On February 10, 1840, Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gothe in St. James’s Chapel. The Royal Collection Trust (RCT) decided to celebrate the 181st anniversary of the wedding by looking back on several royal wedding dresses, from Queen Victoria’s gown to Princess Beatrice’s gown.
An ongoing theme throughout the conversation was the strong tradition of using British designers for royal wedding gowns. Queen Victoria started the tradition of using British artisans and British textiles at her wedding and encouraged her daughters and daughters-in-law to do the same. Princess Alexandra of Denmark received the famous Brussels lace as a gift from King Leopold for her 1863 wedding to the Prince of Wales, but the Queen had it used British lace instead.
Queen Alexandra at the Royal Women exhibition at the Fashion Museum in 2019. Photo: Jessica Storoschuk
Princess Elizabeth’s dress was designed by the First Knight of Fashion, Sir Norman Hartnell, for her 1947 wedding to Prince Philip. Hartnell had designed several wardrobes and dresses for Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, and designed dresses for the wedding attendants as well as the other royal women for the post-war celebration. He also designed Princess Margaret’s simple but stunning dress for her 1960 wedding.
Princess Margaret on her wedding day. Photo: RCT / Screenshot / Fair Use
Both the Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex turned to British designers for their wedding dresses. The Duchess of Cambridge chose Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen to design her 1950s gown, while the Duchess of Sussex worked with Clare Waight Keller at Givenchy for her simple yet elegant gown. Although the dresses were very different, they mirrored each royal bride and were suitable for her own royal wedding.
The other central theme that ran through the conversation was the influence of history and past royal wedding dresses. The Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress was influenced by Her Majesty’s wedding dress, including a similar silhouette. Princess Beatrice’s dress was originally the Queen’s Hartnell dress, which was reworked and changed for her little wedding in 2020. Interestingly, any changes made to the dress for Princess Beatrice are reversible so that the dress can return to its original state.
The wedding dresses of Queen Victoria and Lady Diana Spencer. Photo: RCT / Screenshot / Fair Use
One notable dress that was missing from the conversation was Princess Eugenie’s dress, designed by Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos. The princess chose to use the design of her dress to highlight the scoliosis surgery scars and make it even more personal.
The Royal Collection Trust owns several royal wedding dresses, the earliest surviving dress in the collection belonged to Princess Charlotte (married to Prince Leopold in 1816). Some of the modern day royal wedding dresses are still privately owned by the royals who wore them, but most are on display for some time after their wedding. Hopefully the RCT will do a bigger exhibition with multiple dresses in the future.