Belfast Telegraph

Diana and Kate: The queens of British style

The royals are dedicated followers of fashion, says Tony Jones

They never met, yet Diana, Princess of Wales, and the Duchess of Cambridge share a common bond. Both women were 'commoners' who married into the royal family and became standard-bearers of their generation, famed as much for the clothes they wore as the charities and causes they chose to champion.

Diana was in fact from the aristocratic Spencer family, whose ancestors had rubbed shoulders with monarchs down the centuries. Her father had even served as an equerry to the Queen.

Kate, meanwhile, is the daughter of self-made millionaires Carole and Michael Middleton - who amassed their fortune through their online party paraphernalia business - and attended one of the top fee-paying schools in the country.

A famous piece of jewellery has graced both their ring fingers, a 12-carat sapphire engagement ring featuring a cluster of 14 brilliant-cut diamonds, a poignant reminder for Kate of her mother-in-law.

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A close up of Kate Middleton's engagement ring (Photo by Arthur Edwards - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The princess lived in Kensington Palace, which is also home to the duchess, a residence made famous by William III and Mary II, who turned the Earl of Nottingham's 17th century country mansion into a place fit for a king and queen.

Diana lived in apartments eight and nine, some distance within the palace complex from Kate's family home, apartment 1a, where Princess Margaret once lived and which was refurbished at a reported cost of £4 million before the Cambridges moved in.

Fashion was important to Diana, whose style reflected her changing character and signalled her mood, helped establish British designers and above all made a statement.

Her clothes progressed from demure dresses worn by the young princess into chic outfits where the confident mother of two mixed glamour with wit.

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Princess Diana

There were many highlights over the years, from her striking 1989 Catherine Walker 'Elvis' gown to the daring little black Christina Stambolian outfit, dubbed the 'revenge dress', worn on the night the Prince of Wales confessed to adultery in a TV documentary in 1994.

Kate has been a more conservative dresser, sticking, for much of the time, to her favourite nude LK Bennett court shoes, Alexander McQueen outfits and the simple elegance of Jenny Packham or Emilia Wickstead dresses.

When abroad, she has taken a leaf out of the Queen's style book and featured the national colours or motifs of the country she is visiting in some of her outfits.

During her first royal tour, a visit to Canada in 2011, she wore a red hat with a maple leaf by Sylvia Fletcher for Lock and Co to mark Canada Day, and three years later a black Jenny Packham dress with a silver fern, a prominent symbol of New Zealand, on the shoulder, at a reception in Wellington.

The princess and duchess also followed separate paths in terms of the charities they chose to support. Diana was the first member of the royal family to have contact with a person suffering from HIV/Aids.

In the late 1980s, when many still believed the disease could be contracted through casual contact, she sat on the sickbed of a man with Aids and held his hand.

She also supported homeless charities, becoming patron of the organisation Centrepoint, and courted political controversy when she campaigned to end the proliferation of landmines.

Kate, meanwhile, has followed a different path, taking her interest in art - she graduated from the University of St Andrews with a History of Art degree - further.

The duchess is patron of the National Portrait Gallery, royal patron of the art therapy charity The Art Room but has also, with William and Prince Harry, taken on the issue of mental health with the royal trio's Heads Together campaign, which aims to get people talking about their psychological problems.

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