32 pictures of Kate Middleton before she became a royal - from her university days to her first public appearances

We step back in time and reminisce about the Princess of Wales's pre-royal past

Kate Middleton before she was a royal.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Kate Middleton has been a working Royal since she married Prince William in a fairytale wedding on April 29th, 2011, but her life in the spotlight didn't start there.

The now-Princess of Cambridge met future husband William at St Andrew's University in 2001, and they started dating in 2002 before their long-speculated engagement was announced in 2010. While we now know her as the kind-hearted princess and philanthropist, Kate had various jobs in retail and marketing before becoming engaged to Will, including being a part-time accessory buyer for British clothing brand Jigsaw.

While there's no shortage of unforgettable moments from the Princess of Wales during her time as an official royal, many of Kate Middleton's best style moments come from her pre-royal days. 

Here, we take a look at 32 pictures of the Princess before royal life, from clubbing with her sister to her early-00s boho style.

Graduating from St. Andrews

Kate Middleton on her graduation day.

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One of the most memorable Kate Middleton moments saw the future princess celebrating her graduation from St Andrews, where she studied Art History and met her future husband. Following the dress protocol for the day, she wore a simple monochrome outfit and a very practical Longchamp bag.

The couple have since visited their old stomping ground on several occasions. In fact some of William and Kate's most romantic moments have been on the hallowed grounds of their old university. 

The Making of a Royal Romance by Katie Nicholl | £7.01 at Amazon

The Making of a Royal Romance by Katie Nicholl | £7.01 at Amazon

Published in 2011, this provides a fascinating insight into the lives of Prince William and Kate. It reflects back on her childhood, her close family and her romance with the future King. The book goes up to the preparations for the couple's fairytale wedding and also focuses on their life in Wales together.

Sporting sunnies

Kate Middleton at Cheltenham Race Festival in 2007

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Even before she was an official royal, Kate's sense of style was always unmatched. Pairing a fitted tweed blazer with some classic black sunglasses and a preppy white shirt, the now-Princess attended the Cheltenham Race Festival in 2007, when she was Will's girlfriend. It was the couple's first appearance at the event together and her tweed co-ord wowed onlookers and the press at the time.

Her 2007 choppy layers

Kate Middleton with thick layered hair

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Kate's best hairstyles are now synonymous with the princess's look, but it looks like she had already mastered the perfect bouncy blow-dry by 2007.

Back then, locks had a lighter hue, and she opted for choppy layers with a subtle side parting (as was customary at the time!) Her chestnut-brown voluminous locks accentuated her tan perfectly.

A royal engagement

Kate Middleton at a royal engagement

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Kate and Will took part in lots of royal activities and duties (alongside wedding planning!) during their engagement in late 2010 and early 2011. While launching a new lifeboat in Anglesey in February 2011, Kate wore an eye-catching fascinator which complemented her warm yet extremely stylish autumnal outfit. Her tailored coat dress is a style she's since returned to time after time for royal engagements. 

Natural beauty

Kate Middleton ten weeks before her wedding day

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Just ten two weeks out from her wedding day, Kate visited students at Darwen Aldridge Community Academy and wore a flattering half-up hairstyle that showed off her natural makeup. As we know, Kate's best makeup looks are always understated and gorgeous, with a subtle smokey eye, rosy blush and a light pink lip being her go-to looks. And judging by this picture, it's a combination she's turned to for a long time. 

Showing off her engagement ring

Kate Middleton speaking to the public and showing off her engagement ring

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When William proposed to his future wife in 2010, the beautiful engagement ring he gave Kate had a lot of history behind it. First given to his late mother Princess Diana, the ring was passed down to Prince Harry after her tragic death, who then gifted it to his brother. The now-princess is often seen matching her outfits to the stunning sapphire ring, as well as stepping out in matching earrings and necklaces.

A fascinator fit for a princess

Kate Middleton wearing a large fascinator in 2006

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All the way back in 2006, the Princess of Wales proved that no fascinator is too big. At the wedding of Harry Lopes and Laura Parker-Bowles, daughter of Camilla, Kate wore a fluffy, floral fascinator that truly stole the show. These days, she tends to favour a more subtle headpiece.

A casual look on graduation morning

Kate Middleton on the day of her graduation.

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Before she donned her formal dress, Kate was papped on a walk with her father, hours before she graduated at St Andrews, wearing a lacy white vest and blue jeans. The pairing of low-rise jeans with a big chunky belt is very noughties, and we also love the low, messy up-do with a casual white vest. We're not sure she could get away with such a low-key look now but we loved it at the time.

