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Online, there was a different sort of crowd gathering. Like the royal reporters, these writers track Kate’s every move. They show up for her events and give context to the meaning of her various engagements. They rigorously cover Kate and her husband Prince William’s royal tours and know what it’s like to stay up all night waiting for her to emerge from the Lindo Wing after a royal birth. But these aren't British newspaper journalists. They’re Kate Middleton style bloggers, and most aren’t even located in Britain.
When Kate appeared on the steps of the National History Museum, the bloggers got to work. The royal reporter, Andrews, had tweeted a watermarked picture of the dress and named the designer: Barbara Casasola, a Brazilian designer new to Kate’s closet. Nine minutes later, @WhatKateWore posted pictures of the dress on the runway side by side with flat images and retweeted links to buy the dress in white or black or as two separate pieces.
The shoes, however, would require a bit more sleuthing. Andrews, noticing the guesses start to fly, offered that, from what she could see, the heels seemed to be tied like gladiator sandals — wait, no, actually, it was a buckle at the ankle. Jimmy Choo, perhaps, @KateMiddStyle suggested, but decided against it a minute later. They were suede, but was it a cream-colored suede or more of a light pink? Definitely more pink.
Within the hour, Twitter user @pballwizard202 found the shoes, the Schutz ‘Dollie’ Sandal, on The Outnet and tagged @KateMiddStyle, @WhatKateWore, @HRHDuchessKate, and @MiddletonMaven to alert them to the find. A separate search started to ID the earrings.
Later, on What Kate Wore, blogger Susan Kelley posted a 1,000 word recap of the event that included details on the Art Fund Museum of the Year award, snippets of Kate’s conversations with attendees via on-the-ground reporters, details on the Barbara Casasola dress and speculation on whether Kate had it lined since it was being sold on Net-A-Porter unlined, background on the Schutz brand and the reaction after the designer found out that Kate had worn his shoes, and thoughts on whether the outfit could mean that Kate may be planning to go to the Rio Olympics, since both the dress and shoe designers were Brazilian.
The next day, Kate showed up at Wimbledon, and the process would begin all over again.
This whole ecosystem churns around Kate’s day-to-day, chronicling not only the dress plucked out of her closet that day, but also the events she attends, the history of said events, and why her presence matters. (Prince William’s style is covered tangentially, but he doesn’t have his own fan blogs in the same way as Kate.) The bloggers report without press passes or any traditional access to the royals — nobody who was interviewed for this article has ever actually met Kate — but it doesn't effect their rigorous coverage. They drive readers towards shops stocking Kate’s clothes, help put Kate’s charities on the map, and maintain that all the work is worthwhile because, at the end of the day, it rarely feels like work.
"Kate’s story is kind of the perfect fairy tale, especially for Americans," says Jane Barr, the blogger behind From Berkshire to Buckingham and Kate’s Clothes. "The common girl who grew up normal and then married a prince, that transformation is something we’ve all been raised with, like Cinderella stories, so it was ripe for popularity."
Barr had been following Kate’s trajectory since she and Prince William were dating while students at St. Andrew’s — she still remembers being devastated when they broke up for a short period in 2007 — but didn't start blogging until April 2011, the month that the couple got married. From Berkshire to Buckingham is Barr’s main blog, and then she launched Kate’s Clothes, a comprehensive directory of Kate’s entire royal wardrobe, after a particularly grueling royal tour where she found herself slipping on the details of some of Kate’s outfits. The second site took nine months to build completely from scratch, and launched in April 2015.
For Kelley of What Kate Wore, covering Kate was a respite from her previous career as a broadcast journalist. For Kelly Lynch of The Duchess Diary, it was a way to keep reporting on the royals even though she had moved on from covering that world as a staff writer at several entertainment websites. For Christine OBrien and Amanda Dishaw of What Would Kate Do?, the site wasn’t just about documenting Kate’s wardrobe. The co-founders find considering Kate’s public persona in all aspects a fun way to help navigate life through transitional periods.
"Amanda had just had her first son and I had just graduated from college and was just completely baffled by adulthood," explains OBrien who, along with Dishaw, identifies much more with Kate as a cultural icon than Kim Kardashian, Taylor Swift, or any of the other headliners dominating American celebrity coverage. "I was asking that same question: what would Kate do? Amanda was sort of without a paddle because Kate hadn't had children yet but luckily I was able to say, well, when Kate got out of college she did this, and I would literally say, well, how can I apply her decisions into my own situation?"
OBrien found Dishaw online right when she had launched the blog, and proposed the idea of building it together. Four years later, the website sees between 50,000 to 100,000 unique visitors per month,according to the founders. They have also branched out into a number of side projects, including the Refined Side, a collection of women who find ways to add small luxuries (like, say, ending the day with a bubble bath) into their everyday lives. There’s a book in the works as well.
Both founders want to make the blog their full-time jobs, but for now, the site can only support one full-time editor, so they switch off as their lives dictate. Over the four years that they have been working together, the pair have never actually met in person (OBrien is based in D.C. while Dishaw lives in British Columbia).
Kelley has made What Kate Wore her full-time job, and she estimates that she devotes about 60 hours of work each week into the blog. The site is one of the most well-regarded among the community for accuracy and comprehensiveness, and Kelley says that What Kate Wore sees an average of 150,000 unique visitors per month. (The Duchess Diary gets about 15,000 uniques per month, according to Lynch, and Barr declined to disclose traffic figures for From Berkshire to Buckingham.) "It's not an enormous moneymaker at all but it's certainly a much more fun, enjoyable, and in some ways more rewarding way to earn a living than what I have done in the past," Kelley explains. "It's much more fun than going to plane crashes or being shot at or any number of things."
