kate Middleton’s tour of India repeated fashion history, one piece of clothing at a time.