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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Royal Wedding Wednesday ~ A History of Wedding Dresses

One of the most closely guarded secrets of the upcoming Royal Wedding is the dress that Catherine Middleton will wear. She has even gone so far as to not reveal who the designer is that she has selected in attempt to keep the secret. Smart girl. Because the dress should be a surprise to her groom (and the world) until the moment he first catches a glimpse of his bride. There are so few surprises left in this world and I for one am enjoying the suspense. Based on her previous selection of evening wear, I imagine that the dress might be very sleek in style.


My other suspicions are that it will be made by an English designer in white or ivory in either English lace or silk created at an English silk farm. As I stated last week, given that the nuptials will take place in Westminster Abbey my thought is that her shoulders will be covered. Perhaps something similar to this dress by Bruce Oldfield ~ a favorite designer of Diana’s. Both Catherine’s mother and sister were spotted entering his shop, but it may be that he will only be dressing them.

I imagine that Kate will let Diana continue to hold the record for the longest train worn by a Royal bride ~ 25 feet.

Ah, Lady Diana’s dress. It was truly a dress fit for a princess. Diana selected her dress designers, David and Elizabeth Emanuel, based on a pale pink silk blouse she borrowed  for a portrait taken by Lord Snowdon that appeared in Vogue.

She gave the Emanuel’s a trial run by wearing an evening gown of their design to her first official appearance after her engagement to Prince Charles. Her famous black taffeta dress had the press stating that she was “Shy Di no more.”

The dress was considered scandalous on several levels~ of course there was the obvious reason and the fact that Royals only wear black dresses to funerals. The dress was sold on June 8, 2010 to a museum in Chile for £192,000  (approximately $276,900).

The ivory wedding dress took four months to create and was made of pure silk taffeta. The fitted bodice was boned and featured a wide ruffle around the curved neckline. Exquisite embroidered lace panels were placed on the front bodice and back of the dress.

The voluminous sleeves were gathered at the elbow and held in place by a bow with a lovely flounce of lace underneath. The plain, full skirt was worn over several layers of a crinoline petticoat made of ivory tulle and was trimmed at the waist and  hem with embroidered lace.

Diana of course wore the Spencer tiara as her something borrowed. Her gorgeous diamond earrings were also borrowed from her mother.

Something old was a piece of lace from Queen Mary, and the Emanuel’s hand sewed a tiny blue bow into the back of the dress.  For additional luck, the designers added a small golden horse-shoe made of 18-carat Welsh gold, studded with diamonds, onto the back of the label on the dress.

Lady Diana wore a cathedral length veil with a full blusher over her face. Made of silk, the veil required over 100 yards of netting and measured eight meters (26.25 feet).

Diana wedding slippers were by Clive Shilton. They were made of  silk duchesse satin and trimmed with the same lace found on her dress. The shoes had 542 mother-of-pearl sequins on each shoe that were knotted by hand. The fluted heel was made of leather and wood and had the letters of  "C" and "D" entwined with a heart, hand painted on the sole .

When Princess Elizabeth married Prince Philip on November 20, 1947 in Westminster Abbey it was the first bright spot for a nation that had been ravaged by World War II. Like so many other wartime brides Queen Elizabeth saved up ration coupons to acquire the fabric needed for her ivory duchesse satin gown.

The dress, designed by Norman Hartnell, featured exquisite embroidery which included flowers representing the four lands of the United Kingdom as well as the countries of the British Commonwealth: shamrocks for Ireland, thistles for Scotland, maple leaves for Canada and English Tudor roses. The train of the bridal gown was 15 feet long.

Because of the shortage of supplies brought on by the war, the 10,000 miniature pearls used to decorate the bodice and train were imported from the United States.

The silk fabric used for the dress was from the Scottish firm of Winterthur near Dunfermline. Problems arose when competitors began a rumor that the Scottish satin was made from 'enemy silk worms', either from Italy or possibly Japan. A telephone call to Dunfermline settled the scandal ~ Mr. Hartnell was assured the silkworms were from Nationalist China. Sadly, the quality of the silk and the heaviness of the skirt have caused  the dress to suffer damage.


The Queen’s silk tulle veil was held in place by the Fringe Tiara that was made for Queen Mary in 1919. The two separate necklaces, one containing forty six Queen Anne pearls and the other fifty Queen Caroline pearls were given to Princess Elizabeth by her parents, the King and Queen, as a wedding present.

