Now That Street Style is in a Coma, We Need ‘The Duchess’ More Than Ever
Katherine Ryan’s Netflix character in The Duchess is an inspiration for anyone who misses fashion IRL. She may be fictional, but she has rewritten the style rules for the atypical school gate mum — and I couldn’t be happier.
Having spent the last seven years repping for me rather than the marketing man’s “yummy mummy” BS (or the conversely cliché tired mother in cereal stains and sweatpants look) I can fist pump the air with joy at seeing the array of questionable — yet also completely perfect — outfit choices Katherine makes for the mundane yet stress-laden event that is the school drop-off.
If Killing Eve’s Villanelle ever decided to metamorphose into an offensively funny yet vulnerable, no-filter Canadian tiger mother (with a penchant for Carrie Bradshaw heels) and was deposited into a posh north-west London postcode – this would be her.
Katherine’s risk-taking fashion on the show is a breath of fresh air. Yet it remains authentic to her character and by the final and sixth episode (why only 6? Give us more!) her outfits aren’t shocking at all, they are completely in-synch with her fashion-loving character and a joy to look at.
Although attempting to give her daughter a sibling is the (actually hilarious) central theme of the series, being a mum doesn’t define her dress sense. This sense of owning her own style despite being a mother truly resonates with me.
The phrase “dressing like a mum” has seriously dowdy connotations (M&S, Boden, Next?). The only positive fashion association for mothers I’ve ever heard is the “mom jean” and although it is actually cool and flattering, it’s only eponymous due to the comfort associated with the high waistband and roomier leg – the jeans equivalent of a nursing bra after years of suffering in a Gossard Wonderbra. So does it mean mom fashion is actually cool? I say yes! But thousands sadly don’t.
Ryan’s character is the absolute antithesis of the stale jumper, leggings, and Converse combo wearing mum – and it’s refreshing. Her inimitable looks are absolutely imaginary, as no woman of sane mind is waking at (probably) 5 am to look this good for the sole purpose of taking their kid to school.
But every group needs a bona fide televised style icon! The lady lawyers had Diane Lockhart — perfectly blown-out power hair paired with statement necklaces. Assassins of a female persuasion had Villanelle - someone who looked like Paris Fashion Week itself was inspired by her. And now the school run mums have The Duchess’ Katherine.
You may question whether having me proclaim her as the new style icon for mothers is entirely necessary. Isn’t life hard enough without adding considered sartorial choices to the morning chaos? However, the joy of watching her outfits on-screen far outweighs any potential anxiety about our own wardrobes. We aren’t stupid. We know looking this stylish is absolutely unattainable and impractical without paid help and a six-figure salary. But the very idea of a mother who doesn’t either look like shit or is so polished it verges on boring is just too inspiring to be ignored.
I am guilty of the jeans and padded coat look, but it doesn’t stop me wishing for more runway than runaway looks on my way to school.
I may not be quite ready to brave her feather-trimmed pyjama set but Katherine’s sartorial choices are like manna from heaven for my permanently tired eyes. Being true to your own style — rather than what is expected or comfortable — is difficult, particularly when life becomes consumed with keeping little humans alive and thriving. I am guilty of the jeans and padded puffer coat look but it doesn’t stop me from wishing for more runway than runaway looks on my way to school.
As London enters stage 2 lockdown and the career mum has all but ditched her tailored wool-cashmere mix coat, corporate heels, and statement Mulberry, what else is there even left? The creative mums in their Isabel Marant shoes and Kooples dresses are no more. In a sea of sports casual, what sartorial beauty is there to be seen each morning as I deposit my precious headache inducers at the school gate?
I miss people-watching on the tube, admiring someone’s coat or boots. A handbag or a dress, an eclectic style, or something far more “fashion.” Variety is the spice of life, but the school run is often bereft of it.
Compounded with lockdown, mothers have every right to put comfort first. Why should they dress up for the school run when there is practically nowhere to go and nobody to lunch with?
Yet I would argue that these are the times where dressing for yourself — and for other women — is more important than ever.
Rather lazily I’m not willing to put in the daily work myself. If I’m not busting out the Balenciaga or ba&sh on a Tuesday morning visit to the post office then why should I expect anyone else to? Yes, I’m a hypocrite. But this is where Ryan’s character inspires me to at least not reach for the trackies five days a week.
Katherine’s outfits are glamorous, subversive, extravagant, and funny. Aside from the laugh out loud moments and a cool soundtrack, this programme is all about fashion. She is the antithesis of the cliched single mother on the school run: she makes pottery at her perfectly styled home studio but you won’t see her clay splattered or wearing an apron. Hell no.
Instead, she opts for purple tulle, velvet blazers, leather socks, sequinned jumpsuits, and amazing headbands reminiscent of crowns. She lives for fashion (and her daughter), and even if you have no intention of attempting to emulate her style, the mere existence of her fictitious character makes the world a better place right now.
In all likelihood, if anyone actually came to drop off their child while dressed in full-on glamorous Sicilian widow mourning garb (in the manner of a Dolce and Gabbana advert circa 2012) we would all think she was slightly insane. As for the Rachel Antonoff ‘Worlds Smallest Pussy’ sweatshirt, I think a WhatsApp group might be started in protest by some of the mums at my kids’ suburban London primary school.
In a recent interview, Ryan reveals that one of the reasons for the colourful fashion was to contrast with the grey and dreary London backdrop of the show.
This is why we need school gate mum fashion this autumn.
I remember noticing another mum with undecided curiosity, as she marched down the street with her equally styled Russian daughter (a six-year-old sporting Stella McCartney and perfectly ribboned blonde French braids). But now I absolutely relish seeing what she has decided to wear for the day! Her style may not always be aesthetically aligned to mine but it interests me and that above all is where the pleasure of fashion lies.
So although I’ve still no time or inclination for applying make-up and barely have the time to run a brush through my kids’ hair let alone my own, The Duchess has inspired me to put the jogging bottoms and leggings back for at least a couple of days in the week.
Dress for the day you want to have. I want mine to be fabulous.