The Evolution of Royal Wedding Gowns

People throughout the world are obsessed with the British Royal family, me being one of them. The infatuation first started with the Royal Weddings; most importantly the one of a kind, handmade wedding dresses that are made for the ceremonies. 

Throughout the span of the United Kingdom’s existence, there have been many weddings and with that many dresses.  Consequently, the style of wedding dresses has changed drastically over time. The change in style has taken place from one of the first royal weddings, Queen Victoria’s in 1840, to the most recent wedding between Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in May of 2018.

Queen Victoria is credited with starting the trend of the white dress. In her time period, wedding dresses were not necessarily white. However, she chose to have her dress made in white not to reflect purity, but to show off its lace. At the time of her wedding, the lace makers in England were struggling; she hoped that by showcasing the lace, she would help boost the industry.


Queen Victoria is also credited with starting the trend of only the bride wearing white during wedding ceremonies. She decreed that no one else should wear white at her wedding, thus starting the trend. Queen Victoria then had the pattern of her dress, which was made from a large piece of handmade Honiton lace, destroyed so that no one could copy it afterwards. 

The next big wedding that took place was between Queen Elizabeth and King George VI.  The wedding took place in 1923 and the dress she chose was a perfect reflection of the times. The dress was described as the “simplest ever made for a royal wedding.” The gown was designed by Madame Handley Seymour. It was ivory chiffon moire and had two trains, one of which was fastened at the hips, the other from the shoulders. The two bridal trains were of Nottingham lace and a strip of rose point lace was included in the trousseau, for it was a family heirloom. 

1923 - George VI - Elizabeth-wedding

The flapper-esque British royal wedding dress was perfectly complemented by a delicate Juliet lace cap. The lace cap was then accented with a lace veil. The bridal veil was one of antique Flanders lace; the fabric of the dress had been dyed to match the shade of the veil. The dress was typical of the looser, 1920’s fashion trends and therefore was also following the tastes of its own era. While others may have looked down upon Queen Elizabeth for having a “simple dress”, she was just following the trends of the 1920’s flappers.

The most unique wedding dress in Royal Wedding history was worn by Princess Anne in 1873. She wore a high-necked embroidered gown by Maureen Baker to wed Captain Mark Phillips. The unique feature of the dress was that it was made in the Tudor style and featured long medieval sleeves that were edged in pearls. The back of the gown was also embellished with pearls and silver thread. She paired the gown with a voluminous veil and held it in place with Queen Mary’s fringe tiara, the same tiara that her mother, Queen Elizabeth, wore to her wedding.


The high collar and long sleeves of the gown were appropriate both for the required modesty of a royal wedding gown and for the chilly November weather. While the gown covered Princess Anne fully, it still showed her figure with a pin-tucked bodice, which hugged her waist closely. When compared to other dresses from past royal weddings, this one stands out because of Princess Anne’s train. The train was only seven feet long, when most royal wedding dresses were known to be much longer. Princess Anne’s dress is by far the most unique dress in the collection of royal wedding dresses.

Princess Diana, one of the most iconic princesses, also had one of the most iconic wedding dresses. Her wedding to Prince Charles took place in 1981. The dress was designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel and was made out of ivory silk taffeta with a piece of antique lace that had belonged to Queen Mary embellishing the gown. The dress was made popular due to its elegant and feminine beauty. The dress featured puffed sleeves, ruffles on the bodice, and a 25-foot train that was surpassed by her 153 yard veil, which she wore with the Spencer tiara. The royal family wanted to keep the dress a secret, so much so that they created a decoy gown to be worn if the real dress were to be leaked to the public.


My favorite royal wedding dress was worn by the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton in 2011.  The gown was designed by Sarah Burton and featured a relatively deep-v neckline, a 9-foot train, and a lace overlay, as well as Victorian-inspired corsetry and padding on the hips to create the illusion of a more narrow waist and wide hips. The lace applique on the skirt and bodice of the dress was handmade by the Royal School of Needlework, based at Hampton Court Palace. The dressmakers used the Carrickmacross lace-making technique, which originated in Ireland in the 1820’s. Hand-cut lace flowers, including roses, thistle, daffodils, and shamrocks, were created individually and added onto the ivory silk tulle. The bodice, skirt, and underskirt trim were created out of an English and French Chantilly lace. The French Chantilly lace was the only fabric not sourced or supplied by a British company.


The most recent wedding in the royal family, which took place in May of 2018, was between Prince Harry and The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle. The dress was ivory silk and designed by Clare Waight Keller, the British artistic director for the French fashion house, Givenchy.  Its bateau neckline, A-line silhouette, and three-quarter-length sleeves was praised for its simplicity. Clare Waight Keller helped develop a double bonded silk cady for the construction of the dress, which featured only six seams. The dress had neither lace or any other embellishments; however, a piece of the blue dress from Markle’s first date with Prince Harry was stitched into the bridal gown to be her “something blue.”


The most interesting and most beautiful feature of Meghan Markle’s dress was her veil. The sixteen and half foot silk tulle veil was hand-embroidered with flowers. The flowers represented the fifty-three countries of the Commonwealth, the California poppy, in honor of Meghan Markle’s home state of California, and winter-sweet, a flower chosen by Meghan Markle.  The duchess complemented it with Queen Mary’s diamond bandeau tiara, a platinum band set with diamonds, and framing a detachable brooch. What the dress lacked in complexity, it made up for in the detail.

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