The Duchess of Cambridge’s 8 key looks of 2020 - and how they show her increasingly senior royal status

Bethan Holt
·6-min read
Some of Kate's standout looks of 2020 - Getty/ PA
Some of Kate's standout looks of 2020 - Getty/ PA

2020 has been a big year for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The couple has been inching into ever more senior royal territory for some time now, but two events early in the year shaped the coming months for Kate and William as they stepped up for family and country. 

On January 8, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced their imminent departure from the Royal family and by mid-March, Covid-19 had plunged the nation into lockdown.  

Visual impact has long been a vital tool in royal public relations, but Kate used it to her advantage more than ever this year, introducing new styles, silhouettes and labels and creating fresh takes on her royal uniform which framed her as more senior and stateswoman-like than ever before, even in the face of turmoil. 

The diplomatic-yet-daring cocktail dress

The Duchess of Cambridge wears The Vampire's Wife in Dublin - AFP
The Duchess of Cambridge wears The Vampire's Wife in Dublin - AFP

Kate and William’s March trip to Ireland was a chance for The Firm to set the ‘Megxit’ narrative to one side and remind the world of the royal star power which would remain.

It was a task which called for one of the Duchess’s most fashion-forward dresses to date. On the first evening of the tour, the Cambridges visited the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin and Kate debuted a sparkly new emerald green dress by The Vampire’s Wife, the fashion label founded by Nick Cave’s wife Susie. 

With its edgy, ethereal associations, the brand was a decidedly cool choice for Kate, once famed for being reluctant to shop anywhere apart from Hobbs and L.K Bennett. She looked poised and modernly Princess-like, an impression emphasised by her best accessory - a pint of Guinness. 

The serious yet cheering trouser suit

Kate and William visit the London Ambulance Service - Getty
Kate and William visit the London Ambulance Service - Getty

As the severity of the Coronavirus crisis became obvious in mid-March, Kate and William made their final pre-lockdown appearance at the London Ambulance Centre in Croydon.

If hadn’t been such a sombre occasion then more attention might have been paid to the fact that this was the first time in her nine-year royal career that the Duchess had been pictured wearing a trouser suit.

It was a choice which underlined the severity of the situation while the rose colour was uplifting and calming at an alarming time. The suit was sourced from M&S, a clever high street choice at a time when millions of livelihoods were under threat. 

The NHS dress

Kate, William, George, Charlotte and Louis clap for carers - BBC
Kate, William, George, Charlotte and Louis clap for carers - BBC

Quarantining in rural Norfolk didn’t mean that Kate became any less visible. In fact, there was a steady stream of Zoom engagements offering support to charities and key workers.

One of the standouts was when the Cambridge family appeared on the BBC’s Big Night In to Clap for Carers all dressed in shades of NHS blue. The Duchess wore a £129 floral dress by British label Ghost which sold out within hours. 

The Kate Effect did more than boost the brand on this occasion after Ghost gave proceeds from the sell-out frock to NHS Charities Together. 

Garden Centre Casual

The Duchess of Cambridge visits Fakenham Garden Centre - PA
The Duchess of Cambridge visits Fakenham Garden Centre - PA

When non-essential stores were allowed to reopen in June, Kate and William were deployed to show their support for businesses which had been closed for months. 

Visiting Fakenham Garden Centre in Norfolk, the Duchess of Cambridge did a signature ‘Casual Kate’ look comprised of skinny jeans, plimsolls, a loose shirt and gilet reflecting the practical, relaxed way of dressing which the nation had adopted in lockdown. 

Again, Kate turned to high street labels like Massimo Dutti and Jaeger for her dialled-down, relatable gardening outfit.

The stateswoman dress

Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge meet with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his wife Olena - Reuters
Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge meet with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his wife Olena - Reuters

By Autumn, the Cambridges were back in London and took on more official duties from The Queen, who was still isolating at Windsor Castle after her traditional summer break at Balmoral.

The first official meeting to take place at Buckingham Palace post-lockdown was Kate and William’s October meeting with the President of Ukraine. Even if tours were off the cards, the Duchess showed her nous for fashion flattery was still sharp by donning a simple tailored cornflower blue dress which reflected the colours of the country’s flag. 

She completed the look with a suit of sapphire jewellery thought to have been made to match her engagement ring with gems from Princess Diana’s collection. 

The Alexander McQueen maxi coat

Kate and William at Waterloo - AFP
Kate and William at Waterloo - AFP

High street buys had dominated the Duchess’s spring and summer wardrobes, but later in the year, she debuted several new pieces from trusted couturiers which emphasised the increasingly prominent role she was taking in the royal family and sleek look which she was creating to match. 

One of Kate’s key projects of 2020 was Hold Still, the photography competition which she launched in conjunction with the National Portrait Gallery as a way to record the nation’s experience of the pandemic. 

In a visit to see some of the winning images on display, Kate wore a bold scarlet maxi coat by Alexander McQueen. Sharply tailored, elegant and just-experimental-enough, it was a statement piece designed to show that the Duchess had reached new heights of fashion confidence. 

She wore it again in December, giving it a festive kick with tartan accessories. 

The rainbow blouse

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at St Bartholemew's hospital - AP
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at St Bartholemew's hospital - AP

There are few items which sum up the careful thought which goes into Kate’s wardrobe better than the blouse which she wore to appear on the Pride of Britain awards, thanking NHS staff for their work on the frontline. 

The blue silk shirt was embellished with a tiny rainbow print, the symbol which had come to epitomise hope and gratitude during the crisis. 

Lisou, the label which creates the £250 blouse, is founded by British-Tanazanian designer Rene Macdonald. So as well as being a fashion signal of thanks for healthcare workers, the blouse may have been the Duchess’s way of responding to calls for more visibility and support for black-owned fashion brands. 

The old Reiss dress

The project which bookended Kate’s year was a long-planned survey into the early years of childhood and how they affect us into adulthood. 

It’s a topic which has become a passion for the Duchess which was evident from the carefully strategised social media campaign which announced the results of the survey in November. 

Kate showcased eight outfits old and new over three days but perhaps the most touching was her decision to re-wear a Reiss dress first seen on her mother Carole in 2010. Kate wore the dress in 2012 for one of her earliest visits to a children’s hospice - thus the look nodded to Kate’s own childhood and the formative years of her royal life. 

Past, present and future were all encompassed with the addition of a necklace bearing the initials of her children George, Charlotte and Louis.