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28 Photos Showing Kate Middleton’s Stunning Transformation Since Becoming a Royal

The college girl we once knew as Kate Middleton has evolved considerably in the nearly two decades during which we've been following her. Watch as we trace that evolution, year by year.

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by Malcolm Clarke/Daily Mail/Shutterstock (984523a) Kate Middleton on the catwalk wearing a sheer black lace dress over a bandeau bra and black bikini bottoms St Andrews University Charity Fashion Show, Scotland, Britain - 26 Mar 2002 Kate Middleton, 19, a friend of Prince William at the university wearing a sheer black lace dress over a bandeau bra and black bikini bottoms. She is believed to be one of his future flatmates in his second year.
Malcolm Clarke/Daily Mail/Shutterstock

The look that launched…everything

The Duchess of Cambridge, aka Kate Middleton, was once a college student at the University of Saint Andrews. She and Prince William were still “just friends” when Kate strutted down the catwalk of a university fashion show in this Charlotte Todd see-through number. The year was 2002, and as the story goes, this was the moment young Will realized he was attracted to Miss Middleton. The two didn’t become an “item” until late 2003. Find out the difference between “Princess” and “Duchess.”

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William’s girlfriend, Kate Middleton

In March 2004, Prince William and Kate Middleton went public with their romantic relationship (while skiing in Switzerland). In the early months of the relationship, Kate’s style was still that of a “typical college girl.” Here, she’s wearing a white “Wild Thing” t-shirt with a tight, low-slung thigh-grazing skirt, wide belt, and knee-high boots by designer Penelope Chilvers. Learn about what Kate did for work before becoming a royal.

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by Brendan Beirne/Shutterstock (520730a) Kate Middleton (c) PRINCE WILLIAM PLAYING IN A RUGBY SEVENS TOURNAMENT, ST ANDREWS, SCOTLAND, BRITAIN - 24 APR 2005
Brendan Beirne/Shutterstock

Portrait of the Duchess as a young rugby fan

Let’s face it, this is not Her Royal Highness’s best look. But to be fair, let’s keep in mind that on this day in April 2005, she’s still a 23-year-old university student, taking in a game at Saint Andrew’s and chowing down on burgers with her gal pals. Catherine is so stunningly unguarded in this photograph, it seems clear she’s new to the routine of being photographed anywhere, everywhere, and at any time whatsoever. This is the royal rule Kate and William break all the time.

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Brendan Beirne/Shutterstock

Two weddings

Here, Kate is seen attending the June 5, 2005 wedding of Hugh Van Cutsem and Rose Astor, at which her then-boyfriend, Prince William, is an usher in the wedding party. Kate had not been invited to attend the wedding of William’s father, Prince Charles, to Camilla Parker Bowles earlier that year, so this could be seen as progress, not just in terms of the budding romance between the future Cambridges but also in terms of Kate’s style evolution. She’s elegantly dressed, albeit not nearly as put-together as she appears today. Here’s the sweet promise William made to Kate before their wedding.

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by Shutterstock (2587736h) Prince William and Kate Middleton Prince William and Kate Middleton at the Beaufort Polo Club, Britain - 18 Jun 2005

Oops, she did it again

Two weeks after photographers capture Catherine’s elegant composure at the Astor Wedding, a wiley member of the paparazzi managed to snap this image of Catherine, her cleavage on display, her posture slack, and, well, let’s just say she’s “adjusting her seat.” (Hey we all do this.) It’s just that young Catherine hasn’t yet gotten accustomed to being hounded by photographers. Besides, who even has perfect posture 100 percent of the time? Well, Catherine, circa now, as we shall see. See the 13 funniest royal family moments in pictures.

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Kate steps out in Uggs

In April 2006, Kate does some last-minute shopping before she and William head to Mustique for a holiday. She’s wearing a pair of soft and cozy Ugg boots, with her jeans tucked in, as was the fashion back then. Thirteen years later, she’s rarely, if ever, seen in such a seemingly unintentionally casual look. Find out the myths about the royal family that aren’t true.

