The modern-day Princess of Wales wore the naked dress trend before it was cool, Peter Morgan would like to remind you. In the sixth and final season of The Crown, we aren’t treated to many teases of the monarchy’s fast-approaching future: The series ends at the onset of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s romance; Prince Andrew’s Jeffrey Epstein scandal is left untouched; Meghan Markle doesn’t make so much as a cameo; the queen’s death—and the outcries it produced—are still years away. But Morgan was nevertheless eager to feature one of the more indelible images of the monarchy’s next era: Kate Middleton’s eyebrow-raising dress.
Episode 9, “Hope Street,” captures the annual St. Andrews charity fashion show in March 2002, during which the real-life Kate commanded the attention of her friend and classmate, the future king of England. In The Crown, we watch as Meg Bellamy’s Kate learns Will awaits her in the audience, but only after some strategic advice from her mother—“It’s our duty to make use of the assets God has given us”—does she make the spur-of-the-moment choice to swap her more sensible off-the-shoulder sweater for a translucent skirt hiked up to her chest. From the moment Kate hits the runway, William (Ed McVey) is hypnotized.
While The Crown blends many of the timelines and details surrounding this moment, the scene itself sticks close to reality. In her 2022 book The Palace Papers, journalist Tina Brown describes it as such:
“In a Bridgerton-esque scene, William had bought one of the most expensive front-row tables for himself and his young buck friends to get a ringside look at the girls parading past. Everyone noticed that he was transfixed by a smoking-hot brunette who waltzed down the catwalk in a diaphanous black-and-gold silk dress with the shortest of short skirts that showed off her figure and supermodel-long legs.
“Kate Middleton? His terribly nice future housemate? She of the weighty heart-to-heart about the merits of geography? For William it was a double-take as indelible as Vronsky’s first sight of Anna Karenina at the Moscow railway station. At the after-party, William attempted to kiss the toast of the show, but she was still involved with Rupert Finch and pushed him away. … Yet she had also made the decision to sashay past William wearing what was designed as a see-through skirt hoisted up as a dress with her underwear showing through. Reported later as the moment William made his first move, it feels more like the moment when Kate Middleton first made hers.”
“Hope Street” eschews a few details: For instance, Bellamy’s Kate claims she’s no longer “attached,” while the real 20-year-old Kate was still with boyfriend Rupert Finch at the time of the fashion show. Nor was the now-infamous look the only one that Kate modeled on the runway that evening. Still, it’s widely regarded as fact that the appearance of Kate in that see-through number was a turning point in the young friends’ burgeoning courtship. The student who designed the skirt, Charlotte Todd, told People in 2020: “Everyone says that the fashion show was when the romance started, so a small part of me will always be part of royal history. It’s madness!”
Lauren Puckett-Pope is a staff culture writer at ELLE, where she primarily covers film, television and books. She was previously an associate editor at ELLE.