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
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. "Rhys-Jones' 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."