In her considered dress choice, Kate Middleton made a statement that highlights exactly what Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are missing.
In June 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, sold off 79 of her cocktail and evening dresses at Christie's in New York to raise money for charity. The move wasn't simply a philanthropic moment of munificence but a symbolic shedding of her identity as an indentured member of the royal family.
Clothing, as Diana painstakingly taught the world in the '80s and '90s, was not just a signifier of taste and money but could also serve as a powerful communication tool, a way of speaking volumes without ever uttering one cutglass syllable. Her wardrobe codified her transformation from 'sacrificial lamb' to power player; from virginal martyr to palace provocateur.
That lesson in the potency of fashion is one her daughter-in-law Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, has clearly divined with her appearance in Glasgow for the COP26 climate conference this week the ultimate proof.
The outfit we saw the 39-year-old don to co-host a reception for world leaders at the Clydeside Distillery alongside her husband Prince William, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, was hardly ever going to wow the fashion crowd.
The full-length coat dress from London label Eponine in dark periwinkle was fine, at best. Sedate, pared back and nearly grazing her ankles, it would barely have looked out of place on the set of Downton Abbey.
But that choice in and of itself is telling because this is not 2012 Kate we're talking about here, back when she was freshly anointed as a real-life HRH and dressed with such a trepidatious eye on propriety that she bored the sartorial world to death. (May her vast collection of nude wedges have been sent to the fashion version of the Tower.)
In the last year we've seen her wear flirt with leopard print and some surprisingly sexy black knee-high boots, turn up in a very bold, if not entirely successful Alessandra Rich frock and choose reigning cool-girl brand The Vampire's Wife for a sequined green get-up.
Most recently, she took to the red carpet for the premiere of the latest Bond movie wearing a breathtaking, jaw-dropping gold sequined creation from Jenny Packham that will surely go down in the style history books as one of her greatest looks of all time.
Which is all to say, the nerves are gone and the Kate who has emerged over the last two years or so is a woman clearly not only comfortable in her royal skin but confident in her ability to do the job – and damn well.
And all this matters because Kate didn't, I'd argue, opt for this week's sleek-verging-on-humdrum number out of nerves but for purely strategic reasons.
Diana might have pioneered sartorial semaphore but Kate is proving to be her natural successor at this particular dark art.
Which is to say, this was a deliberately boring look. Her intention seems clear – to keep focus relentlessly on the occasion. Rather than drawing attention to herself with some showstopping frock or turning to any of the numerous, exciting British labels who would kill to dress her, she opted instead for the fashion equivalent of NyQuil.
If she had turned up in something colourful or interesting, anything really that would have given the fashion writers of the world even the most bare of somethings to cover, that would have detracted from the main event here, namely addressing climate change.
While the Eponine dress was a new piece, it is believed this piece is from the brand's spring/summer 2020 collection, suggesting that she might have already had the outfit in her cupboard, slated for an event last year, before that whole pandemic business put the kybosh on normal life. While the exact price isn't known, similar dresses cost about $4400.
Consider also her hair, in this case pulled back and businesslike, and that her shoes, jewellery and clutch were all pieces she has worn before. (In fact, she's worn those Rupert Sanderson pumps on 12 occasions before.)
Basically, we're talking about a stylistic blank slate. Nothing to see here. No really – nothing.
And that willingness to put the job first and to park what ego (and vanity) she might have speaks volumes about her inexorable journey towards the throne. That subjugation of self for the sake of the institution might be the core job requirement for anyone angling to one day wear a crown.
What is fascinating is that, after this week, the monarchy has never looked better. William and Charles have been out in force in Scotland, meeting with a who's who of world leaders and impressing the bespoke pants off the lot of them.
US President Joe Biden, after meeting with the Prince of Wales, said of the royal "We need you badly … and I'm not just saying that" and rhapsodised that Charles had got "the whole thing going" and "that's how it all started." (The President was also seen chatting with William and laying an affectionate hand on this shoulder.)
The world's richest man, Jeff Bezos, took time out of planning his next trip to space, to post about William, writing, "Very proud to be one of the founding funders of Prince William's Earthshot Prize. It's easy to see how passionate and thoughtful he is about this important work."
Even the UN Secretary General Antonia Guterres got in on the act with, taking to Twitter to say, "I was delighted to meet the Duke of Cambridge & finalists of the @EarthshotPrize" and hailing "The groundbreaking ideas of these global innovators."
This is all a serious turn up for the books.
While only a couple of years ago the monarchy was looking increasingly like a useless relic, something nifty to charm the tourists and help sell souvenir tea towels, in recent months a much more dynamic, verging on activist, version of the royal family has emerged, taking the lead on climate change and positioning themselves on the world stage as global leaders on this issue.
They've not only made themselves seem relevant but nearly (maybe not quite, but nearly) necessary, as a force that is uniquely positioned to corral politicians and make them, albeit briefly, play nice together.
This new and vital reimagining of the house of Windsor is an evolution of the royal family that even two years ago would have seemed unthinkable, if not verging on the ludicrous.
Back then, it was Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex who seemed like they had an assailable lead as the HRHs most likely to lead the monarchy charging into the 21st century. Their energy, hugs and hashtags looked set to pave the way for a new golden age, only for that promise to evaporate when they turned on their heels and quit for a new life of 'impactful' living and endless commercial couplings.
It's hard not to wonder how Harry must feel watching his family's Scottish tour de force from afar. In the 20 or so months between the Sussexes' wedding and their abrupt exit, the couple were the Windsor wunderkinds and when they left, it appeared that all the hopes of dynastic survival pegged to their popularity went out the door with them.
However, like centuries' worth of members of the royal family before him, Harry now suddenly finds himself on the outside looking in.
The monarchy has never looked better, while the relevance of Team Sussex has never seemed on shakier ground.
Of course, it was never meant to be this way.
Looking at photos of the Cambridges, Charles and Camilla at that COP26 reception, Harry and Meghan should rightfully be there too. Conservation and environmental work was always meant to be a princely two-for-the-price-of-one.
When William and Harry both started their royal careers back in the noughties, when those Wales boys loved nothing more than a pair of wraparound sunnies and a rum cocktail at Mahiki, they were very much a double act.
In 2009, they co-founded the Royal Foundation together, in 2010, they undertook their first joint overseas engagement, travelling to Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa, where conservation was high on the agenda, before, in 2014, they set up United For Wildlife, a body made up of the seven largest conservation charities in the world, including WWF and Conservation International.
That's why, in another universe where Megxit never happened, the Sussexes would be in the mix in Glasgow too, shaking hands and angling to get a glass of whisky in when the press was distracted by the sight of a chuckling Angela Merkel and Camilla. (True story. Oh to know what those two were chatting about. Meanwhile, Charles enjoyed a dram of the good stuff, saying, "I promise you I need it after today.")
Sigh. If only.
Here's the silver lining though. The royal family's reversal of fortune is proof you can right a sinking ship; that with the right whiles and plenty of hard work you can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Here's hoping that's exactly what happens after COP26 otherwise, in a fast warming world, Kate is going to have no need for that vast collection of mid-priced coats.
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.