'Such a big deal': A look at the most influential royal wedding gowns
Marlene Leung, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Wednesday, May 16, 2018 12:00PM EDT
As speculation ramps up over which designer was chosen to make Meghan Markle's wedding dress, CTVNews.ca looks at the history of several royal wedding gowns.
Alexandra Kim, a former curator with the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection at Kensington Palace, reviewed some of the most influential royal wedding gowns with CTVNews.ca.
Queen Victoria: Celebrating the 'idea of romantic love'
What's notable about Queen Victoria's marriage to Prince Albert in 1840, says Kim, is that it was based on their romantic relationship rather than strict diplomacy. This notion of romantic love is reflected in her dress choice.
"She gets married in 1840 to the love of her life. For her that was a deeply personal event," Kim says.
"People were suggesting to her that what would be appropriate for a queen to get married in were her robes of state, and she very consciously decided not to do that, but to wear a very pretty and fashionable style of dress for her wedding."
Victoria is also credited with helping to popularize the idea of having a white wedding dress, which has become a tradition for many contemporary brides, says Kim.
Other key details of Victoria's attire:
- Emphasis on using British materials, including English silk and lace
- Bride wore a wreath of orange blossoms rather than a tiara
- Victoria also wore a sapphire and diamond brooch given to her by Prince Albert
"So, (it was) a wedding that was very much about the personal and celebrating that idea of romantic love."
Queen Elizabeth: 'A sense of re-jubilation'
Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) married the Duke of Edinburgh in November 1947, just two years after the end of the Second World War.
This had a major impact on Elizabeth's wedding dress, says Kim. In particular, she had to use rationing coupons to purchase the material for the gown.
Elizabeth's dress, designed by royal couturier Norman Hartnell, was said to be inspired by a character in the Italian renaissance painting "Primavera" by Sandro Botticelli. Specifically, Hartnell reportedly adopted the floral motif for Elizabeth's gown, covering it in thousands of silk flowers and seed pearls, says Kim.
Sandro Botticelli's "Primavera" (Public Domain)
(AP Photo, File)
"For Norman Hartnell, that really kind of symbolized a sense of re-jubilation that people were hoping for in Britain."
Other key details:
- Silk was made from China, not Japan or Italy, which were "enemies" during the war
- Narrow waist and full skirt reflected Christian Dior's "new look" fashion of the time
- Sign of a new fashion aesthetic, trading the simpler lines used before the war for a fuller silhouette
Princess Diana: 'Such a big deal'
If you ask most people today to name a royal wedding dress, it's likely a vision of Princess Diana's 1981 gown will come to mind, says Kim.
Designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel described the dress as a gown that "had to be something that was going to go down in history" and, due to the massive expected television audience, would have to be "suitably dramatic."
The silk taffeta gown was so full that on the day of the wedding, it was reported that Diana had difficulty getting out of the carriage, says Kim.
"It was such a big deal, that sort of sense of a real-life fairy tale coming to fruition, with this young, incredibly beautiful girl."
(AFP/ Getty Images)
- Train measured roughly seven metres in length
- Embellished with 10,000 pearls
- Became a sort of "blueprint" for brides throughout the '80s and early '90s
Kate Middleton: Designer kept under wraps
When Kate Middleton married Prince William in 2011, the designer of her gown was kept a closely-guarded secret.
There was so much excitement over who Kate had ultimately chosen, that bookmakers were furiously taking bets on the designer, says Kim.
It was formally announced that Sarah Burton for British fashion house Alexander McQueen had been selected, only minutes before Kate emerged from the carriage.
Kim says Kate's dress speaks largely to her own personal style — simple and elegant.
(Getty Images / AFP)
"Whereas the 1980s fashion were much more large and voluminous and romantic in that way, the aesthetic in general in the 2010s was much more paired back," Kim says.
- close-fitting silhouette
- subtle padding on the hips
- covered with appliquéd French lace
Meghan Markle: 'A little more licence'
Despite fierce debate over what Meghan Markle will wear on her big day, Kim says it's likely the bride will have a little more freedom with her design choices, as she's not marrying the heir.
"As somebody who's marrying, not the heir to the throne, but his brother, there is perhaps a little more licence," she says.
But that doesn't mean Markle still doesn't have to take into account a few considerations. As it's still a royal wedding that will be watched by millions of people, the dress will likely feature sleeves that, at the very least, cover the bride's shoulders, says Kim.
The selected designer will also likely either have a close personal connection to Markle, or reflect the fact that she's marrying into the British Royal Family, she says.
"Some of the elements that perhaps ordinary people don't have to think about, will be considerations for Meghan Markle."
(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)