The most iconic wed­ding dresses in royal his­tory

Let’s face it, the frocks are of­ten the star of the show, so as Harry and Meghan’s big day ap­proaches, Pru­dence Wade takes a look through the royal ar­chives

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - REPORTAGE -

What will Meghan wear? Will she choose an English de­signer to hon­our the coun­try she’s mar­ry­ing into, or will she sur­prise us? With the help of Karen Why­bro, owner of de­signer bridal bou­tique Rock The Frock (rock­the­frock­bri­dal.co.uk), we take a look back at some of the most mem­o­rable royal wed­ding dresses through the decades...

Princess Alexan­dra, March 10, 1863

Princess Alexan­dra of Den­mark was the for­eign bride crowds couldn’t wait to see. This is the first pho­to­graph of a mem­ber of the Royal Fam­ily wear­ing their wed­ding dress, and comes from her mar­riage to Queen Vic­to­ria’s son, Ed­ward Al­bert, in 1863. Why­bro de­scribes it as “an op­u­lent, highly de­tailed dress, with an off-the-shoul­der neckline and flo­ral mo­tifs that dom­i­nated the de­sign”. It was adorned with lace de­pict­ing Scot­tish this­tles, Ir­ish sham­rocks and English roses, plus a 21ft train that took eight women to carry.

El­iz­a­beth Bowes-Lyon, April 26, 1923

Long be­fore be­com­ing the Queen Mother, El­iz­a­beth Bowes-Lyon mar­ried the Duke of York (later King Ge­orge VI) in a style that was clas­sic for her 1920s wed­ding. Why­bro con­trasts her gown to Princess Alexan­dra’s, say­ing: “Her dress had a much straighter skirt, cre­ated from deep ivory chif­fon, mov­ing away from stark white and em­broi­dered with pearls. The gown is very Twen­ties in de­sign, fea­tur­ing short cap sleeves with strips of Brus­sels lace, mak­ing it con­tem­po­rary yet el­e­gant.” It was a sim­ple af­fair, heav­ily in­flu­enced by Coco Chanel.

Princess El­iz­a­beth, Novem­ber 20, 1947

The Queen got mar­ried shortly after the Sec­ond World War. El­iz­a­beth used ra­tion stamps to buy the fab­ric (although the Govern­ment did give her 200 ex­tra ra­tions), and it was de­signed by Nor­man Hart­nell. Why­bro says: “Queen El­iz­a­beth’s wed­ding dress in­cor­po­rates el­e­ments of Princess Alexan­dra’s de­sign, with em­broi­dered flo­ral mo­tifs over the bodice and skirt and long sleeves. In con­trast to her mother’s dress, the Queen’s gown had a fit-and-flare sil­hou­ette, was cre­ated from ivory silk and em­bel­lished with crys­tals and pearls.” El­iz­a­beth’s di­a­mond tiara snapped hours be­fore the cer­e­mony at West­min­ster Abbey. Luck­ily, a court jeweller was on standby, and took the tiara via po­lice es­cort for some emer­gency weld­ing. The ea­gle-eyed will spot a slight gap at the cen­tre of the head­piece.

Princess Mar­garet, May 6, 1960

Princess Mar­garet’s dress for her wed­ding to Lord Snow­don is of­ten de­scribed as the sim­plest royal wed­ding gown in re­cent his­tory. Why­bro says: “Princess Mar­garet’s dress was in stark con­trast to her younger sis­ter’s, with the em­pha­sis be­ing on ex­quis­ite tai­lor­ing and beau­ti­ful fabrics. The gown was made from silk or­ganza.” Although sim­ple, the dress was de­signed to show off the bride’s petite frame.

Princess Anne, Novem­ber 14, 1973

Princess Anne mar­ried Mark Phillips in West­min­ster Abbey, with an es­ti­mated global au­di­ence of 500 mil­lion. “Princess Anne’s 1973 wed­ding dress could not be more of the era, in terms of style and sil­hou­ette,” says Why­bro. “A Tudor-style, high-neck dress with me­dieval sleeves, this re­mark­ably mod­ern gown was so­phis­ti­cated, sim­ple and con­tem­po­rary, while fea­tur­ing de­tail­ing embroidery far re­moved from that seen on Princess El­iz­a­beth’s gown.”

