Every so often a man in your life voices an opinion about women’s fashion. They might say ‘I don’t like the look of that’ (one-shoulder dresses) or ‘You’re not thinking of getting some dungarees, are you?’
(Show me the man who likes dungarees on a grown-up woman and I’ll show you someone who is putting a brave face on it because it’s too late to get a refund.)
Every man I’ve been close enough to for them to share their clothing preferences has had some reservations about leather trousers (although suede shorts went down OK in the 1980s). Most of them have disliked skinny polo necks, flesh-colored underwear and black all the time (they like pink, blue, green, all the non-funereals).
Pictured: The Duchess of Cambridge with her daughter Princess Charlotte. Kate wore a polka dot dress by Alessandra Rich to Prince Philip’s memorial service
Strong stripes make them think of humbugs, square toes remind them of Rosa Klebb, and boiler suits put them in mind of Churchill (though not jumpsuits, which generally get the thumbs up in my house).
And then, not so often, but occasionally, they’ll surprise you by volunteering that they like something you hadn’t necessarily bargained for.
I’m talking about the polka dot dress Kate wore to Prince Philip’s memorial. The day afterwards, my nonagenarian dad phoned me to rave about it. My neighbor (male and forty-something) mentioned, in passing, how great he thought she looked.
My husband, when I drew his attention to the dress in question, looked suspicious. (Was I retrospectively seeking approval for buying this dress? In which case we needed to sell the TV.) Then admitted that Kate looked better than ever. I have to say, all of this made me think — polka dots.
Kate’s dress is by Alessandra Rich and, if it looks vaguely familiar, that’s because another polka-dot dress by the same designer caused a similar stir when it was worn by the actress Abigail Spencer to Harry and Meghan’s wedding. That one was button-through with a white collar and cuffs — and, as it happens, Kate has that style, too.
Pictured left: Anna Wintour, right: Emilia Clarke. Shane Watson says to keep dots 5p size less and opt for a background that’s navy
The memorial dress retails at £1,495, so it’s not going to be on everyone’s summer dress list. But the point is a simple, demure cut — both of these Rich dresses are high-necked and finish low on the calf — plus a polka-dot print in a breezy, silky fabric is the magic formula for elegance that doesn’t date.
Harry and Meghan’s wedding was back in 2018, and that was also the year when Kate first wore her own white-collared dress, for Prince Charles’s 70th birthday portrait.
Meanwhile, Saloni’s polkadot dress with signature crystal bows down the front is the most-desired dress of the moment — it’s expensive, too, be warned (£695, matches fashion.com). Anyway, clearly it’s all about the dots. Picture Kate’s dress in a pretty print or sleek midnight blue and pfff, the magic evaporates.
SPOTS: THE 2022 WAY
- Keep dots 5p size or less
- Opt for a background that’s navy
- Keep the hemline long
- Go for silk
Likewise, beef up the dots to 10p piece size and you lose the understated chic.
The fabric is all-important, too: polka dots on cotton are fun for summer, but only silky fabric elevates polka dots to the stuff of weddings, garden parties and dinners.
I now know what I’m wearing to the summer wedding, if I get asked — which was exactly what I was wearing in the mid-1980s, as it happens.
If you want to stick with the long-sleeved look, Ganni does a polka-dot wrap dress with a side-button fastening that’s like a modern version of Princess Di’s 1980s look (£138.14, uk.cettire.com).
The important thing with the polka-dot dress is to keep it long and swishy and, in my opinion, it’s far better to stick with a dark navy or black background (navy for summer) unless you can find that elusive combination of pale caramel with a black dot which Zara did a while back.
Otherwise, Mango has a black dot on white satin finish dress (£69.99, shop.mango.com) which could be nice — though beware, it has an open bow-tied back.
And if you do prefer a black dot on white, M&S has a Hobbs fit and flare dress (£179, marksandspencer.com) that I could see Kate wearing to a lunch do any day now.