9 Beautiful Royal Wedding Dresses (& The Designers Behind Them)

By Charlie Colville

5 months ago

How these historic bridal moments came to life


Ever wondered what exactly goes into a royal wedding ? Well, when it comes to the bridal gowns, rather a lot. Here, we delve into the history behind some of the most famous British royal wedding dresses in modern history, from Princess Diana and Kate Middleton to the late Queen Elizabeth II.

British Royal Wedding Dresses: A History

Queen Elizabeth II (1947)

Despite WWII having ended by the time then-Princess Elizabeth set her wedding date, post-war austerity was still in full swing in Britain. Rationing was still in effect for everyone – including the royal family – and it’s said that the future Queen set about saving up clothing coupons so that she could buy her dream wedding dress.

She married Philip Mountbatten on 20 November 1947, in a ceremony held at Westminster Abbey (making Elizabeth the tenth member of the royal family to be married at the Abbey).

 

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Who Designed Queen Elizabeth II’s Wedding Dress?

Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding dress was designed by couturier Sir Norman Hartnell, who earned a Royal Warrant as a dressmaker to Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother) in 1940 and to Queen Elizabeth II in 1957. The design – which was made from ivory silk and decorated using 10,000 seed pearls – was approved just three months before the wedding date, and took 350 women seven weeks to make. A notable feature of the gown was its train; inspired by Botticelli’s Primavera, it was decorated in a floral design comprised of jasmine, smilax, seringa, and rose-like blossoms.

Princess Margaret (1960)

The next big royal wedding was on 6 May 1960, when Princess Margaret (sister to Queen Elizabeth II) married society photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones. The two formally met at a dinner party two years prior, and their romance quickly carried into a proposal that shocked the press since the royals had chosen not to publicise the relationship.

Notably, Princess Margaret’s wedding was the first royal wedding to be televised in the UK; it was watched by over 300 million people globally, and was the biggest royal event since Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.

Who Designed Princess Margaret’s Wedding Dress?

Like her sister, Princess Margaret wore a wedding dress designed by Sir Norman Hartnell. Margaret apparently asked the designer for an ‘unfussy’ gown, with tailored bodice and waist, long sleeves and a full-length skirt. Hartnell used silk organza to construct the dress, crafting the voluminous skirt with 30 metres of fabric and avoiding embroidering of flowers and other motifs – although Margaret did team up her wedding gown with the Poltimore Tiara, a headpiece that she herself had bought.

Princess Diana (1981)

The former Princess of Wales, Diana Spencer, married into the British royal family on 29 July 1981 following a short engagement to Prince Charles. Diana, who cultivated a strong fashion following in her lifetime, leaned into popular trends of the decade when it came to her wedding dress – most notably, the design featured a wide skirt, balloon sleeves, a frilly neckline and cuffs, and a stunning 25-foot train.

The event proved popular amongst global audiences, as 750 million people tuned in to watch the royal wedding.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles on their wedding day | royal wedding dresses

(c) Annie Spratt, Unsplash

Who Designed Princess Diana’s Wedding Dress?

Princess Diana’s wedding dress was designed by the Emanual Salon, which was owned by British designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel. The husband-and-wife duo, who were a favourite of Diana in the years leading up to her marriage, created the dress using ivory silk, pure taffeta and antique lace, as well as 10,000 pearls and sequins.

The design process was highly secretive; it’s said that only three members of Emanuel staff were allowed to work on the gown, and that the designers left false breadcrumbs and trails for the press.

Sarah Ferguson (1986)

And then there was Sarah ‘Fergie’ Ferguson. A childhood friend of Princess Diana, Sarah similarly married into the royal family, with her wedding to Prince Andrew broadcast to over 500 million people worldwide on 23 July 1986. The two were engaged after only a year of dating, having first met in 1985 at one of Queen Elizabeth II’s ‘dine and sleep’ events at Windsor Castle.

Who Designed Sarah Ferguson’s Wedding Dress?

British couturier Lindka Cierach designed Sarah Ferguson’s wedding dress. The designer, whose clients included members of both British and European royal families, crafted the dress using ivory duchesse satin and covered it in heavy beading depicting various scenes and motifs. Most notably, it featured hearts, anchors and waves (a nod to her husband, Prince Andrew), as well as bumblebees and thistles (taken from Sarah’s family heraldry).

The gown was also influenced by Sarah’s sister-in-law, Princess Diana. Elements like the puff sleeves, full skirt and train – which measured 17 feet and featured the letters ‘A’ and ‘S’ sewn in silver beads – are thought to be a nod to the trends offset by the other royal’s gown.

Camilla, Queen Consort (2005)

Despite having a romantic relationship spanning several decades, King Charles III and Queen Camilla didn’t officially tie the knot until 9 April 2005 in a civil ceremony at Windsor Guildhall. The pair announced their engagement just two months before the ceremony, and invited Prince William to be Charles’s best man. While Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip did not attend the wedding ceremony, they both went to the Service of Prayer and Dedication and held a reception for the couple in Windsor Castle afterwards.

Despite marrying the crown prince, the couple decided that the title of Princess of Wales would remain with the late Princess Diana, and so Camilla was given the title of Duchess of Cornwall.

 

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Who Designed Camilla Parker Bowles’s Wedding Dress?

Camilla Parker Bowles wore two outfits on her wedding day – both of which were designed by British fashion house Robinson Valentine, headed up be designers Antonia Robinson and Anna Valentine. Her first wedding ensemble was comprised of a cream silk chiffon dress hemmed with vertical rows of Swiss-made appliqued woven disks and a matching oyster silk basket weave coat, while the second (and most recognisable) was made up of a floor-length embroidered pale blue and gold coat and a matching chiffon dress, teamed up with gold feathers in her hair. The golden feathers were reportedly designed by Irish haute couture milliner Philip Treacy.

