For ardent fans of the Royal Family and even those with just a passing interest, nothing piques their excitement quite like a royal wedding. The lavish, almost otherworldly spectacles provide a fascinating distraction from the humdrum of everyday life.
The wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840 drew massive crowds and was especially influential for one particular reason. Victoria chose a simple white silk dress for the ceremony rather than the sumptuous colours that were the convention of the time. Her choice was immediately adopted and the popularity of the quintessential white wedding dress has endured ever since.
Taking place during the post-war rationing era in 1947, the wedding of the future Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip provided a unique challenge in regards to the dress. The British government allowed Elizabeth 200 extra clothing coupons to construct the Chinese silk dress, adorned with crystals and 10,000 seed pearls.
The wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981 has gone down as the most watched in history, with a UK television audience of 28 million and an estimated 750 million worldwide. Some 600,000 people lined the procession route and as Diana emerged from her glass coach outside St Paul’s Cathedral, the world caught sight of one of the most famous bridal dresses in history.
Diana personally chose David and Elizabeth Emmanuel to design the dress crafted from woven silk taffeta. The standout features included a 25ft sequin-encrusted train – 5ft longer than the previous longest – and a fitted bodice frilled with panels of antique Carrickmacross lace previously owned by Queen Mary. Further aspects of Princess Diana’s life can be found in this Princess Diana documentary.
Currently on display at Kensington Palace, public reaction at the time was overwhelmingly positive with countless imitations following in its wake. Very much a product of the bloated excess of the 1980’s, the prevailing trends for royal bridal dresses would gradually move towards a more pared-down approach.
This was demonstrated by the dress worn by Kate Middleton when she married Prince William at Westminster Abbey in 2011. Created by Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen, Kate worked closely with the designer as she ‘wished for her dress to combine tradition and modernity with the artistic vision that characterizes Alexander McQueen’s work’, according to a statement from Kensington Palace.
The lace appliqué on the ivory satin dress was handmade by the Royal School of Needlework, based at Hampton Court Palace. The dress was likened in style to those worn by Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II and went on display at Buckingham Palace just months after the wedding during the annual summer opening.
The trend for elegant simplicity continued with the gown worn by Meghan Markle when she married Prince Harry in 2018. She chose the British designer Claire Waight Keller, artistic director of Givenchy, who hoped to ‘convey modernity through sleek lines and sharp cuts’. The silk dress featured three-quarter-length sleeves and was devoid of lace or any other embellishments. These were saved for the veil with its embroidered flowers representing the countries of the Commonwealth, and the California poppy in honour of her home state.