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Catherine Reappears, in White

Catherine Reappears, in White

On Saturday morning Catherine, Princess of Wales, tiptoed back onto the public stage for the first time since announcing her cancer diagnosis last year in her signature color-coordinated way, joining the rest of the royal family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace for the traditional finale flyover of King Charles’ birthday parade. She wore a white knee-length Jenny Packham dress with a black-and-white striped belt and a jaunty bow at the neck, topped off with a Phillip Treacy hat, angled just so.

The nautical theme was reflected in the navy dress with a sailor collar and white trim worn by Princess Charlotte (who also wore white shoes to go with her mother), along with the matching double-breasted navy suits with their gold buttons, white shirts and bright blue ties of Princes George and Louis, all of which made a neat Union Jack trio with William’s bright red military uniform — which in turn matched that of Charles and Prince Edward.

As a family unit, on the balcony, it created the image of a tightly controlled, unmistakably harmonic, unified front for a photo op set to go ’round the country. Nothing anxiety-provoking to look at here, the picture seemed to say. It’s business as usual. Everything’s going to be fine.

It was a trademark bit of image-making on the part of the princess, who is still in the process of recovery. Catherine has always been finely attuned to the attention paid to what she wears as part of a family whose job it is to symbolize, rather than speak, and the communications opportunities embedded therein. Since the beginning of her marriage, she has used her clothes to signify a neat compromise between tradition and modernization. Her wardrobe seems often geared to telegraph a respectful sensitivity to what’s next, rather than, say, a royal in a gilded bubble, whether it’s mixing high street brands with high fashion, upcycling her gown multiple times, renting an evening dress or supporting British designers.

Instead Catherine chose white, itself a color rife with meaning — of new starts, rebirth, purification.

She chose Jenny Packham and Phillip Treacy, both brands she has often worn before, both tent poles of the British fashion establishment.

And she chose a dress that appeared to have been upcycled: worn first in 2023 at a Buckingham Palace before King Charles’ coronation, and now given a bit of a lift. After all, she has other things to think about right now than shopping. But dressing for purpose is also part of the job.

It seems like she is getting ready to do it again.

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