‘Drab,’ ‘Dowdy,’ and ‘low end’ are just few of the adjectives used and implied by The Independent, a fairly popular British online newspaper the day before, in its evaluation of Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, popularly known by her maiden name, Kate Middleton’s wardrobes during her ongoing tour of South Asia.
The article’s author, Janet Street-Porter also uses the choicest of words such as ‘embarrassing’ and ‘dreary’ to describe her clothes, claiming that her sense of dressing style is both shameful for the British, as well as patronizing for Indians.
I couldn’t care less whether the author has firmly anti-royalist or republican motivations behind her thoughts. But, with due respect to her ‘argument’ (if you can call it one), her article is not only distinctly sexist, but borderline racist.
Kate Middleton is the Duchess of Cambridge, the bridge linking the rigid, often cantankerous and antiquated British monarchy to the oft-touted populist British democracy. In a purely political and symbolic context, the Duchess occupies a significant position in the idea of Great Britain.
Prince William and Kate are the most visible faces of the monarchy and certainly the most popular to the extent that the entire perception of the monarchy feeds off the perception of the royal couple. However, that shouldn’t mean that the royal couple is well above criticism. They shouldn’t. But, what should one say about silly and offensive criticism such as the one Porter subscribes to?
The curious case of Saris, midriffs and belly buttons
Porter’s opinion of Kate’s wardrobe is based on her view that Kate shouldn’t have been all prim and proper throughout her tour of South Asia. Her ‘argument’ cites the case of Indian women baring their midriffs while the Duchess was all covered up like a humble nun. Madam Porter, it is evident that you have no inkling about Indian fashion or wardrobes. The beautiful women who wear saris do not do so because it bares their midriff. The only reason why saris are constructed so is because in Hindu culture, it is believed that the belly button is the source of life and creativity. It has nothing to do with exposure, nor anything to do with showing up foreign dignitaries. We already do that every time we play cricket.
No longer a fashion icon?
Secondly, why should the Duchess choose to be dressed in the finest and flashiest of all wardrobes? Alexander McQueen, you say? Does McQueen make anything remotely appropriate for a tour through Kaziranga? Does Prada manufacture a special cricket kit for the British royalty when it chooses to play cricket with kids in Mumbai? Why should the Duchess allow the media to cultivate her solely as a fashion icon, and not someone with a measure of dignified responsibility? Kate may be an icon for thousands across the world but, that is not her responsibility alone. As a representative of the monarchy, she is effectively on a diplomatic tour. Now, what would you recommend for such a mission?
Such criticism is not only ill-informed but, also silly and sexist. Why should a woman on a diplomatic tour of South Asia be invaded and criticized for her fashion choices, above all else? As an Indian myself, I have a lot of criticisms to level at the royal couple. For instance, why the silence on the Bengal Famine which was orchestrated by the imperialist crow, Sir Winston Churchill? These are constructive and pertinent criticisms. Porter’s criticism is neither, but is instead fed by the raging popularity of the gossip columns in the Daily Mail.
Racism with a pinch of condescension
Oh, and what did Madam Porter say about the Indian clothing she wore? ‘No different from those made by workers on low wages’ and ‘high-street’, right? Consider one of the dresses the Duchess wore on the tour, a dress from the collection of and designed by Anita Dongre.
Within hours of the Duchess wearing it, her website had crashed sue to traffic from across the world. If one is to accept Kate Middleton to be a fashion icon then, with the heavy traffic on the site, it should be safe to assume that majority of her audience loved the dress she wore. Your opinion is yours to keep. I don’t dispute that. But, the manner of your criticism reeks of the so-called white man’s burden which so colors the West’s, especially the British correspondence and reporting of the developing world.
‘British’ fashion? Really?
And by the way, Porter certainly has the highest regard for British fashion. After all, it did give us all Cruella De Vil. But, she forgets that industrialization began in Great Britain, not fashion. Paris and Milan are much bigger and more significant fashion capitals. If it were up to British fashion, we’d all still be wearing high collars, breeches and bonnets. So please, don’t be sanctimonious about it all. After all, it took an Indian diamond to adorn and aggrandize your queen’s crown, didn’t it?
Ye shall not wear a veil of ignorance
I don’t get why the author thinks foul of the Duchess’ fashion sense. Maybe she’s just jealous of her having married into royalty. Anyways, she’s entitled to her opinion. But, she’s wrong when she says the Duchess’ fashion is an embarrassment to Britain. Au contraire, she looked positively lovely to me and a majority of her audience. Expecting her to keep up appearances in the finest of silks, wearing McQueen and carrying Gucci crocodile handbags, and then criticizing her for not having done any of it is not only sexist, it’s also elitist.
Further, I don’t think her dress was patronizing for us Indians. If anything, we’d say your criticism of it is. Dressing for a place and a people isn’t patronizing, it’s positively homely and assimilating. And what’s with all the ‘Muslim country’ rhetoric? Does Madame Porter know of pre-revolution Iran?
And finally, enough with the Princess Diana allegories. Kate Middleton is not Princess Diana. Get over it. And stop tracking and surveying her every move. I hope the British media remembers its ignominious role in Diana’s fatal car crash.
Anyways, we hope you enjoyed your tour of South Asia, dear Duke and Duchess. Please bring the Half-Blood Prince along with you next time around.
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