The earrings which Princess Elizabeth wore at her wedding originally belonged to Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester (1776-1857), and were bequeathed to her niece Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck, who then bestowed them to her daughter, the future Queen Mary, in 1897. They were given by Queen Mary to her granddaughter Princess Elizabeth on January 31, 1947.

Princess Elizabeth’s high heel shoes were made of ivory duchesse satin and embellished with silver and pearl buckles.

The beloved Queen mum, also known as Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, married the Duke of York, Prince Albert, (later becoming King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) on April 26, 1923 in Westminster Abbey. In a break with tradition it was the first Royal wedding to be a public affair.

Lady Elizabeth’s dress was very much of the flapper fashion and was created by dressmaker Madame Handley Seymour. At the time of the wedding, it was not expected that the Duke would take the throne. His brother, Prince David, was to be King~ until he abdicated for Wallis Simpson ~ making the new Duchess of York a queen. 

royal wedding dresses

Perhaps because the Duke was second in line to the throne this was the reason that Lady Elizabeth’s gown was not as elaborate as some of the Royal brides before her.


The gown was made of an ivory chiffon moiré. The loose bodice was enhanced with pearls and silver embroidery. It featured a dropped waist, a traditional full length skirt which also had pearl and embroidery accents, and a court train.

Her lace veil was lent to her by the groom’s mother, Queen Mary. It was held in place by a wreath of myrtle, white roses and white heather on either side. Sadly, the veil has been lost.

Princess Victoria May (Later Queen Mary) of Teck wed Prince George, Duke of York, on  July 6, 1893 in the Chapel Royal of St. James Palace. She had previously been engaged to Prince Albert Victor, George’s elder brother, but Prince Albert Victor died in the great influenza epidemic of 1891-92. 

The wedding gown was made of white silk satin brocade which featured a silver threaded design intertwining roses, shamrocks, thistles, lilies of the valley, and orange blossoms.  Three tiers of Honiton lace, which had originally been worn by her mother, were arranged at the front of the skirt.

The back of the dress laced up like a corset and the train of the dress was long and unembellished. 

She wore her mother's Honiton lace veil which was held in place by several diamond pins and accented with orange blossoms.

Princess Alexandra of Denmark, married  Queen Victoria's son, Prince Edward (later King Edward VII) on March 10, 1863 in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.

The gown originally featured several tiers of Honiton lace and was decorated with swags of artificial orange blossoms and foliage to match the floral wreath upon her head. Her silver moiré train was so long it had to be carried by eight bridesmaids. Princess Alexandra was quite frugal and recycled the lace on her wedding dress several times which is why it is not shown on the skirt now.

The traditional "white wedding" came into vogue entirely because of one bride: Queen Victoria of England. At the time that she married Prince Albert on February 10, 1840 at the Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace, it was common for brides to wear colorful dresses. The idea of creating a white gown worn for just one day was thought to be very extravagant.


The gown was made of a creamy white Spitalfields silk. The bodice was made up of eight pieces, consisting of a low, wide neckline. The bodice seams were boned. The pointed waist rests on the natural waistline and featured full double puffed sleeves. There was a separate skirt captured in wide pleats. The dress was trimmed in Honiton lace created in the village of Beer. The cotton net lace which formed the flounce of the dress, measured four yards, and was three quarters of a yard in depth. It took more than two hundred persons employed from March until November to create the lace.


The lace pattern was truly lovely and is said to have surpassed anything that had ever been executed either in England or Brussels. The manufacturer, upon completion of the lace, destroyed all the pattern designs so that the Queen would have a unique dress.

The only spots of color on Victoria’s wedding ensemble were a beautiful sapphire brooch Prince Albert had given her as a wedding present, the armlet having the motto of the Order of the Garter: "Honi soit qui mal y pense,” and the star of the Order. As seen in the movie “The Young Victoria”.

Her headpiece consisted of the same lace as her dress which took six weeks to create and measured a yard and a half square. It was topped by a crown of orange blossoms.

Given the cost of the handmade lace and that Queen Victoria was quite sentimental, she removed most of the lace from her wedding dress and wore it on state occasions and at the weddings of all but one of her children, Princess Beatrice, who wore it herself. The Queen also wore her lace in several official portraits.

This explains why the dress, which is sometimes put on display, now features very little of the lace.

On my wedding day to Mr. Décor I wore a new dress that had a small bow of blue silk pinned at the inside waist. In my shoe was a old Panamanian coin dated 1963 (representing Mr. Décor’s  year of birth and birthplace), I borrowed my cousin Sweet T’s pearl necklace. Lucky indeed.