Princess Diana, July 29, 1981

When Lady Diana Spencer mar­ried Prince Charles, it’s thought a whop­ping one bil­lion tuned to wit­ness the fairy-tale event, and Why­bro says: “Prob­a­bly one of the most iconic wed­ding dresses of mod­ern his­tory, Princess Diana’s ex­trav­a­gant, ball­gown-style dress fea­tured ivory silk taffeta and an­tique lace, with an op­u­lent 25ft train.” The gown, she adds, “set wed­ding dress trends for years to come, with its large puffed sleeves, nar­row waist and meringue-style skirt”. The dress was too big for her car­riage, and Diana ar­rived at the cer­e­mony with the slightly creased.

Sarah Fer­gu­son, July 23, 1986

“Sarah Fer­gu­son’s dress was al­ways go­ing to be com­pared to Diana’s, and was un­der­stand­ably much less elab­o­rate,” says Why­bro. “The gown was an ivory satin bodice with heavy bead­ing, re­tain­ing some of the Eight­ies el­e­ments of Diana’s dress in its puff sleeves, yet cut to a three-quar­ter length.” Not as elab­o­rate as Diana’s, but it still had a 17ft train.

So­phie Rhys-Jones, June 19, 1999

So­phie Rhys-Jones’ dress was a much sim­pler af­fair when she mar­ried Prince Ed­ward. How­ever, Why­bro says that it echoed an­other royal gown — that of Princess Mar­garet’s. “Cre­ated from hand-dyed ivory silk or­ganza and crepe, the dress fea­tured min­i­mal pearl and crys­tal bead­ing around the neck and sleeves, with far less of a full skirt than pre­vi­ous royal gowns,” she ob­serves. “RhysJones’ gown had a more mod­ern feel, with sim­ple lines.”

Camilla Parker-Bowles, April 9, 2005

Camilla Parker-Bowles was in a unique po­si­tion when mar­ry­ing Prince Charles, since this was a sec­ond mar­riage for both. As such, in­stead of wear­ing a white or ivory gown, Camilla opted for an un­der­stated cream chif­fon dress with an oys­ter coat. “Keep­ing de­tail­ing to the min­i­mum, this con­tem­po­rary out­fit fol­lowed the tra­di­tion of not wear­ing ivory or white for a sec­ond wed­ding and in­stead fea­tured mod­ern styling, in­clud­ing a cream coloured straw hat,” says Why­bro.

Kate Mid­dle­ton, April 29, 2011

As with Meghan, there were months of spec­u­la­tion as to who would de­sign Kate’s gown in the run-up to her and Prince Wil­liam’s wed­ding day. In the end, the hon­our went to de­signer Sarah Bur­ton for Alexan­der McQueen, who cre­ated an ivory dress with a clas­sic sil­hou­ette, cov­ered in del­i­cate lace. Why­bro says: “Chang­ing wed­ding dress fash­ion for decades to come, in the same way Diana did, Kate’s McQueen cre­ation was a com­bi­na­tion of tra­di­tion and moder­nity, with a clas­sic shape evok­ing Vic­to­rian styling with its nar­row waist and hip padding, long lace sleeves and a semi-bus­tle at the back. The flo­ral mo­tifs echoed Princess Diana’s de­tail­ing, and the full skirt with el­e­gant train touched upon con­tem­po­rary el­e­ments.”

DRESSED TO IM­PRESS: top row, from left, Princess Alexan­dra; Lady El­iz­a­beth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen El­iz­a­beth, the Queen Mother); Princess El­iz­a­beth and Philip Mount­bat­ten. Bot­tom row, from left, Princess Mar­garet and Antony Arm­strong-Jones; Cap­tain...

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