Returning to St Andrews

Kate Middleton.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Kate and Will were very busy in the lead-up to their wedding, and they embarked on a royal tour that included a stop-off at their shared alma mater. Kate has proved many times that red is undoubtedly her colour, and we love how she's paired this bold two-piece with knee-high boots, chic leather gloves and her trademark glossy waves. A great example dopamine dressing, her all-black accessories really let her pillar box red two-piece shine.

Cowgirl chic

Kate Middleton wearing a coyboy hat

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We can't see the princess sporting this outfit now, but back in 2005, Kate pre-empted the Coastal Cowgirl trend of 2023. Here she's pictured in low-rise denim jeans (her early 00's got-to!) with a chunky belt and brown cowboy hat. Her floral shirt and teal v-neck jumper add a preppy touch to this otherwise boho outfit and also add a bit of signature tailoring to her look.

Proving no hat is too big

Kate Middleton wearing a fur hat

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Kate can truly pull off any look, including an oversized Russian-style fur hat at the Cheltenham races back in 2006. The princess would of course make many more appearances at the event over the years, but this is one of her most iconic. She completed the look with an oatmeal coat with brown details, a black bag and tweed gloves. It must have been cold that day! 

Florals for summer

Kate Middleton wearing a floral dress

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Back when Kate worked in the world of fashion and accessories, she celebrated the opening of The Shop at Bluebird in 2006. She has experimented with bangs of different lengths over the years, but we've never seen them as long as they are here. We also love the velvet baby pink blazer with a slip-style floral dress which manages to not look out of place 17 years later. We reckon she took some style tips from mother Carole Middleton for this look, which looks like it could have come straight out of Carole's own wardrobe.

A simple red spotted dress

Kate Middleton.

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What did we say about red being Kate's colour? While watching then-boyfriend William compete in the Chakravarty Cup charity polo match in 2006, she sported this effortless summery look. In the years that followed, Kate has frequently been snapped wearing a manner of polka dots and the ubiquitous pattern has become something of a signature print for the princess. 

Dancing the night away

Kate Middleton dancing in 2006

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Even in 2006, Kate was often spotted at exciting events and with big names. Celebrating at a pre-Wimbledon party hosted by Richard Branson, Kate was seen dancing in a black-and-floral 'fit which we would definitely wear today. We're not sure she gets the chance to cut as many shapes on the dancefloor as she used to, mind you...

Evoking the Coastal Grandmother trend

Kate Middleton in a pair of white wide-leg trousers

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Kate looked stylish in casual white flares and a bohemian top-and-cardigan combo - and it's a look that has stood the test of time, evoking the recently in-vogue Coastal Grandmother trend. Rather than strolling along a beach in a Nancy Meyers film, however, Kate was watching her then-boyfriend and his brother Prince Harry compete in a charity polo match at Beaufort Polo Club.

Spotted in London

Kate Middleton pictured in London in 2007

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In 2007, the now-princess was beginning to get papped more often, but her smile here seems to suggest she didn't mind the cameras too much. Her low-rise jeans and chunky ivory necklace combo is one of the rare Kate looks from the noughties that firmly places her in the fashion of the era. The strappy top, chunky belt and side part are also reminiscent of that time. 

A pre-wedding wedding

Kate Middleton at a wedding in 2011

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Just three days after they announced their own engagement, Kate and Will attended the nuptials of event rider Harry Meade and Rosie Bradford. Blue was clearly her favourite colour at this point - she wore a navy dress for her engagement photoshoot, too. She teamed the electric blue dress with a tailored black blazer, a pair of classic black court shoes and a statement fascinator.

Effortless locks

Kate Middleton.

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While there's been some variation in length over the years, Kate Middleton has pretty much kept to the same hair colour and style since we've known her. And who can blame her, when it seems to so effortlessly look this good? At a polo match in 2009, the Duchess showed off long, healthy-looking brunette locks, and we instantly had hair envy - envy we still have to this day.

(Roller) disco fever

Kate Middleton at a roller disco

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Up there with that charity fashion show dress as one of her most iconic pre-fame outfits, this get-up was in honour of a charity roller disco in 2008. Sporting the same fuchsia shoulder bag she was spotted with in 2006, Kate dressed as a colourful disco ball for the event. The square-sequinned halterneck is delightfully naughties, but we're not sure she'd be able to pull off this get up now...

Partying with Pippa

Kate Middleton and Pippa Middleton in a taxi.

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Before she became a royal, Kate was often seen going to nightclubs and dancing with her sister, Pippa Middleton. This candid snap was taken as the two got in a taxi at the end of the night, and Kate's loose curls and silky summer dress take us right back to 2007. Can we also take a moment to appreciate the bounce and shine of her hair, too? After a long night of parting, no less. 

