For almost a decade before she married Prince William, Kate was the royal girlfriend who fascinated the world with her girl-next-door style and apparently demure, relaxed approach to life in the “Waity Katie” goldfish bowl, her every move tracked by photographers and scanned for clues about her relationship with the future king, whether she was nipping to the shops on the King’s Road or sunbathing in a teeny-tiny bikini on a yacht off Mustique.
Although most of their St Andrews courtship took place away from the media spotlight, the same cannot be said for the noughties Sloane life the couple embraced post-university, famously enjoying nights out at the notorious Boujis nightclub, where Kate was seen in flawless-with-a-soupçon-of-naughty party-girl mode. While William and Kate are now happier watching box sets with a takeaway than downing Crack Babies (the club’s most famous drink), Boujis is about to be resurrected as B London, and with it a slew of throwbacks to its moment as the one-time favourite night-time retreat of the young royals.
There have been more memories of Kate’s student style evoked this week, too, as filming for The Crown’s sixth season got underway in St Andrews to chart the early days of Will and Kate’s university romance. So far, we’ve seen a Lycra-clad Kate (played by Meg Bellamy) catching the eye of William (Ed McVey) while they’re both out for a run, and Kate in jeans and a T-shirt moving into a house-share with the prince. Yet to be revealed is Kate’s turn on a charity-show catwalk, when she wore a see-through black dress that reportedly prompted William to say, “Wow, Kate’s hot.”
All these reminders of pre-wedding Kate tap into a movement that is already at play on social media, where there is huge interest in the now-Princess of Wales as an understated 20-something and the down-to-earth style she embodied; on TikTok, there have been 3.8 million searches for “young Kate Middleton”. With 12 years in the Royal family under her belt, there is a significant slice of the Gen Z population who will be seeing “commoner” Kate for the first time through pictures of her in the noughties. But there’s also nostalgia among her long-time fans, who remember a more carefree, unguarded and self-styled version of a woman who is now wife and mother to future kings, with a team managing her image.
This is a particularly British take on the Y2K revival trend that is dominating certain echelons of fashion right now, too. While those who remember it from the first time might be confused that Kate Middleton circa 2006 could be considered a cool style reference, teens and 20-somethings might beg to differ. So, what were the signature items in Kate’s naughty-Noughties wardrobe?
The low-rise jeans
She might now be synonymous with skinny jeans, but in her student days, Kate was much more likely to be seen in looser, low-slung boot-cuts, usually worn with a chunky belt and a fitted vest or knit that left a sliver of skin on show. She still loved the country look, but her shirts and jackets were a little more authentically crumpled than the sleek versions we see her in today, and often came in slightly frumpy tweeds and pastels.
The Longchamp bags
A Longchamp Le Pliage bag is an upper-crust gateway into upscale handbags. Noughties Kate had a few versions, including a small handheld one, which she carried on the day of her graduation, and a bigger tote that was seen slung over her shoulder while she was out and about in London.
The slinky party dresses
When she wasn’t in jeans or gymwear, Kate loved to dress up in slinky party dresses that were often cut above the knee, rather than the midi lengths she prefers now, and worn either with strappy sandals or slouchy knee-high boots.
Her look was never exactly edgy, but it reflected the glossy style mores of a new generation of Sloane Rangers, where looking pretty, ladylike but fun was key. A standout look of this genre was the lacy lingerie-inspired frock Kate wore to a book launch weeks after William had broken up with her – a blend of sweet and sexy, it’s probably no coincidence that they were back together soon after.
The posh country boots
The Penelope Chilvers tasselled boots that The Crown has dressed Bellamy in for some of her scenes remain a go-to of Kate’s today, after she was photographed wearing them at a Blenheim Palace game fair in 2004 (the brand insists that she still owns the same pair nearly 20 years later). A penchant for the classic boots, beloved of the horse-mad crowd, clearly runs in the family, as Princess Charlotte has been seen in her own version.
The world’s first glimpse of Kate’s princess potential was at William’s Sandhurst passing-out parade in 2006, for which she wore a smart Armani coat and a Philip Treacy hat.
It was a polished first performance, though she was heard whispering to her mum about the sexy uniforms. While you might assume those pieces would be long gone from her wardrobe, now that it’s filled with bespoke McQueen, she has kept the same pair of cut-out leather gloves and wore them for an event in Wales earlier this month.