Kelley spends about six to eight hours writing each post and sourcing imagery, which can prove to be particularly controversial. Each time Kate is photographed in public, there are decisions to be made. Are these paparazzi shots, or is Kate at an official event? If they are paparazzi shots, was her privacy compromised? If the kids are in tow, were they made uncomfortable by the photography? Each blogger weighs where to draw the line, knowing full well Kate and Will’s public pleas to be left alone in private settings and the tragic role of paparazzi in Princess Diana’s death.
For Barr, paparazzi shots are fair game as long as the paparazzi themselves aren’t interfering with the royals’ day. "My opinion is there are perks of being a princess and there are drawbacks, and the perks are the clothes and the fame and the fortune and the travel and one of the drawbacks is you are going to be papped because you are a celebrity," says Barr. "The things that we saw with Diana don't happen today. They just don't."
Her attitude towards paparazzi falls on the more lenient end of the spectrum, at least among the bloggers that Racked spoke with. Kelley refuses to publish any paparazzi shots on What Kate Wore and OBrein and Dishaw will share some photos on What Would Kate Do? but "we try and publish magazine covers or screenshots of the inside of the magazine so we’re not buying the photos, and we’re doing everything we can to not financially support these paparazzi photos in an effort to discourage them."
It’s an ongoing debate, though, because their readers love the paparazzi shots. "These casual outings of Kate are infinitely more popular than something more formal," says OBrien. "If we see Kate in an $100 Zara coat like we did for Christmas two years ago it is going to be about five times more interesting than the event she's at the next day." The draw of normalcy (Kate! She’s just like us!) is hard to ignore.
Covering Kate comes with its fair share of offensive commenters and Twitter-bred hecklers, but no one that Racked spoke with had considered shutting off the comments. Several have been linked on anti-Kate Middleton sites (they exist) and been subjected to harassment over their work, but the women have simply learned to develop the thick skins needed to work on the internet.
"You have to know what you want to say and what your guidelines are and from there, there’s always going to be someone who thinks you are a terrible person or thinks you are an idiot or thinks your blog is the dumbest blog they’ve ever read," says Barr. "You just have to roll with that."
"For the most part there is a fairly good amount of positivity in this sort of bubble that is the royal world because the demographic is really the women who want to be like Kate," OBrien adds. "And if you want to be like Kate you’re probably not trolling the Internet."
And when an email lands in her inbox asking for help finding a Kate-approved prom dress, or wedding attire, it makes it easier to forget the trolls. OBrien recalled one stretch when she was sick and Dishaw had just given birth, and the blog went cold for a couple of days. Concerned readers started to write them, asking if they were okay and if they needed any help.
The royal reporters, too, value the time and effort that the bloggers put into documenting Kate and her family’s style. "Kate's press secretaries will often tell us the designers she's wearing on a given outfit but never George and Charlotte," Andrews, the royal reporter for The Sun, tells Racked in an email. "So the bloggers are invaluable both for IDing the kids' clothes and those of Kate's that the palace won't/don't tell us."
However, Kate herself has yet to officially recognize the community of Kate bloggers in any capacity. "I mean, you would love that validation," says Lynch of The Duchess Diary. "You would love to sort of get a little nod from Kate or William but we’re just covering their lives. It's such a sensitive issue, especially with Prince William after the death of his mother, that you want to be careful about how you cover what they do. I try to be as respectful as I can because I do respect the institution of the monarchy and I do respect what William and Kate do. But it's a very fine line."
Kelley from What Kate Wore wonders if Kate even wants the style bloggers around. "My gut instinct is that the Kate blogging community is probably something that Kensington Palace recognizes in this day and age," she says. "They would probably prefer it not to exist. It could well be seen as something that is very frivolous, something that does not have great significance on people’s lives."
But that doesn't mean that she subscribes to that theory. Part of covering Kate includes covering all the charity work that she does, and Kelley believes charities have received a lot more attention because of the coverage that the bloggers have provided. One of What Kate Wore’s advertisers made a donation to a Kate-supported charity nearly every time the company ran a giveaway on the blog. What Would Kate Do? readers have written in to say that they have donated time or money to local charities that support Kate’s causes because of Dishaw and OBrien's coverage.
"It's not just about the clothes, it's about the whole lifestyle, and I think that has been what’s most fulfilling for me," Dishaw says.
"I think Kate will know all about the bloggers and be amused that so much attention is devoted to who/what she wears," says Andrews. "But she knows the power of fashion and enjoys shopping/clothes herself so I think she secretly enjoys it. However, I agree with Susan in that she'd rather attention went to her charities also. But what woman wouldn't enjoy being a style icon?"
And the same theory rings true for the women who document her style — who wouldn’t enjoy covering Kate’s real-life Cinderella story? "She’s a beautiful woman, she wears beautiful clothes, she lives a happy and charmed life, and that’s why we follow royals," From Berkshire to Buckingham’s Barr explains.
"We all have our own lives and our own drudgeries and sometimes it's nice to enjoy watching something that looks perfect. Obviously, I know her life isn't perfect and she has the same problems we all do; she probably has spats with William and tensions with her family, but on the outside they just look lovely and perfect and we enjoy enjoying them."
It helps, too, that the royals and their network keep supplying the bloggers with opportunities for coverage. Kate’s sister Pippa Middleton just got engaged, William and Kate announced a second royal tour of Canada in the fall, and readers are already asking: what is Kate going to wear?