Maternity Wear Is Kate Middleton’s Greatest Fashion Challenge

Since we first heard that Prince William was dating a mysterious brunette classmate from St. Andrew’s, our impressions of Kate Middleton have always been wrapped up in how she’s dressed. Consider the near mythical story of how she slinked down the catwalk at a university fashion show wearing a see-through slip! When it came to her engagement photo, designers put more time and energy into recreating her blue dress than the huge sapphire ring Wills gave her. And since Kate announced her pregnancy in early December, talk has been of nothing but her maternity wear.

As a new mom but still fairly young, Kate has wrestled with the dilemma of whether to resist traditional maternity wear in favor of her usual simple, relatable looks. Of course, this is a double-edged sword: Some detractors have scolded Kate for alienating her fellow moms by not actually committing to maternity wear. All this on top of trying to actually prepare for the baby!

For carrying the Royal Baby through the bitterly cold–and uncomfortably sweltering–winter and spring months, Kate seems to be relying on the same low-key fashion choices that have defined her wardrobe for the past decade. We were sure that she would turn to Sarah Burton, the Alexander McQueen creative director who dreamed up the duchess’ ethereal wedding dress. But the last we heard from Burton was right after the announcement, when she said, “I hope I will be.” But if she’s taken over command of Kate’s wardrobe, there’s been no formal sign.

Instead, fashion experts have praised Kate for continuing to wear Topshop and other low-key brand that–gasp–her admirers can also afford throughout her pregnancy. For the first real appearance of her baby bump in April (while visiting the Willows Primary School for St. George’s Day), she sported a fitted shift that was casual for its floral pattern but still formal in the cut. However, later that same week she did don actual maternity wear in that her eggshell-blue dress had an empire waistline and didn’t constrict. (Though the Daily Mail did describe it as “daringly low at the back.”) She’s also resurrected a polka-dotted Topshop favorite, though mostly the press teases her for it billowing inappropriately in the wind.

As always, we’re getting mixed messages from various outlets and “insiders.” A friend told Now magazine that Kate is worried about appearing frumpy just because she’s trying to keep her maternity wear formal for the Royal Family. Lingerie designer Lorna Drew seems to corroborate that by claiming that after she sent Kate a lingerie set, she received a thank-you note from Kate’s office. Then there’s Karl Lagerfeldwho would rather see Kate show off more cleavage and daring cuts. And of course you’ve got the regular moms population, who allegedly slammed Kate for her “too glam” pregnancy because it makes the rest of them look bad.

Poor Kate has gotten caught in the center of this during an already stressful time. However, the second best thing to come out of this — the first being the Royal Baby, of course! — is that she’s redefining maternity wear for a new generation of young moms. Detractors aside, Kate has shown that you can still buy the kind of classic, timeless pieces you enjoy even when you’re not with child. Who can forget her simple black Topshop dress with Peter Pan collar, Max Mara wrap dress, or mint green Mulberry coat? Plus, being pregnant hasn’t stopped her from wearing her signature fascinators!