Kate Middleton (2011)

The next generation of royal weddings began with Prince William and Catherine Middleton (aka, Will and Kate), who were married at Westminster Abbey on 29 April 2011.

The two had something of a modern fairy tale romance, having met in 2001 while studying at the University of St Andrews and starting a relationship in 2003. The were together for several years before William proposed to Kate in October 2010, using the same engagement ring that King Charles III had proposed to Diana, the Princess of Wales, with.

Who Designed Kate Middleton’s Wedding Dress?

Kate Middleton’s wedding dress was designed by Sarah Burton, who was then the Creative Director of British luxury fashion label Alexander McQueen. Speaking on the gown, the Palace stated that Kate wanted a wedding gown that combined ‘tradition and modernity with the artistic vision that characterises Alexander McQueen’s work.’ The dress took its cues from Victorian gown design, with a narrow waist and padded hips to create a corseted effect, a full skirt (designed to look like an opening flower) leading to white satin gazar arches and pleats that formed a semi-bustle, and 19th century lace sewn into the appliqué lace detailing. It’s also said that a blue ribbon was sewn inside the dress to fulfil Kate’s ‘something blue’. The dress also featured a nine-foot train and a veil decorated with roses, thistles, daffodils and shamrocks.

Kate changed into a second dress, also by Sarah burton, at a private reception held at Buckingham Palace. Made from white satin, featuring embroidered diamante detailing around the waist and lacking a train, it was a much simpler gown – one made for dancing and celebrating.

Meghan Markle (2018)

The most watched royal wedding was that of Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle, previously known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who got married at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on 19 May 2018. The pair, who began dating in 2016, publicly announced their engagement in late 2017, and upon their wedding Markle became the second American to marry into the British royal family.

Who Designed Meghan Markle’s Wedding Dress?

Meghan Markle’s wedding dress was designed by British designer Clare Wright Keller, under the Givenchy label. A contemporary gown, Meghan’s gown was minimal and classic in design, avoiding lace and crystal embellishments in favour of plain silk; it featured three-quarter-length sleeves, an open boat neckline and a train with built-in triple silk organza underskirt.

A statement from Kensington Palace explained how, ‘The dress epitomizes a timeless minimal elegance referencing the codes of the iconic House of Givenchy and showcasing the expert craftsmanship of its world-renowned Parisian couture atelier founded in 1952.’ On the design itself, the statement read, ‘True to the heritage of the house, the pure lines of the dress are achieved using six meticulously placed seams. The focus of the dress is the graphic open bateau neckline that gracefully frames the shoulders and emphasizes the slender sculpted waist. The lines of the dress extend towards the back where the train flows in soft round folds cushioned by an underskirt in triple silk organza. The slim three-quarter sleeves add a note of refined modernity… The Duchess and Ms. Waight Keller worked closely together on the design, which epitomizes a timeless minimal elegance referencing the codes of the iconic House of Givenchy.’

Meghan’s second dress, which she wore to the evening royal reception hosted by King Charles III at Frogmore House, came courtesy of British designer Stella McCartney. This was a much more modern gown featuring a slinky silhouette and a high halter neck (with no sleeves). ‘I am so proud and honored to have been chosen by the Duchess of Sussex to make her evening gown and represent British design,” Stella McCartney later told WWD. ‘It has truly been one of the most humbling moments of my career and I am so proud of all the team on this stunning sunny royal day.’

Princess Eugenie (2018)

Another royal wedding to take place in 2018 was that of Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank, who tied the knot 12 October. The couple met during a ski break in Verbier, Switzerland – where it’s said that Jack fell in love at first sight. They began dating in 2010, and were together for seven years before announcing their engagement.

 

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Who Designed Princess Eugenie’s Wedding Dress?

Just like the royal brides before her, Princess Eugenie turned to British designers for her wedding dress: Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos, who headed up the fashion label Peter Pilotto. The dress featured a wide-neck V shape, folded shoulders and a low back that draped into a flowing full-length train – but the defining feature was the low back. This is a design that usually wouldn’t be taken up by a royal, but Eugenie is said to have specifically requested it to show the scar on her back which she retained following surgery at age 12 to correct scoliosis.

Other notable details on the dress were a thistle, shamrock, rose and ivy, which were added to the dress in a garland of rope-like motifs woven into into a jacquard of silk, cotton and viscose blend.

Princess Beatrice (2020)

The most recent royal wedding took place on 17 July 2020, when Princess Beatrice married English property developer and Italian noble Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi. The two, who had known each other since childhood, began dating in 2018 and announced their engagement the following year. The wedding date, which was originally  scheduled for 7 February 2020, was delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

 

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Who Designed Princess Beatrice’s Wedding Dress?

Rather than opt for a completely new gown, Princess Beatrice’s wedding dress was a Norman Hartnell gown formerly worn by Queen Elizabeth II to the premiere of Lawrence of Arabia and a state dinner in Rome. Acting as Beatrice’s ‘something old’ and ‘something borrowed’, the gown was originally made in 1961 by Hatnell, but remodelled by dressmaker Angela Kelly and designer Stewart Parvin for Beatrice to wear on her wedding day.

It was made from ivory peau de soie taffeta, with ivory duchess satin sleeves, diamanté adornments and a checkered, geometric bodice.

Featured image: Annie Spratt, Unsplash