Did you have something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue?


It is spring break for my children and I am happily busy being mom. As such my blogging time has been severely curtailed. I hope you understand.

To view the winners of last week’s linky party go HERE.


Mom in High Heels said...

My favorite RWW post so far! I can't WAIT to see Kat's dress (that's right, we're tight, so I can still call her Kate). I didn't realize how very slim she is though. Someone needs to feed that girl.

I did have something old, new, borrowed and blue at my wedding. My old was a handkerchief, my new was my shoes, borrowed was the layers and layers of petticoats it took to hold my dress up (borrowed from my MOH who got married a few months before me) and my blue was my garter.
James Bond and I will be married 16 years on Friday the 18th! I can't believe it's been that long. If you'd like to see some photos of a ridiculously young and skinny me, you can see them on this post (from 2 years ago):

Blondie's Journal said...

Another fascinating post, Laura! I, too, would rather be held in suspense as to what Kate will wear...all the more reason to watch the wedding!

What a beautiful bride you were! I love your dress! You look like a true princess!


Teresa said...

Oh My. You could turn no a Monarchic the hardest Republican, My Dear :).
I must say I Love Princess Diana and Queen Victoria's wedding gowns the best. Both women decided they were the Princesses of the Day and went for it and the result was - and is every time I see their pictures - WOW!!!!
I Love the Sexy look chosen for your wedding day - you had the poise and the body to go for it. I also had a coin of my year of birth, it was stiched inside my bodice inside a small poach, had something blue that was my and future hubby embroidered monogram poach used to held the coin, wore my grandmother gold bracelet and new the (very 80's) wedding dress... going to see if I can find a picture of it so I can share with you.
Thank you for one more lovely post... one is almost sorry the day is arriving as I can get used in coming and enjoying your Royal Wednesdays.

Teresa said...

I'm back :D

I thought you'd like to watch the below video. It was made on the occasion of Princess Diana's wedding dress arriving in Kansas City and is, for me, one of the most detailed and close look of the dress.


Vicki said...

Oh, I thoroughly enjoyed this post. The dresses, headpieces and veils were just stunning. Thank you so much for the effort you put into Royal Wedding Wednesdays.

Happy Cottage Quilter said...

Laura this is such a wonderful post. I love seeing all the Royal wedding gowns. And adding yours at the end, was an added treat. I had a new wedding gown, a borrowed veil, an old hanky, and a blue garter :-) Love the traditions.


Ricki Jill Treleaven said...

Yes! I had something old (pearls) new (dress) borrowed (antique handkerchief) blue (garter)

We will be celebrating our 23rd wedding anniversary on Saturday :D

You are a lovely bride! Nice picture!

Ricki Jill Treleaven said...

Oh! and I LOVE this post! I will show it to my girls later today :D Thanks so much for your research in putting it together!!! I know it took a ling time.

Kristina said...

Another completely lovely post. Thank you!

The Fajdich Times said...

WOW.....what a post. That was wonderfully intertaining. I loved it:)

Craftymoose Crafts said...

Thank you again for such a lovely post! I certainly did have something old, new, borrowed & blue! The old were pearls that I removed from my Mom's veil & dress & sewed onto a veil I made for myself.

Terri said...

I did have something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue! I ordered the lace from my gown from a dressmaker in France. My seamstress was wonderful and did a beautiful job.

I am going to see Princess Diana's dress on Thursday in Kansas City. I am so excited! I am going to have a post on it for sure!

Deanna said...

Delightful post!
You outdid yourself on this one.

Beautiful BEAUTIFUL wedding dresses. Truly an artform and celebration.

You look beautiful in your wedding gown!!!

I hope to be able to go back to Kansas City and see Princess Diana's wedding dress in person. The Exhibit runs until June 12th.

Have a sweet day and God bless,
d from homehaven nestled in the Kansas Flint Hills

Danielle said...

Love, love, LOVE this post! Thanks for sharing all of this. Hearing about weddings and royalty in the same blog makes me a happy girl. :)

I decided to share my wedding dress on my blog today. Feel free to check it out!

Julie Tucker-Wolek said...

I can't wait to see Catherine's dress!! And I absolutely loveeeeeeee your dress! :):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):):)

Debbie said...