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Kate Middleton leaving the Mahiki Club, London, Britain - 19 Apr 2007
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“We were on a break”

It wasn’t the first time they’d split up (there’d been rumors of a brief split in late 2004), but Kate and William’s 2007 split was probably their most significant. Here, Kate’s seen partying in London in April 2007, shortly after the breakup made the news. By summertime, the two lovebirds had rekindled their romance. This is why Kate rarely takes her coat off in public.

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by Shutterstock (1315800g) Catherine Middleton Catherine Middleton attending a private house party in Chelsea, London, Britain - 14 Jun 2007

A Topshop halter dress cut to “here”

On June 14, 2007, Miss Middleton attends a private party in Chelsea in a Topshop halter dress that shows quite a bit of skin. Topshop is a fun and trendy and ready-to-wear (read: not fancy, not expensive) London-based clothing store and Catherine appears to be continuing to enjoy the single life…except word has it she and Prince William secretly got back together less than a week earlier. It seems the future Duchess is having her last bit of reckless fashion fun before tucking into the official royal life.

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Service for the Order of the Garter at St. George's Chapel, Windsor, Berkshire, Britain - 16 Jun 2008

They’re an “official” royal item

By 2008, the relationship between Prince William and Kate Middleton was stronger than ever, and on June 16, she attended the Order of the Garter service at Windsor Castle, which is her very first official appearance at a formal royal event. Find out 12 times the royal family broke their own protocol.

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Charity Polo Match at Cirencester, Britain - 07 Jun 2009
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Prada plus platforms

At the Charity Polo Match at Cirencester, Britain on June 7, 2009, which Kate attended with Prince William, Kate wears a casual outfit accessorized with a Prada handbag and platform shoes, upping her casual fashion quotient significantly from previous years. Today, here’s a possible trick behind how Kate manages to wear heels all the time.

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Teenage Cancer Trust Christmas Spectacular and Reception, Thursford Collection, Norfolk, Britain - 18 Dec 2010
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A royal fiancé makes her debut

In October 2010, Prince William proposed marriage to Miss Catherine Middleton, and she accepted. On December 18, the future royal spouse makes her debut as a royal fiancée at the Teenage Cancer Trust Christmas Spectacular and Reception in Norfolk, Britain. Reflecting on her new status as a presumptive member of the royal family, she dresses the part in an elegant black and white dress by designer Alice Temperley and black velvet jacket, accessorized with what will become her signature handbag look (a small clutch), sheer black stockings, and dainty pumps. This is the clever trick Kate Middleton uses to repeat her outfits.

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Wedding of Harry Aubrey-Fletcher and Sarah Louise Stourton, St Andrew's Church, Aldborough, Boroughbridge, Britain - 08 Jan 2011
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Two more weddings

On January 8, 2011, royal fiancée Kate Middleton attends the wedding of Harry Aubrey-Fletcher and Sara Louise Stourton at St. Andrew’s Church in Aldborough, Boroughbridge, Britain. She accessorizes her Libélula dress with a pillbox hat, as royals do, and she walks with her bodyguard, Karen Llewellyn. On April 29, 2011, she marries Prince William. Henceforth she is styled as Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, Countess of Strathearn, and Lady Carrickfergus. Here’s why her first name isn’t part of her title.

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by Ian MacNicol/Shutterstock (7442708b) Tennis - Wimbledon Championships - Day 7 Kate Middleton visits centre court to watch Andy Murray play Richard Gasquet during the seventh day of the Wimbledon Championships UK London Kate Middleton
Ian MacNicol/Shutterstock

First Wimbledon as a married royal

Prince William and wife Catherine, now the Duchess of Cambridge, attend the fourth-round match between Britain’s Andy Murray and Frenchman Richard Gasquet on Day 7 of the 2011 Wimbledon Tennis Championships at the All England Tennis and Croquet Club, in London, June 27, 2011. She doesn’t quite have the hang of controlling her image as she will later…or she doesn’t have the hang of controlling the media.