This brown beret

Kate Middleton.

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There's a lot going on with this outfit (the beret, the knee-high boots, the scarf, the A-line skirt...) but somehow, it still works. While still in the honeymoon phase with Will, this photo was snapped as Kate attended the final day of 2007's Cheltenham Festival. 

'70s style

Kate Middleton.

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We love the shape and pattern on this dress, which is giving major '70s vibes. In fact, it was 2007, and Kate had started to be photographed more and more often. While her fashion sense has changed considerably since then, she's still a fan of a gold statement earring - who could forget the £18 Zara earrings she wore on the Baftas red carpet?

Equestrian fashion

Kate Middleton wearing a white denim skirt

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This is probably our favourite of Kate Middleton's off-duty looks, from a time where presumably she was dressing herself and showing off her unique, preppy style. The combination of the shirt and navy jumper, white denim skirt and knee-high brown boots proves that the princess has always known how to put together an incredible outfit. Her style was undoubtedly more preppy back then - her knitted jumpers and big collars are more akin to looks we'd see on Zara Tindall (or even Princess Anne!)

Showing off a tan

Kate Middleton in the back of a taxi

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Papped shouting in a taxi in 2007, Kate seemed to be having a great time, and she'd clearly just got back from somewhere hot - her natural tan here is looking gorgeous. Dressed all in black with dainty silver accessories, she somehow manages to look refined and sophisticated (even if she is shouting in the back of a taxi!) A future princess in the making.

A casual, nautical 'fit

Kate Middleton wearing a striped vest.

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Taken off-guard by cameras in 2007, the future princess went for a more casual look than usual in a striped vest and black skinny jeans. She completed the look with a chunky belt (what else!?) and a red cardigan. She was a fan of a smokey eye back then and a little more blusher than we're used to seeing her wear today. 

Fun on the Thames

Kate Middleton.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Over her years of royal engagements, Kate has repeatedly shown her sporting prowess and that she's a naturally sporty person with an aptitude for plenty of different activities. So it's no surprise that she took to the water with ease when taking part in a training session with the Sisterhood cross-Channel team, rowing down the River Thames in 2007.

Off-duty beauty

Kate Middleton walking down the street

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Papped while leaving her Chelsea flat in 2007 (with a now very retro-looking phone), Kate Middleton sported an oversized cream bag along with a summery wrap dress. This outfit feels like it could have been lifted straight out of mother Carole's wardrobe - Carole is often snapped in flattering wrap-dresses. Classic square sunnies complete the look.

Visiting Cheltenham

Kate Middleton in Cheltenham

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For another visit to Cheltenham, Kate started to experiment with the more elegant style we're used to seeing her perfect now. While the knee-high boots have always been a feature in her staple wardrobe, here the princess upgraded her look with a dark blue trench coat and stylish hat.

On the slopes

Kate Middleton.

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Prince William has made plenty of visits to ski resort Klosters in Switzerland over the years - unsurprisingly, given it's a favourite amongst plenty of royals. This picture was taken during one of the couple's first visits to the slopes together. Kate looks chic in white and black, while there was no missing William in his red ski pants.

Embodying 'Quiet Luxury'

Kate Middleton and William.

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We know by now that there have been plenty of times when Kate Middleton has nailed the Quiet Luxury look; it's practically part of her brand now. But back in 2008, supporting then-boyfriend William as he received his RAF wings, the princess wore a subtly luxurious cream-coloured coat that embodied the trend, proving (as always) that she's always ahead of the curve.

Celebrating in style

Kate Middleton celebrating

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Presumably cheering for William as he took part in a charity polo match, Kate donned black flared jeans and a preppy jumper on this sunny day. We love seeing candid photographs of Kate that show her playful side like this one. Seemingly completely unfazed by the papps, the future-princess threw her hands in the air in support of William. 

Bold prints and a smokey eye

Kate Middleton.

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Subtle eyeshadow looks that define Kate's hazel-green eyes have become a staple look for the Princess, but back in the day, it was often much more pronounced. She even went for a winged eyeliner in this picture, whilst sporting a bold, colourful summer dress and wearing her wavy locks natural.

Hannah Holway
Shopping writer

Hannah is the UK Shopping Writer for woman&home. As a shopping writer, Hannah has written on everything from period pants to wine subscriptions, and is especially interested in sustainable alternatives to well-known products, as well as books and homeware accessories. 

Before she joined the team at woman&home Hannah headed up the social media accounts for Wonderland in 2019, where she was also a Contributing Editor for the magazine’s sister titles. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Hannah also explored evolving shopping trends at New York Magazine’s The Strategist UK, researching everything from face masks to status candles and even pens.