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An old dress, some black gloves and a pair of £17.99 earrings don’t scream headline-grabbing style statement. But, of course, it’s not what you wear, but how you wear it.

And oh, how the Princess of Wales wore that recycled Alexander McQueen dress and long opera gloves to the Baftas on Sunday night. For this was not just an outfit, but a defining moment in the 41-year-old’s style evolution.

For years, Kate was best known for playing it safe with her signature colour-block, knee-length dresses and nude court shoes. And though she always looked fabulous on the red carpet, she never took risks, seemingly conforming to what would gain the royal seal of approval. As a result, she looked nice, yet often lacked the wow factor, with showstopping looks the exception rather than the norm.

But in the past year, there’s been something of a style sea-change.

Sunday’s Baftas outfit ticked all the major trend boxes: sustainability, over-sized bows, statement earrings — and long black opera gloves, as seen on the Bottega Veneta and Moschino Autumn/Winter 2022 shows.

The Princess of Wales' Baftas outfit ticked all the major trend boxes: sustainability, over-sized bows, statement earrings ¿ and long black opera gloves

The Princess of Wales’ Baftas outfit ticked all the major trend boxes: sustainability, over-sized bows, statement earrings — and long black opera gloves

McQueen reigns: White Alexander McQueen dress at Baftas in 2019, seen again on Sunday

McQueen reigns: White Alexander McQueen dress at Baftas in 2019, seen again on Sunday

Placed alongside the dress’s original 2019 Bafta outing, with its floral detailing on the shoulder and delicate jewellery, the contrast was startling.

Kate has slowly but surely adopted a new, edgier sense of style. Long a champion of High Street fashions, now she’s drawing on the catwalks, opting for fresh-off-the-runway colours — hot pink, ice blue, lime green — and more daring necklines, such as the plunging satin Phillipa Lepley dress she wore during the Royal Caribbean tour last March.

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Kate’s silhouettes have become more fashion-forward, too. Gone are the shorter, tighter skirts, replaced with looser midi and maxi lengths that allow for movement, drama and elegance.

Rather than looking only to current trends, she has started wearing vintage pieces, notably a 1990s Chanel tweed jacket in November — a look straight out of the French fashion editor’s style book.

At Prince William’s Earthshot Awards in Boston in December, we saw a royal wear a rented dress for the first time — Kate’s showstopping green £350 Solace dress came from British rental platform Hurr (hurrcollective.com).

The look couldn’t have been more ‘green’ — as well as evocative of the neon colours seen on the Valentino catwalk earlier in the year.

While these changes may sound small, together they have contributed to a striking new image. So what is behind it?

It’s significant that Kate’s style evolution seems to have begun around the time of her 40th birthday in January last year, an age when many women re-examine how they feel about themselves.

Going green: Mulberry in 2012 opening the Treasury Gallery at the Natural History Museum

A rented Solace London dress from Hurr last year

Going green: Mulberry in 2012 (left) and a rented Solace London dress from Hurr last year

Elegant: Far left, ice-blue Jenny Packham in London in 2014

Gorgeous silk Phillipa Lepley in The Bahamas last year

Elegant: Far left, ice-blue Jenny Packham in London in 2014 (left) and silk Phillipa Lepley in The Bahamas last year (right)

Going dotty: Sophisticated Topshop dress in 2013

Alessandra Rich midi dress at last year¿s Royal Ascot

Going dotty: Topshop dress in 2013 (left) and Alessandra Rich midi dress at last year’s Royal Ascot (right)

With her youngest child, Louis, now four and at school, Kate has no doubt re-evaluated her wardrobe — and wider role — post-motherhood. Whether it’s launching her Early Years initiative or running her own carol concerts (even playing the piano at the inaugural one), Kate’s confidence has grown in every area of her life.

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Since 2007, Kate has worked with Natasha Archer. Hired as a PA by William and Kate’s office, Tash, as she’s known, has become Kate’s right-hand woman, helping to oversee the Princess’s fashion choices and advising her in other areas, too.

Insiders say Kate has a great deal of input into everything she wears. In nearly two decades in the spotlight, she has learned what suits her and may feel more confident in pushing the fashion boundaries.

We mustn’t forget that she has a background in fashion — she was an accessories buyer for Jigsaw before her marriage — so she knows how to spot an upcoming trend, as well as how much what she wears means.

Radiant in red: Luisa Spagnoli skirt suit in 2014 in New Zealand

Stunning McQueen trouser suit last month

Radiant in red: Luisa Spagnoli skirt suit in 2014 (left) in New Zealand and McQueen trouser suit last month (right)

Teal appeal: LK Bennett dress with square neckline in 2014

Classy Edeline Lee dress worn last in 2022

Teal appeal: LK Bennett dress with square neckline in 2014 (left), and Edeline Lee dress (right) last year

Punchy in pink: Gucci gown in 2019

Vibrant The Vampire¿s Wife dress

Punchy in pink: Gucci gown in 2019 (left), and vibrant The Vampire’s Wife dress (right)

The British fashion industry contributes £20 billion to the economy and the ‘Kate Effect’, where the looks she champions fly off the shelves, is believed to add £1 billion to the industry. Needless to say, the £17.99 floral Zara earrings she wore to the Baftas have sold out.

She is also canny enough to know that her wardrobe is key in helping her to carve out her own role in the Royal Family, particularly since she was elevated to Princess of Wales after the Queen’s death.

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The pressure to make an impression will only have grown since she was given the title that, thanks to her late mother-in-law, Diana, will always be associated with impeccable style.

And with Harry and Meghan launching salvos from across the Atlantic that paint the Waleses as rather boring, Kate can be forgiven for wanting to prove them wrong. An increasingly exciting wardrobe is just the ticket.

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