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Breaking News - Kate Middleton Pregnant: Duchess of Cambridge Expecting with Husband Prince William, Palace Confirms - and It May Be Twins

Pregnant with Prince George

In December 2012, it’s announced that Kate and William are expecting their first child. Kate, pictured here looking about as run-down as we’ve ever seen her, is so ill with morning sickness that it’s speculated she’s having twins. Spoiler alert: she didn’t have twins. Prince George was born July 22, 2013.

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National Review of Queen's Scouts, Windsor Castle, Berkshire, Britain - 21 Apr 2013

Looking royally pregnant

Entering her third trimester with Prince George, the Duchess of Cambridge looks wonderfully elegant at the National Review of Queen’s Scouts at Windsor Castle, Berkshire, Britain, on April 21, 2013. She’s wearing an intentionally-frayed mint green cotton tweed coat by Mulberry, a taupe beret by Whiteley, and nude pumps by L.K. Bennett. Don’t miss these times Kate channeled Princess Diana’s fashion choices.

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Prince William and Catherine Duchess of Cambridge visit Wellington, New Zealand - 07 Apr 2014
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Brightly attired for a tribal trip

On April 7, 2014, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited Wellington, New Zealand, and met with Maori tribesmen. Kate is wearing a bright red double-breasted Jenny Packham dress, accessorized with a matching pillbox hat and matching black clutch and pumps. “British designer Jenny Packham is known for her sophisticated, feminine styles, which makes her a perfect fit for the always-elegant Duchess of Cambridge,” Hello! Magazine explained in 2018.

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Commonwealth Day Observance, Westminster Abbey, London, Britain - 09 Mar 2015
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Pretty in pink, pregnant with Princess Charlotte

In her third trimester of pregnancy with Princess Charlotte, Kate turns up at the Commonwealth Day Observance at Westminster Abbey, London, Britain on March 9, 2015, wearing a pale pink Alexander McQueen coat with pearl buttons, and we think she couldn’t look more elegantly feminine.

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Prince William and Catherine Duchess of Cambridge visit to India - 11 Apr 2016

A more mature look is evolving

On a visit to India on April 11, 2016, Kate wears a perfectly tailored cream-colored midi dress by Emilia Wickstead, whose clean, almost corporate look is becoming a favorite of the Duchess of Cambridge. Learn about the royal fashion “rule” Kate Middleton has been breaking this whole time.

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Catherine Duchess of Cambridge visit to the V&A Museum, London, UK - 29 Jun 2017
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Kate gets suited up

Speaking of corporate, the Duchess of Cambridge truly looks as if she just as easily could be a Fortune 500 CEO in this Gucci textured tweed dress, which she’s wearing on a June 29, 2017, visit to the V&A Museum in London.

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Prince William and Catherine Duchess of Cambridge visit to Sweden - 30 Jan 2018

Pregnant and channeling Dr. Zhivago in Sweden

On a visit to Sweden on January 30, 2018, Kate, who is pregnant with Prince Louis, wears a gorgeous forest-green Catherine Walker coat with asymmetrical buttons and a furry collar, and she accessorizes it with a Dr. Zhivago–inspired fur hat (it’s not the first time she’s worn this wintry-but-warm look, one which her grandmother-in-law, the Queen, also enjoys wearing) and Mulberry handbag and boots. Find out what Kate Middleton inherited from her late mother-in-law, Diana, Princess of Wales.

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by Shutterstock (9444588bb) Catherine Duchess of Cambridge First Annual Royal Foundation Forum, London, UK - 28 Feb 2018 Under the theme 'Making a Difference Together', the event will showcase the programmes run or initiated by The Royal Foundation. WEARING SERAPHINE

Her pregnancy look has “fully” evolved

In her third trimester during her pregnancy with Prince Louis, the Duchess seems to be “showing” more than in her prior pregnancies (many women notice they “show” more with each pregnancy), but what’s most significant is how poised she looks compared with candid shots taken during her first pregnancy as she sits demurely onstage at an event in London, her legs crossed and her royal blue dress placed “just so.” Don’t miss these adorable photos of Louis’s first year.

