Royals Watch: The Dress That Snared a Prince

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Byline: Robin Givhan

Now Kate Middleton fans can bid on the silky, see-through number that made William do a double take.

It is the wisp of a dress that in 2002 gave the fairy-tale romance between a British commoner and a blond-haired young prince a racy--and wholly modern--kick start.

On March 17, the leave-nothing-to-the-imagination covering that Kate Middleton wore during a charity fashion show while a student at the University of St. Andrews--and that transformed Prince William's interest in his classmate from platonic to romantic--will be sold to the highest bidder by Kerry Taylor Auctions in London.

The hey-baby dress, by former student Charlotte Todd, will be sold alongside hundreds of far grander garments, many of which tell the history of Western design. For example, a 1920s beaded evening cape by Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel was once owned by the eccentric Italian fashion editor Anna Piaggi, and a rare silk Mondrian dress by Yves Saint Laurent comes from the collection of American collector Sandy Schreier.

Yet the only frock that matters--sorry, fashion purists--is lot number 293, the very last in the sale. Todd's black-and-gold scrim of hand-knit silk, edged in turquoise elastic, was inspired by the charity show's theme "the art of seduction." Designed as a skirt, it was jury-rigged into a dress by Middleton--or by some stage-hand with an eye for provocation. The resulting look gave the entire audience, including Prince William, a clear view of Middleton's fine personal assets.

Lest anyone judge Middleton's fashion brazenness as inappropriate or an example of the decline in proper comportment, the auction also includes several boudoir ensembles worn by the Duchess of Windsor. Her intricately embroidered nightgowns--one in bright fuchsia--have more fashion panache, but they are titillating in their own way.

What distinguishes Middleton's dress (and that term is being used loosely here) is its lack of seductive finesse. …