How would you describe Kate, Duchess of Cambridge? Tricky? Canny? Shrewd?
I thought not.
But in a year that has defied all expectations and proven dizzyingly unpredictable, there is a certain rightness to the fact that information has come to light that reveals that Kate has been pulling a fast one for years now.
This story starts in 2012 when the newbie Duchess of Cambridge attended her very first Buckingham Palace garden party in a pale pink Emilia Wickstead dress. (Hope she got one of the palace kitchen's famous fruit scones.) It was suitably pretty and demure and was in fact a frock she had first worn earlier that month for a palace luncheon.
But then fast forward to 2015 and there she was on an official visit to Action for Addiction, which was one of her first patronages, wearing a teal Wickstead number. But what anyone quite failed to notice, to any significant degree anyway, was that when she fronted up for this later outing, it was in a carbon copy of that 2012 dress.
And in the years since then Kate has quietly and stealthily worked out something of a formula. When she finds a piece that she seemingly likes or which somehow works then she snaps up a duplicate.
There was the red formal look by Preen from Thornton Bregazzi she chose for their 2016 tour of Canada, a black version of which she rolled out two months later for a London reception.
In June of that same year, out came a red $1871 Catherine Walker coat dress. Fast forward to July of 2017 during the Cambridges' tour of Germany and there she was in a periwinkle version of the same design.
Then there is the $965 Philosophy di Lorenzo Serafini blazer she has trotted out, both blue and red numbers.
A $2642 Emilia Wickstead dress made an appearance in 2018 (pink) and in 2019 (green).
Most recently, Kate turned up at her recent charity carol service at Westminster Abbey in a red Catherine Walker coat dress (I know, I know – predictably dull) which was a facsimile of the black outfit she chose for Prince Philip's funeral in April this year.
There are more but we would be here listing slightly insipid fashion choices until 2022.
But still, this way genius lies. Really.
Being a future Queen carries with it the crushing requirement to walk the very thin line between appropriate enough for the position but also stylish enough to placate the fault- finding press.
It is one that Diana struggled with badly during her early years of royaldom who was criticised at times for her Sloaney, girlish numbers.
Enter Kate's crafty fashion formula, which sees her order the same item in different colours and then wear them sometimes years apart.
This strategy has not one but two very clear benefits.
Firstly, repeating successful pieces that strike that perfect balance between Anna Wintour-approved fashion plate and august future regal consort must take some of the angst out of getting dressed.
Kate can walk out the door of Kensington Palace knowing that she is not going to be hauled over any media coals nor will she be making any sort of waves.
Which brings us to the much more interesting part of all this which is that implicit in Kate's strategy seems to be a tacit acknowledgment that her clothing can be a distraction from whatever good cause, charity or occasion she has stepped out to support.
Take March 2019 when she visited a children's centre in London. Did the press pack dutifully focus on why she was there? Pish. The vast majority of reports breathlessly talked about her choice of a $1900 Gucci blouse and the fact she was wearing it backwards.
The mother-of-three could pop out to meet the scientists who have found the cure for cancer but if she turned up an Herve Leger bandage dress and a pair of Christian Louboutin's iconic skyscraper So Kate heels (named for Moss not Middleton) then the lifesaving treatment would barely get a mention in the ensuing coverage.
What her two-for-one approach does is ensure that her clothes are not the star of the show and do not take any attention away from whatever the day is about.
Take the pale pink $4900 bespoke Alexander McQueen frock she wore for Trooping the Colour in 2017. All very lovely. Fast forward to October 2018, when Princess Eugenie walked down the aisle with Jack Brooksbank, the first tequila ambassador to marry into any European royal house, and what did Kate turn up in?
A facsimile of that McQueen dress, this time in a particularly flattering fuchsia. (Any wonder that she and husband Prince William were later spied in St George's Chapel indulging in a spot of touchy-feely leg business?)
If she had picked a new look or anything with even the vaguest whiff of daring about the place, that would have been a story that we, the rapacious Fourth Estate, would have joyfully run with, thus detracting and taking away from Eugenie. (What can I say? The world is more than a little obsessed with the Duchess of Cambridge.)
Implicit in this situation is Kate's understanding of the power that her wardrobe holds over the media and the public.
(And yes, I know, there is an obscene double standard at play here. Her brother-in-law Prince Harry quite literally only wore one suit for most of 2019 – a bland, grey J. Crew number reportedly – and the press did not bat a bloodshot eye.)
Her willingness to seemingly sacrifice any sartorial flourishes in the name of the greater royal good is revealing about how she would seem to think about her HRH gig, which is one she is committed to undertaking with a degree of self-sacrifice that the more sceptical among us might have doubted earlier on.
Which is to say, she knows what the key requirement of her role is, which is, to persistently use her platform and the spotlight that relentlessly follows her for the greater good.
Here's the downside to her on repeat strategy: It does not come cheap. Kate might be a deft hand at waving, charming small children and making hour after interminable hour of small talk with charity workers, but her extensive wardrobe comes with a very steep price tag.
In 2017, she spent a reported $232,486 on new clothes while that figure was a comparatively parsimonious $133,150 in 2018.
Come 2019, that figure jumped back up to $201,840 (which included a tour of Pakistan). Even in 2020, a year during which most of the big royal events such as Trooping the Colour and the white tie Buckingham Palace diplomatic reception which would demand expensive looks were cancelled, Kate still debuted a reported $181,760 worth of new clothing.
All of which is a very large amount of money to spend on a wardrobe that can generously be described as very samey-same. (There is a certain art of making relentlessly inoffensive fashion such a pricey undertaking.)
However, the converse is turning her every outing into a sartorial spectacle.
When Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, rolled up in New York in September for their DIY, quasi 'royal' tour of the city, it was her series of eye-wateringly expensive outfits that largely dominated news of the trip.
(It will take a hell of a lot for any royal to top the tone-deafness of Meghan wearing an $11,090 cashmere Loro Piana ensemble to a school where 94 per cent of children qualify for free meals. While there, the couple donated a washing machine and dryer, somewhat ironic given that not a single one of the pieces she had one that day would have been machine washable.)
Sadly, with the rampaging Omicron variant having dashed any hopes of the Queen and her family gathering for Christmas at Sandringham, we will be denied, for another year, seeing whatever relentlessly proper coat Kate had picked up for the annual pilgrimage to church.
Who knows what 2022 might hold, both for the house of Windsor and the world but here is an iron-clad, take-it-to-the-bank certainty: We will be treated to more moments of sartorial deja vu from Kate. You know what they say: The more that changes, the more that stays the same.
• Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.