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Move over, Kate: Wallis Simpson back as style icon

She blamed Simpson - whom she referred to witheringly as "that woman" - for forcing her husband onto the throne. She felt the stress contributed to his early death from cancer.

George's widow became one of Britain's best-loved royals - the "Queen Mum" - and died in 2002 at the age of 101. Plump and maternal, she was, in the popular imagination, everything the Duchess of Windsor was not.

"Wallis had the good clothes," author Justine Picardie wrote recently in the Daily Telegraph, "but Elizabeth the kind heart,"

Many ordinary Britons shared the queen mother's animosity toward Wallis Simpson.

She was, novelist Rose Tremain wrote recently, considered "too ambitious, too ruthless, too greedy, too mannish, too sexual, too cruel, too divorced, too pro-German and too American."

Sebba said that for decades afterward, many people felt "she and the duke had no sense of three old-fashioned words: duty, pluck and responsibility."

"There was a sense that he put his personal happiness and satisfaction above the call of duty. To the older generation that was really shocking."

But there has always been another view. Americans, in particular, have tended to see Simpson more sympathetically and celebrate the romance of their love affair.

British writer Sebba, who has had access to previously unseen archive material for her book, acknowledged Simpson "is quite a hard woman to like," but said she has never been fully understood.

"She was a woman who tried to carve out a life for herself with the cards that history dealt her," Sebba said.

One of those cards was a highly distinctive sense of style. "I'm not a beautiful woman," she once wrote. "I'm nothing to look at, so the only thing I can do is dress better than anyone else." This she proceeded to do, cutting a flawlessly elegant figure in clothes by Christian Dior and others.

Designer Daniella Helayel of Issa - who created the much-copied blue dress Middleton wore for her engagement announcement - has called Simpson "chic and an inspiration."

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© 2011 The Associated Press