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by Shutterstock (10215534bk) Queen Elizabeth II walks past Catherine Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William Easter Sunday service, St George's Chapel, Windsor, UK - 21 Apr 2019

Perfectly in sync

Catherine’s shown here wearing an Easter-egg-blue suit that coordinates perfectly with the seafoam green suit worn by her grandmother-in-law, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, for whom she is curtseying in this photograph taken outside St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. Here’s why the Queen favors bright colors.

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Mandatory Credit: Photo by Shutterstock (10502289j) Catherine Duchess of Cambridge talks to guests at an evening reception for members of the Diplomatic Corps at Buckingham Palace Diplomatic reception, Buckingham Palace, London, UK - 11 Dec 2019

The style trifecta

At an evening reception on December 11, 2019, Catherine displays her royal credentials with this trifecta:

  • The Lover’s Knot Tiara made famous by her late mother-in-law, Diana, Princess of Wales
  • The blue sash signifying appointment by the Queen to “Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order”
  • The yellow ribbon bearing a brooch containing an image of The Queen, which signifies service to the sovereign.

Find out the 13 things both Kate and Duchess Meghan have inherited from their late mother-in-law.

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Prince Of Wales And Duchess Of Cornwall Visit Leicestershire
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Kate with her mother-in-law

Kate strolls with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall at their visit to the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre Stanford Hall in Leicestershire on February 11, 2020. The facility offers residential rehabilitation amenities for serving members of the armed forces. Kate spoke to staff and patients about the facility while wearing a statement Alexander McQueen suit with classic military details such as a high collar and buttons. Don’t miss these little-known facts about Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall that may surprise you.

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The Duke And Duchess Of Cambridge Visit Ireland - Day Three
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Showing off her athleticism

Kate is not shy about showing her pride when it comes to sports. On March 5, 2020, Kate visits the Salthill GAA club to play some hurling and Gaelic football in Galway, Ireland. She appeared in an orange sweater by Really Wild, black skinny jeans, and New Balance sneakers. Members of the club were completely shocked at the royal family’s hidden talent for hurling.

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The Duke And Duchess Of Cambridge Visit South Wales
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Winning a stuffed animal

Kate visits Barry Island in South Wales with her husband Prince William to speak to local business owners about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on August 5, 2020. While the visit was intended for business, this didn’t stop the power couple from having a little fun at an arcade while they were there. Kate prematurely celebrated grabbing a blue toy with the claw at Island Leisure Amusement Arcade, only to have the toy drop just before reaching the chute. Check out the absolute craziest conspiracy theories about the royal family.

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National Service Of Remembrance At The Cenotaph
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Paying her respects

The Duchess of Cambridge stands in London during the National Service of Remembrance on November 8, 2020. Despite the coronavirus pandemic and the United Kingdom issuing a lockdown earlier that same week, Kate appeared in person at The Cenotaph for the event. The event overlooked the monument which honors military personnel who lost their lives in World War I and World War II. Kate wore a custom black Alexander McQueen coat with a Philip Treacy hat and diamond earrings taken right out of Queen Elizabeth’s jewelry box. Social distancing guidelines were enforced at the event.

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The Duke and Duchess Of Cambridge And Their Family Attend Special Pantomime Performance To Thank Key Workers
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Special night out

Kate walks the red carpet with her husband and three children, Prince Louis, Princess Charlotte, and Prince George on their way to attend a singular pantomime performance at London’s Palladium Theatre on December 11, 2020. Pantomimes are comical plays often performed around the holidays in Great Britain. The show was hosted by The National Lottery in order to thank essential workers for their efforts during the coronavirus pandemic. Essential workers were gifted hundreds of seats to see the show with their families. If the British monarchy is a bit confusing, make sure you see this chart that explains the royal family tree.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest and in a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction, and her first full-length manuscript, "The Trust Game," was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.
Emma Taubenfeld
Emma Taubenfeld is a former assistant editor for Reader’s Digest who writes about digital lifestyle topics such as memes, social media captions, pickup lines and cute pets. When she’s not working, you can find Emma reading corny young adult novels, creating carefully curated playlists and figuring out how to spice up boxed mac and cheese.