Inside Princess Kate’s Bold Decision to Return to Public Life on Her Own Terms—and How Her Jenny Packham Rewear Was a Strategic Part of Keeping Her Return a Secret

The repurposing of a dress originally worn last year wasn’t just a nod to sustainability.

Kate Middleton wearing a white dress by jenny packham for trooping the colour
(Image credit: Getty Images)

While the rest of the world was convinced that she was in Houston, Texas—where the collective body we call social media was certain she was receiving treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center—the Princess of Wales was finalizing the details on her return to public life, which happened at Saturday’s Trooping the Colour to much success.

Catherine, Duchess of Wales during Trooping the Colour on June 15, 2024 in London, England. Trooping the Colour is a ceremonial parade celebrating the official birthday of the British Monarch.

Someday we'll stop talking about Kate's magnificent return to public life at Saturday's Trooping the Colour, but that day is not today.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Kate hadn’t been seen on royal duty since Christmas Day 2023, nearly six months prior. In January, Kate underwent a planned abdominal surgery at The London Clinic which, ultimately, detected cancer. She announced her diagnosis—though its type and stage is not known publicly, and may never be—in a courageous video message in March. Just as speculation was ramping up again about her health and well-being—not to the degree it did in February and March, prior to her March 22 announcement (thank God), but ample speculation, nonetheless—Kate shocked the world last Friday when she released, yet again, a vulnerable message, this time on social media and this time including intel that she would be at Trooping the Colour the next day.

As one can imagine, this was not a decision Kate made on Friday morning—it was a planned operation that had been in the works for a while. But Kate was apparently keen to keep her announcement a secret, and to return on her own terms—and she pulled it off. 

According to Page Six, Kate “went so far as to rewear a dress from her closet in order to keep her return to the public eye a secret.” Indeed, Kate’s Jenny Packham dress was upcycled from its first wear, to a May 2023 pre-Coronation event for King Charles; Packham has long been a favorite designer of the Princess of Wales. The simple black and white dress “was updated with black trim and ribbon embellishment on the neckline, as well as a black belt,” Page Six reports, and, “while repeating the dress made a sustainable fashion statement, it also served another purpose.”

According to Bethan Holt, fashion director at The Telegraph, “Just by reworking what she already owns, it allowed Kate to keep this secret [of her return to public life] within her very closest and most trusted team,” she said. Smart, smart woman, that Kate. 

the princesses enter trooping the colour

Nothing is left to chance when it comes to royal fashion, and if you're looking for it, you'll find symbolism in nearly every look. Including this one.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Kate also apparently made contingency plans if she felt ill on the day of the event, and there were only a few people kept in the loop about her plans. Kate personally called her father-in-law, King Charles—who, too, is being treated for cancer—to tell him the good news that she would be at Trooping the Colour, which serves as a birthday parade for the monarch (so, him). A Buckingham Palace spokesperson said last Friday that the King was “delighted” she could be there.

“Charles has been a great pillar of support to Catherine when she said that she’d really like to be there at Trooping,” royal author Katie Nicholl told Entertainment Tonight. “He was 100 percent behind it. The idea that she was going to upstage him didn’t even cross his mind. He just wanted his daughter-in-law by his side.”

Speaking of Charles and Kate standing side-by-side, “At last year’s Trooping, you had William and his father shoulder-by-shoulder,” Nicholl said. “This year, it was Kate who stood next to the King. I think that was very deliberate.” She added “The cameras caught them in a bit of an exchange, where they seem to be talking very warmly, very fondly. I’m hearing that [the] always close relationship between Kate and her father-in-law is now even closer. They are both going through cancer treatment. They’re both going through good and bad days, and, therefore, they’re able to relate to one another and have some sort of understanding that probably they can’t have with any other members of the family.”

King Charles and Kate Middleton at Trooping the Colour

In a bond forged through fire, these two have never been closer.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Of Kate’s choice to attend Trooping the Colour, Nicholl said attending was Kate’s “decision alone”: “There was no pressure on her from anyone,” she said. “She really wanted to do this. She turned a corner in her treatment. When she turned that corner, I was told that Trooping was a goal for her. She was given the sign off by her medical team. She spoke to her father-in-law about attending, and to Prince William. They were fully behind her.”

So then, Page Six reports, “well aware that her appearance would cause a commotion around the globe,” Kate “quietly called upon royal photographer Matt Porteous for a top-secret shoot at home last week.” Porteous has been a longtime favorite of William and Kate’s; he took the photos at Prince Louis’ christening as far back as 2018, and he’s also shot for the Wales family holiday card and William and Kate shark diving in Belize. Kate herself wrote the message that accompanied the photo, shot on the Windsor Estate nearby her home, Adelaide Cottage. After all, being outside gives Kate strength, and “being connected to nature is something that continues to support her recovery,” a source told Page Six. “She enjoys spending personal time on the things that give her energy and positivity.” 

Of her outfit for Saturday’s main event, “We definitely know that Kate has tailors in-house to help make something fit her perfectly, and they could have easily added the new belt and that bow detail at the neckline,” Holt said. “So Jenny Packham may not have even known Kate was going to rewear the dress.” 

Kate Middleton on Coronation eve

Kate wore the original Jenny Packham look to a pre-Coronation luncheon on May 5, 2023...

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Kate Middleton on Coronation eve

...and also to greet well-wishers.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Packham is one of Kate’s “most trusted” designers, Holt said, pointing out that Kate has worn a custom dress by the British designer every time she left the hospital with each one of her children: “Those are very intimate, important moments, so it’s a natural decision that Kate would turn to Jenny once again,” Holt said.

In addition to keeping her attendance plans close to the vest, upcycling a look from the past also very much fits in with Kate’s commitment to sustainable fashion, a muscle she’s really flexed in recent years. And this particular look—worn on the eve of the King’s Coronation on May 5, 2023—paid a special sartorial tribute to her father-in-law, said Susan Kelley, who runs the beloved fashion blog What Kate Wore.

“This is only the third time the princess has repeated a dress for this event,” Kelley told Page Six, adding that the outfit “signaled respect for her father-in-law, King Charles, as it was first worn to a high-profile pre-Coronation luncheon.”

Kelley added that “there were also significant emotional ties” on the other occasions when Kate chose to rewear a look for Trooping the Colour. “A lot of thought goes into these sorts of decisions, and there are often messages conveyed by the princess’ wardrobe choices,” Kelley said.

Kate Middleton on Coronation eve

Kate's sentimental decision to rewear and repurpose an outfit worn on the eve of the King's Coronation to a parade celebrating the King's birthday ties everything up with a bow.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Along with the Jenny Packham dress, Kate wore a beloved pair of white Jimmy Choo pumps, a black-and-white Philip Treacy saucer hat, Cassandra Goad Cavolfiore pearl studs (which she wore to both Louis’ 2018 and and Wimbledon last summer), and the Irish Guards Regimental brooch, a nod to her role as the regiment’s honorary colonel. The appearance was nothing “short of immaculate,” Nicholl said.

“I think clearly a huge amount of effort went into her appearance behind the scenes, and it wasn’t just about how she looked,” she said. “It was how she held herself. It was the pride that she took in being there, the way she shepherded her children into the carriage and up onto that balcony appearance. It was obviously very, very important to her to be there on Saturday, and I think she went to great lengths to make sure that she could be, and to do it all with that wonderful smile on her face.”

Kate Middleton on Coronation eve

Welcome back, Your Royal Highness. We missed you.

(Image credit: Getty Images)
Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.