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A history of the Royal bridal outfit

Every bride deserves to feel like royalty on her wedding day, but few of us actually are. Even so, royal bridal outfits have been inspiring wedding gown designs for centuries now, and not without good reason.

These beautiful dresses are high-end designer pieces, no expense spared, and are often made especially for the occasion, making them true, bespoke one-offs.

Over the years, the British royal bridal outfit has undoubtedly changed and adapted to the fashions of the respective eras, but there are certain aspects that have always run throughout, with new royal brides looking to pay homage to their predecessors and uphold tradition, too.

It’s interesting to see how the royal bridal outfit has evolved through the ages – starting with the current Queen’s outfit on her wedding day, which took place just two years after the end of World War II and bringing us up to the present day with the dress recently worn by Meghan Markle as she married Prince Harry. Here, we look back at how these breath-taking gowns have been brought into the modern age, whilst still retaining an undeniable nod to times gone by.

Princess Elizabeth

On 20 November 1947, Princess Elizabeth – eldest daughter and successor of King George VI – was married to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten at Westminster Abbey. Her stunning dress was fashioned by leading British designer Norman Hartnell, who claimed it was the most beautiful dress he had ever made. At the time, Britain was still recovering from the devastating effects of the war, meaning the dress needed to be paid for using clothing coupons.

Hartnell used Botticelli’s iconic painting ‘La Primavera’ as inspiration to craft the design of the dress, which featured motifs of flowers and wheat embroidered on the silk gown in gold and silver thread.

Her bridal accessories included fashionable open-toed satin sandals and the iconic Queen Mary Fringe Tiara, which famously broke on the morning of the wedding and needed to be quickly refastened.

This bridal outfit was truly iconic and was a truly beautiful benchmark for every royal wedding that followed.

Princess Anne

Britain had to wait a considerable time for the next royal wedding, when Princess Anne was married to Captain Mark Phillips at Westminster Abbey on 14 November 1973.

Although the 1970s was a period of considerably different fashions to the 1940s, designer Maureen Baker still included many references to Queen Elizabeth I’s dress over 25 years’ earlier. The dress accentuated Princess Anne’s slender waist with a series of pin tucks on the bodice and wonderfully expressive trumpet-shaped sleeves. This magnificent outfit was finished off with a floating veil, elegant white court shoes and the same wedding tiara that her mother had worn.

Princess Anne’s dress combined simplicity with elegance for a truly wonderful royal bridal outfit. This was very different to what followed….

Princess Diana

Princess Diana’s romantic bridal outfit was iconic, luxurious and a truly breathtaking part of a historic and memorable day for the country. Princess Diana was married to Charles, Prince of Wales, on 29 July 1981 at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Designed by David and Elizabeth Emmanuel, the ivory silk taffeta and Carrickmacross antique lace dress featured a 25-foot train accompanied with a 153-yard tulle veil. The design of the dress was a closely guarded secret for the royal family; they even had a reserve dress which would have been worn if the primary dress’s design had been leaked.

Diana kept was always one for stamping her own personality on royal traditions, which she did by wearing her own family’s tiara.

Sarah Ferguson

Just two years after Diana’s wedding, Sarah Ferguson married Prince Andrew, Duke of York on 23 July 1986 in Westminster Abbey. Her outfit broke with tradition with her outfit inspired by the fun and eccentric fashion trends of the 1980s.

Created by British designer Lindka Cierach, the bespoke dress featured a scooped neckline, fitted bodice and large puffed sleeves that became the benchmark for wedding dresses for years to come.

Sarah’s bridal accessories featured a veil which covered the face and was anchored by a large and vibrant floral headdress.

This fun, modern dress allowed royal brides the freedom to inject their own personality into their outfits for years to come.

Sophie Rhys-Jones

The next royal wedding, on 19 June 1999 took place at the breathtaking St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle between Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II, and Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones.

British designer Samantha Shaw created a wonderfully delicate mix of silk and tulle, which was complemented with a panelled coat decorated with 325,000 pearls and glass beads over a slimline gown.
Following on from Sarah Ferguson, Sophie Rhys-Jones was able to fashion a dress that reflected her own personal style, whilst still respecting royal traditions.

Camilla Parker-Bowles

Camilla was the first royal bride of the new millennium, and she wore a modest yet elegant dress and coat that perfectly complemented her as an older bride and Charles’s second wife.

Designed by Robinson Valentine, Camilla wore a cream silk chiffon coat dress paired with a matching oyster silk basket weave hat for the Windsor Guildhall civil ceremony in April 2005. For the blessing she wore a magical floor-length embroidered pale blue and gold coat with an expressive spray of golden feathers in her hair.

A slightly more reserved outfit subtly captured the occasion.

Kate Middleton

Catherine Middleton married Prince William, Duke of Cambridge at Westminster Abbey on 29 April 2011 and created a global talking point with an iconic Alexander McQueen hand-cut Chantilly lace and ivory silk tulle dress. A truly iconic dress seemed to hark back to the fairytale-princess appearance of Lady Princess Diana.

Her delicate, traditional yet fashionable dress was complemented with the Queen’s elegantly simple Scroll Tiara.
This outfit was a benchmark that combined so many wonderful elements of the bridal outfits that came before it, whilst truly setting the zeitgeist for the modern bridal outfit – a dazzling outfit that will be remembered forever.

Meghan Markle

Meghan Markle was married to Prince Harry on 19th May 2018 and chose an outfit that befitted her status as a contemporary bride. Meghan chose a simple yet striking silk boat neckline dress by Clare Waight Keller for Givenchy Couture which showcased the followers of the Commonwealth in addition to the poppy from her native California embroidered on her veil, which took a team of embroiders over 500 hours to complete.

Meghan’s Royal blended a certain American razzamataz with British bridal styles for a timeless outfit. Her accessories included a nod to the royal brides that proceeded her with Queen Mary’s diamond bandeau tiara giving her outfit a glamorous and eternal finish.

Princess Eugenie

Princess Eugenie, the youngest daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York, married Jack Brooksbank at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor on 12th October 2018.

Her dress was fashioned by British-based designers Peter Pilotto and Christopher De Vos, and was a ball gown design with sleeves made from satin showcasing a light floral print with a number of symbolic designs. The quirky dress had a fold around the shoulders paired with a low plunging back that intentionally showcased her scars from her childhood battle with scoliosis.

Her resplendent outfit was completed with an elegant diamond and emerald tiara paired with diamond and emerald drop earrings.

No matter who the royal bride happens to be, one thing is for certain; each has always looked resplendent on their wedding day, stunning their guests with their breath-taking beauty. We can’t wait to see what comes next!

Image credit at the very top of the article: cheekylorns/