Classic and cool, the Kate Middleton style emerges

Kate Middleton's style is natural, unforced and unpretentious. She never seems to be trying too hard or worried about currying favor with the glittery world of fashion.

That's going to help — a lot — when the naturally beautiful young woman blessed with poise, dimples, long legs and perfect posture marries Prince William next year.

Middleton is already one of the most photographed women in Britain — and with Tuesday's engagement announcement, she immediately leaps to the top of the fashion world. That position was once occupied by Princess Diana, William's mother, who was killed in a 1997 car crash in Paris.

Like Diana, whose graceful style was widely imitated until her shockingly early death, Middleton's choices will be scrutinized by fashion editors worldwide and copied by retailers in the world's fashion capitals.

Middleton, 28, already has a distinctive look, one that emphasizes her long brown hair, pale skin and charismatic smile. She favors white and black over splashes of color and has shied away from London's radical street fashion in favor of mainstream looks.

"She has a feminine streak, and she dresses very much for herself, she's not a slaving fashionista," said Hilary Alexander, fashion director of The Telegraph newspaper. "She's never obvious. But there will be massive pressure on her now. I don't think we've had a royal wedding on this scale for nearly 30 years."

Middleton wears many classic outfits, and favors full length, solid-colored coats. Her look has not changed dramatically season to season or from year to year.

There are already fashion blogs devoted to Middleton and her fashion choices. She has not formed any strong allegiances to specific designers yet, though she does favor the work of Daniella Issa Helayel, among others.

Middleton could have been conjured up by central casting: She looks right in almost any setting, from a formal evening gown (plunging neckline, fuchsia) to jeans and a sweater. She has been photographed on a boat, at polo matches, graduations and shooting weekends — with only the occasional misstep.

She's only had two unfortunate outfits so far: The sheer dress she wore over black lingerie at a charity fashion show in 2002 — before the royal romance began — and a yellow, turquoise and pink rollerblading outfit at a charity event.

Middleton took a bad spill in the disco outfit and was photographed in a rather undignified position. Still, she was able to laugh it off, winning the day with her smile and sense of fun.

Despite the fact that her parents are self-made millionaires, she does not dress like a wealthy woman, often shopping at mid-level stores on British main streets. When she was photographed wearing a low-priced dress from Topshop on her 25th birthday, the item became an overnight national sensation, selling out in 24 hours.

In recent months, she has shifted more toward custom-made clothes, and she will undoubtedly adopt a more showcasy style once she formally joins the royal family.

The biggest fashion decision Middleton faces right now is what wedding dress she will choose.

Deborah Joseph, editor of Brides Magazine, said Middleton will face substantial pressure to choose an English designer, while Alexander said she expects the princess-to-be to come up with a surprising choice for a wedding dress.

"It's a British royal wedding, there's no need to look abroad," said Joseph. "Obviously there will be lots of speculation on the designer now, it depends which route Kate takes. She may give a nod to Princess Diana, and use one of her designers, like Bruce Oldfield or Amanda Wakeley, or she may make a statement of her own."

Joseph said Middleton's decision could define bridal wear for the next decade, much as Diana's choice in 1981 became the most-copied wedding dress in history.

One easy bet, however: Middleton is likely to use much softer fabric, like tulle or organza, than the stiff taffeta Diana used.

Joseph said Middleton faces another wedding style decision — what to do with her distinctive long brown hair. Should it be completely swept-up — or not?

"I've never seen her with her hair completely up, and it's more common now for brides to wear their hair down," Joseph said. "Most brides don't want to look like a completely different person, you want to look like a better version of yourself."

Of course, the person expected to fill Diana's fashion shoes won't be in the "most brides" category.