Britain’s Best Royal Wedding Gowns
Meghan Markle’s dress for her upcoming wedding is a matter of great speculation in the fashion world.
Will she go for a traditional design to suit the British royal family’s temperament, or wear something unconventional to represent her unique personality and background? Either way, as we wait in anticipation for her to walk down the aisle, it’s worth taking a look at the royal women whose sartorial sense has shaped the trends of bridal fashion for centuries:
The protagonist of many, many biopics, the most recent of which involved Judi Dench in Victoria and Abdul, Queen Victoria is a seminal figure in British history. Although she’s more known today for her controversies and quirks as a queen than her fashion, her stunning wedding dress was a major subject of conversation when she stepped out in it for the first time. It largely featured Honiton lace, an homage to British culture, supplemented an 18-foot long train. She didn’t wear a tiara, choosing instead to wear a wreath of orange flower blossoms, which also trimmed her dress. Although she wasn’t the first royal to wear a white wedding dress, many think she was the one who made it fashionable – decades afterwards, it became the norm for brides to wear white.
Princess Alexandra of Denmark was the first in British royal history to be photographed while wearing her wedding dress, a magnificent creation of white silk satin and a 21-foot silver moiré train. She celebrated Britain’s dazzling landscapes through the pattern of the dress’ lace, which featured cornucopias of Irish shamrocks, English roses, and Scottish thistles, and wore a wreath of orange blossom and myrtle. Her jewellery made it clear that she had won the hearts of royals and civilians alike, with opal and diamond bracelets given by Queen Victoria, the ladies of Leeds, and the ladies of Manchester.
As the lace-loving daughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Beatrice had the honour of wearing her mother’s own bridal lace and veil, to accompany the rest of her stunning ensemble – a white satin dress with an overskirt held together by white heather and bouquets of orange blossoms, and a diamond circlet with diamond stars gifted by the Queen.
Even though tradition can sometimes be a strong factor in a royal’s choice of wedding attire, current trends can also prove inspirational – and it certainly did in the case of Lady Elizabeth’s dress, which adhered to the flapper girl style of the 1920s with its dropped waist. She also dismissed the conventional opinion of green as an unlucky colour, as her girdle had a trail of green tulle. The train was made of traditional Flanders lace, however, making the perfect balance of old and new.
Meghan Markle is in fact not the first famous American divorcee to marry into the British royal family – Wallis Warfield, an American socialite, married King Edward VIII in her third marriage in 1937. And in keeping with her unconventional status, she wore a dress free of frills or long trains, choosing instead it keep it neat and fitted at the waist. The dress was also a unique shade, a colour deemed ‘Wallis blue’ as it reportedly matched her eyes. She accessorised with a straw hat with hanging tulle and a pair of gloves, both in shades of blue that matched her dress. Warfield was a notable style inspiration for many, and her wedding dress was a testament to that, since it was a well-photographed and copied dress, even decades after the wedding.
As the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II is often seen wearing brightly coloured matching suits, but her wedding dress as a princess was more romantic than radical in its design. It had a high neckline and a fitted bodice, with embroidered flowers and embellishments of crystals and 10, 000 pearls. The dress was especially notable for the time in which it was made – during the Second World War, rationing meant that Princess Elizabeth needed to purchase the material with ration coupons, and the silkworms to make the silk were specifically bought from China, and not Japan or Germany.
One of the simplest royal wedding dresses, Princess Margaret’s bridal fashion was nevertheless incredibly stylish in its minimalism. Made of around 30m of fabric and minimally embellished with beading and crystal, it became one of designer Norman Hartnell’s best-known and loved pieces for its perfect fit and design. It also allowed statement pieces to stand out, meaning that her grandmother’s gift of a diamond necklace and the grandiose Poltimore tiara made even more of an impact than they would’ve with a more ornate dress.
After her marriage to Prince Charles, Princess Diana became a symbol of British royalty still highly regarded and discussed today – and her wedding dress was no different. Made from ivory silk taffeta and antique lace, the enormous dress was decorated with hand-stitched embroidery and 10, 000 pearls, and inspired bridal fashion for several subsequent years. The dress was a complicated one to wear on the day, however, since the 25-foot train couldn’t fit in the carriage, and ended up wrinkled for the wedding ceremony.
Whenever Camilla makes headlines, it’s usually for her unexpected fashion, and her wedding dress was no different. Forgoing the long train and dramatic skirts of younger brides, Camilla instead wore a cream silk chiffon dress and matching overcoat that hit just below her knees, and a wide-brimmed straw hat reminiscent of Ascot fashion. For the blessing, she switched to a floor-length pale blue coat with gold embroidery and a matching dress, accompanied by a large and unusual spray of golden feathers.
Kate Middleton took to the steps of Westminster Abbey in 2011, wearing what is arguably one of the most well-recognised dresses ever worn. The dress was designed by Sarah Burton, creative director of Alexander McQueen, and was fairly traditional in its design, with lace offering coverage for her shoulders and arms. It proved incredibly influential – the subsequent bridal market was rife with copycat designs, another example of the so-called ‘Kate Middleton effect’. She also changed into a second, less-known wedding dress for the post-ceremony celebrations, which exchanged the trail for a fuzzy jacket and the lace for a diamante belt.