The Evolution Of Royal Bridal Gowns
As we wait with bated breath for Meghan Markle's wedding dress debut pending her nuptials to Prince Harry, we stroll through a timeline of British royal bridal gowns and the designers behind them, from Queen Elizabeth's to Kate Middleton's, and how Meghan's 'subtly romantic' taste will define royal tradition.
1 . Meghan Markle, the ‘whimsical’ bride
When Meghan Markle was asked about her bridal style in a past promotional interview for US drama Suits, the former actress alluded that, “I personally prefer wedding dresses that are whimsical or subtly romantic.” Meghan went on to name her favourite wedding designers: Delphine Manivet and Christos Costarellos for their uniqueness, and Elie Saab, and J. Mendel for a structured refinement. For her first wedding, Meghan donned a simple, notch-neckline strapless dress with an embellished belt – a clue to her laidback personality. For her TV nuptials as Rachel Zane, she wore an embroidered, plunging back dress by Anne Barge. Scroll on for a chronology of iconic royal wedding gowns.
2. November 20, 1947: Queen Elizabeth
British couturier Norman Hartnell put together a design of ivory silk, silver threads, duchesse satin, crystals and 10,000 seed pearls, which resulted in a dramatic dress. Norman was inspired by the painter Boticelli’s ‘Primavera’ in the creation of this intricate wedding gown, featuring full-length sleeves, a trim bodice, heart-shaped neckline and a white tulle veil held by a pearl and diamond tiara. Most memorably, the look trailed on with a fan-shaped, 13-foot silk tulle train.
3. May 9, 1960: Princess Margaret
By now a beloved royal couturier, Norman Hartnell designed a simpler but no less stately wedding gown for Queen Elizabeth's petite sister. The dress featured a tapered bodice to accentuate the bride’s narrow waist, a v-neckline, and long sleeves, with a full, voluminous skirt made from over 32 yards of silk organza and tulle layers. Princess Margaret completed the look with a tulle and ivory satin veil that trailed below her Poltmore Tiara.
4. November 14, 1973: Princess Anne
For Princess Anne’s first wedding, she walked down the aisle in a Tudor-style dress by her long-time designer Maureen Baker, which referenced court-dresses worn by Elizabeth I. It featured a white silk creation of fitted bodice, high neckline, and a flared skirt that ended in a seven-foot train. A scattering of pearls were sewn into the bodice, back and hemline of the dress’s signature trumpet sleeves, and a fringe crown held a silk and tulle veil in place.
5. July 29, 1981: Diana, Princess of Wales
Princess Diana’s iconic wedding dress is a symbol of sorts: From the embroidered lace panels belonging to Queen Mary (her something blue), and the Spencer family diamond tiara (something old) to the 80s-style oversized puffy sleeves, designer David and Elizabeth Emanuel surpassed themselves in accomplishing narrative couture. The ballgown owes its fragility to the ivory silk taffeta and meringue, which posed a hazard for wrinkles. Thousands of sequins and over 10,000 pearls were embroidered into the tulle veil spanning 139 metres.
6. July 23, 1986: Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York
Hot on the heels of bridal storytelling style is Sarah Ferguson’s wedding dress. The designer, Lindka Cierach, was hailed as a genius for creatively incorporating Fergie’s personality with bows, a ‘charm’ for the couple, and embellishment referencing her husband’s naval career. The ivory satin gown featured three-quarter-length sleeves, a nipped waistline, and a full skirt, with a 17-feet train to complete the ensemble. A garland of flowers gave way to a new tiara after the nuptials – most memorably, were the clever incorporation of the couple’s A and S initials sewn into the train and hearts embroidered across the gown and train.
7. June 19, 1999: Sophie Rhys Jones, Countess of Wessex
Prince Edward’s bride, Sophie Rhys Jones, made her bridal gown design a family affair. To match the intimate nature of her wedding, Sophie borrowed and remodelled a diamond tiara from The Queen, and accessorised her ensemble with a set of black and white pearl necklace and earrings designed by the groom. Her coat dress-look was by designer Samantha Shaw, and featured ivory organza with crepe and tulle, a V-neckline, and sleeves with fluted cuffs. Although minimalist, her look incorporated over 325,000 pearls and crystal beads.
8. April 9, 2005: Camilla Parker Bowles, Duchess of Cornwall
The Duchess of Cornwall’s wedding ensemble eschewed tradition – much like her marriage to Prince Charles, the second for both. In place of conventional white, Camilla opted for an embroidered pale blue and gold coat dress by Robinson Valentine. Beneath that was a matching chiffon gown, and topping her ceremonial look, was a headpiece of gold feathers by milliner Philip Treacy and shoes by L.K.Bennett.
9. April 29, 2011: Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge
One of the most anticipated royal bridal gowns in history is that of Kate Middleton’s. The Grace Kelly-inspired creation was designed by Alexander McQueen’s creative director Sarah Burton, and featured a satin gazar, lace and organza, with a fitted waistline and fill skirt fanned out like a blooming flower. All fabrics, except for the French Chantilly lace, were British-made. The corsetted bodice and skirt featured a 'something old' 19-century lace needlework and a hidden ‘something blue’ blue ribbon, among other details of this £250k couture piece.