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Jane Merrick: The Emperor's New Clothes (29/04/12)

The Duchess of Cambridge is universally held up as a fashion icon. But is she really so stylish?

First let me admit that I'm not particularly interested in fashion. Or in the royal family, for that matter. But, after her most recent outings last week on the society circuit, I really feel like I must say something about the Duchess of Cambridge's other title as Queen of Fashion.

A year ago today, even the most hardened republican was stirred by Kate Middleton arriving at Westminster Abbey in a wedding dress designed by Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen. Fashion editors cheered that she had chosen the edgier McQueen over a more traditional label. But since emerging from the Abbey a member of the royal family, she seems to have adopted the style of her mother-in-law, the Duchess of Cornwall.

The Duchess of Cambridge is 30, yet frequently dresses like a woman twice her age. Gigantic brocade dresscoats that swamp her slim frame and tweed skirt suits that suggest she should be hosting a fundraising tea for Surrey Conservatives. It doesn't matter that her choice of designers includes leading Brits; the choice of clothes are off-key.

So, last week she wore a Matthew Williamson grey dress complete with an on-trend peplum. (I had to look this up, and can report that it means a large frill below your waist.) The dress was fine, but the huge turquoise and gold embellishments on the neckline and sleeves reminded me of trinkets you would find in a Cretan gift shop. When sister Pippa turns up at a Parisian burlesque party looking like an extra from La bohème, the Duchess of Cambridge's clothes look even frumpier.

Kate is obsessed with fascinators, which, far from fascinating, are ageing and unnecessary on a woman who has such beautiful hair. You only have to remember that Samantha Cameron rebelled against the establishment by turning up at the Abbey with no hat at all to realise that a fascinator just looks naff.

Maybe Mrs Cameron, not the Duchess of Cambridge, should wear the crown of Britain's fashion icon. The first tattooed resident of Downing Street is a decade older than Kate, but the Duchess of Cambridge could pick up some tips from the Prime Minister's wife. Just don't tell the Queen you're getting a tattoo, Kate.