The Symbolic Meaning Behind Kate Middleton's LBD

The youngest member of the British royal family, Prince George, is in the international spotlight on his first official trip — a visit to Australia and New Zealand. But on Thursday his mother, the Duchess of Cambridge, garnered much of the attention, because of the strong style statement she made with the help of her favorite designer.

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For a state dinner in New Zealand, she sported a long-sleeved black dress embroidered on the shoulder with silver ferns, the nation's official emblem.

According to a legend of the Maoris, the indigenous people of New Zealand, the fern's silver back would glow in the dark, helping hunters and warriors find their way home at night. And the black color of Kate's dress has meaning too – New Zealand's national rugby team, the All Blacks, won the World Cup in 2011. (Her husband, Prince William, briefly spoke in Maori at the event as well, and the couple was greeted with traditional Maori dancers shortly after arriving in the country.)

The gown was custom-made by Jenny Packham, one of the Duchess of Cambridge's favorite designers, and a fellow Brit. Middleton wore a blue Jenny Packham dress with white polka dots when she left the hospital for the first time after giving birth to little George. She also wore a navy Jenny Packham gown and a diamond necklace borrowed from Queen Elizabeth to an event earlier this year. Packham, who was born in the English county of Hampshire, has other famous fans, including Kate Winslet and Angelina Jolie.

This isn't the first time that Middleton has incorporated hometown symbolism in her style. While on a royal visit to Canada, she sported a red-and-white outfit accessorized with a maple leaf fascinator, turning herself into a human version of the flag. Later on in the visit, she wore a diamond maple-leaf-shaped brooch. And during a St. Patrick's Day event honoring the Irish Guards, Middleton went for a very green look, with emerald-hued coat, hat, shoes, and even eye shadow.

Since getting engaged to Prince William and securing a permanent spot in the public eye, Middleton has used fashion to help win the hearts of her public. She has often supported local British designers, most notably Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, who did her wedding dress.

Although Middleton's diplomacy-through-fashion approach has been extremely successful, she didn't come up with the idea herself. Queen Elizabeth II has long used subtle influences in her clothes to pay homage to different parts of the world. She famously wore a maple leaf brooch on her first visit to Canada in 1951, and she carried on the custom of wearing a Cartier shamrock on St. Patrick's Day, a tradition she recently passed down to the Duchess. While Prince William and Middleton were in New Zealand, officials unveiled a portrait of the Queen sporting a pale blue suit and (what else?) a fern-shaped brooch. Clearly, the Duchess is taking a leaf from her grandmother-in-law's book.