Memorable royal wedding dresses through the ages

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Here, with the help of Karen Whybro, owner of designer bridal boutique Rock The Frock, we take a look back at some of the most iconic and memorable royal wedding dresses through the decades.

Princess Alexandra, 10 March 1863
Long before Meghan caught the affections of the British public, Princess Alexandra of Denmark was the foreign bride crowds couldn’t wait to see. This is the first ever photograph of a member of the royal family wearing their wedding dress, from her marriage to Queen Victoria’s son Edward Albert in 1863.

Ms Whybro describes it as “an opulent and highly detailed dress, with an off-the-shoulder neckline and large floral motifs that dominated the design”. Adorned with decorative lace depicting Scottish thistles, Irish shamrocks and English roses, plus a 21ft train that took eight women to carry, it was a particularly over-the-top gown.

Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, 26 April 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. Ms 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, 20 November 1947
The current queen was married during a time of austerity, as the country was still recovering from World War II. Elizabeth used ration stamps to buy the fabric (although the government did give her 200 extra rations for the occasion), and it was designed by Norman Hartnell. Ms 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 she was due to leave for the ceremony at Westminster Abbey. Luckily, a court jeweller was on standby, and they took the tiara via police escort for some emergency welding before returning it to the bride. If you’re eagle-eyed, you can spot a slight gap at the centre of the headpiece.

Princess Margaret, 6 May 1960
Princess Margaret’s dress for her wedding to Lord Snowdon is often described as the simplest royal wedding gown in recent history. Ms 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 and featured much less detailing.” Although simple, the dress still had a full skirt and was designed to show off the bride’s petite frame.

Princess Anne, 14 November 1973
Princess Anne married Mark Phillips in Westminster Abbey, with an estimated global television audience of 500 million. “Princess Anne’s 1973 wedding dress could not be more of the era, in terms of style and silhouette,” says Ms 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, 29 July 1981
For most people, chances are the words ‘royal wedding’ conjure the wedding of the century – when Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles. It’s thought a whopping one billion tuned in worldwide to witness the fairytale event, and Ms 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”. But having such a dramatic dress did come with its share of problems – too big for her glass carriage, Diana arrived at the ceremony slightly creased.

Sarah Ferguson, 23 July 1986
Sarah Ferguson had the unenviable position of following Diana’s wedding just five years later. “Sarah Ferguson’s dress was always going to be compared to Diana’s, and was understandably much less elaborate,” says Ms Whybro. “The gown was an ivory satin bodice with heavy beading, retaining some of the `80s elements of Diana’s dress in its puff sleeves, yet cut to a three-quarter length.” Sure, not as elaborate as Diana’s, but it still had a 17ft train.

Sophie Rhys-Jones, 19 June 1999
Sophie Rhys-Jones’ dress was a much simpler affair, when she married Prince Edward. However, Ms Whybro says it echoes another royal gown from the past – 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, 9 April 2005
Camilla Parker-Bowles was in a unique position when marrying Prince Charles, as this was a second marriage for both of them. As such, instead of wearing a white or ivory gown, Camilla opted for a more 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.”

Kate Middleton, 29 April 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. Ms 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 that of 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 an elegant train touched upon contemporary elements.”

Which is your favourite? Do you still have your wedding dress?

– With PA

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