Wonderful post!! I love Dianna's gown,the current Queen's and Victoria's gowns the best. I'm such a "big dress" girl.

I did wear the traditional "somethings" for my wedding. I had a coin in my shoe, a blue garter, new earrings and a borrowed pearl necklace from my aunt.

You were just lovely, I must add!

Kristen said...

Really enjoyed this look back at the royal wedding dresses. When I was little, I remember my mother waking me up to watch Princess Diana walk down the aisle. Seeing the rest of the wedding pictures is fascinating. I think my favorite is Victoria's. =)

Antiques And Teacups said...

Thanks Laura for researching your posts. They are a joy for any Royal enthusiast!

Amy said...

I love all your research you put into these articles! This was so intriguing to read. I love your wedding picture, too.

My something old was a lace handkerchief my mom-in-law gave me that she had with her on her wedding day, the new was a pearl earring and neckalce set my mom purchased for me, I borrowed my underskirt from a friend, and the blue was my flowers.

Lisa said...

Beautiful post, Laura! I so appreciate all your hard work and research in bringing this fabulous series to us. Thanks!!!!!

Catherine said...

Beautiful and interesting post!

Shirley said...

Dear Laura,
Thank you so much for all the information you share with us on Royal Traditions. I have enjoyed all the topics. I have always found Queen Elizabeth most facinating and have never seen her in her wedding gown. This has been a treat. Your dress was beautiful and you are simple gourgeous in it!
I just love weddings!

Yvonne @ StoneGable said...

From the first word of this post to the very very end I was totally captivated. Laura, wonderful history. And you were definitely the most beautiful bride.

Abby's Paperie Garden said...

This post is fabulous! It's evident you put a lot of work into sharing the history with us...thank you so much!


Ann@A Sentimental Life said...

really enjoyed the dress tour! I have never seen the Queens dress up close before..wonderful!
I wore my mothers pearls and carried a handkerchief made of my Great Grandmothers wedding dress, do not remember what I had that was blue? You were a beautiful bride!!!

Natasha said...

That was so interesting-thank you for such a wonderfully informative post. It must have taken you ages to put this together!

Hope you enjoy the rest of the week and Happy St Patrick's day!

Best wishes,

Mary Ellen said...

So enjoyed this post Laura on the royal wedding dresses through the ages! You looked like royalty yourself in your beautiful gown!

Enjoy you time with your children!

bee blessed

Susan (My Place to Yours) said...

Oh, my, Laura... This is a fantastic post! It doesn't get much better than wedding dresses of royalty -- and their beautiful handmade laces, jewels, and history! You obviously put a lot of work into this, and I appreciate your commitment. I think Queen Victoria's ensemble is my favorite although I was very intrigued by Princess Di's shoes!

amelangeetmoi said...

hi laura Just found your lovely blog so ive subscribed and become a follower

Enjoyed this very muchand gives me aanother taste of England
fay x

April said...

Thank you for all this HISTORY! We are studying the Victorian era right now, and there's nothing to get three early teen girls excited about history like WEDDINGS! :)
I too had old, new, borrowed and blue in my wedding--the happiest day of my life to that point. I have been SO BLESSED to have many even happier days since then.
I can see why Victoria would have dismantled her dress to keep those memories with her during special occasions--embuing the lace with even more special thoughts over the years.
VERY interesting post!

The Boston Lady said...

Laura, this was just fascinating to read and look at. At your suggestion I finally managed to watch "Young Victoria" while recooping from my surgery. What a wonderful portrayal of a remarkable young woman. Hope your spring breakers are having fun! Ann

She'sSewPretty said...

What a gorgeous, gorgeous post!! I can't imagine the hours that went into all of those beautiful dresses! I am just in awe of that lace!!

Jenny S said...

This is the coolest post I have ever read! Thank you so much for sharing all this amazing knowledge! HPS!!

D said...

Hi, Laura,
I thoroughly enjoyed this post on all the weddings and gowns. When Princes Diana got married, I watched every bit of it. She was so pretty.
And you were a lovely bride, too.

Lynn@ The Vintage Nest said...

You, my dear, were and still are I am sure, simply gorgeous on your wedding day!! And this post is totally amazing. Really appreciate all your effort in this post. I never cared for Diana's dress....don't hate me but too foo foo for me. But her shoes...are to die for! I wore a blue garter for the blue part but can't remember the rest without looking in my wedding book. We will be married 42 years in August. Hope that's a good excuse for not being able to remember everything. LOL...xoxo