The Designer Diaries – Norman Hartnell: Brides: Pt.2

Chapters of the previous Hartnell series can be found here. Scroll down to the “Designer Diaries” tab. Link to Brides: Part 1 if necessary.

ETA- I had originally included a line about keeping discussion of the Duchesses “R” rated life in “PG-13” territory. After reading some of your comments, which have been firmly in “G” territory but a bit stunned, I’ll put it back in. She was involved in more scandals than there are grains of sand on the beach.

This post features a gown that could quite possibly be Norman Hartnell’s greatest non-royal achievement – the wedding gown of socialite Margaret Whigham, who would go on to become The Duchess of Argyll. Let’s learn a bit about her before we dive in.

Ethel Margaret Whigham was the only child of multi-millionaire George Hay Whigham and his wife, Helen Mann Hannay. Margaret spent the majority of her adolescence in New York City, returning to London in time for her Debutante Ball in 1930. The 18-year old made quite an impression and was named “Debutante of the Year“, launching her “career” as one of London’s most famous and influential socialites. Shortly afterward she announced her engagement to Charles Guy Fulke Greville, 7th Earl of Warwick, but the wedding was called off after she met Charles Sweeny, an American stockbroker/amateur golfer whose family had made millions from coal-mining, oil-drilling, and smelting.

Margaret was 20 years old when she and Sweeney married at Brompton Oratory on February 21st, 1933. Her gown was made from embroidered silk satin and tulle, studded with with hundreds of glass beads, and featured a 18 foot train. (The museum has also stated that the train is 12 foot, 1 and 3/4 inches long, or 3.70 meters. So who knows.) It took 30 seamstresses about six weeks to make the gown, and reportedly cost the bride £52, which was considered to be crazy expensive at the time. (Adjusted for inflation, it would come in at £3,746.12 in today’s money.) The dress is scattered in pearl-embroidered stars, some transparent, and are placed both on the skirt and at various points on the bodice. Designed to be a showstopper, it did just that; literally stopping traffic for three hours outside of the church. Of course the 1-2,000 invited guests and the (estimated) 2,000 more who tried to crash the gate probably didn’t help much either. Make sure to check out the V&A link below. Lots of closeups.

Lighting, as usual, is everything although I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual color is somewhere between the two.

Photo Credit: The V&A

Some photos of the wedding day, as well as another short video.

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The gown is currently in the possession of the V&A in London and was the centerpiece of their 2014 Wedding Gown Exhibit. It has also travelled the world, so some special packing techniques had to be invented to ensure it made it there and back in one piece.

So what do you think? Were you unaware of Miss Whigham before today, or has she always been on your radar? What do you think of her fashion choices throughout her colorful life? Post some photos and let us know below.


Wimbledon 2020

Hard as it is to believe, it would have been Diana’s 59th birthday today. She was an avid tennis fan and a fixture at Wimbledon, so to honor both her birthday and the Wimbledon that wasn’t, here are a few of her appearances.

(Also note the various, and young, royals and royal adjacents who appear here and there!)

In the early days, in her frilly period, Diana wore a series of ensembles that just seem a little to warm for the event. She herself always remained cool, though. A princess from the beginning.

Lady Di, as she was then, with a prince and princess from Monaco.

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Diana and William, 1991. Funny, I remember loving this belt at the time, and now it seems like she could have found a better use for it, like lending it to the world heavyweight champion.

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Diana in red, 1994. Her Wimbledon wear loosened up considerably by the later years, and this has always been a favorite.

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Diana, channeling her inner Princess Margaret, 1995.

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If you want the ease of a slideshow, Tatler published this one last year.

In honor of her birthday, and the tennis event that wasn’t, let’s see your favorites of Diana – at Wimbledon, or any event.


Wimbledon 2020

Wimbledon was scheduled to begin today, but… yeah. Luckily for us British Royalty has been a fixture at Wimbledon since The Prince of Wales and Princess Mary made their first appearance at the tournament in 1907 (and one member of the family even played in it!), so we have plenty of pictures to remind us of happier times.

When I hear Wimbledon I think Kents. Prince George, The Duke of Kent was president from 1929 until his untimely death in 1942. Princess Marina took over at that time and served until her death in 1968. The present Duke of Kent, accompanied for many years by The Duchess of Kent, has held the title since 1969. I don’t think anyone who saw it will ever forget poor Jana Novotná crying her eyes out on the Duchess of Kent’s shoulder after a devastating loss in 1993, only to come back and win it all in 1998.

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Other members of the family have helped out as well.

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There have been quite a few familiar faces in the stands over the years. But when push comes to shove, it’s all Brits all the time.

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So who was the member of the family that actually played in Wimbledon? That would be The Duke of York. Prince Albert partnered with his Equery, Wing Commander Sir Louis Greig, in the doubles tournament in 1926. While the Duke was considered to be an excellent player, he was no match for the pros and they were booted after the first round. At least they tried.

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Do you have any favorite Wimbledon photos from over the years? Feel free to discuss and share below!


The Designer Diaries – Norman Hartnell: Brides Pt.1

Featured Photo: “The Wedding Dress of 1928”. “Be Dazzled!” p. 80

And we’re back! Chapters of the previous Hartnell series can be found here. Just scroll down until you find the “Designer Diaries” tab and hit that arrow.

Norman Hartnell created his first wedding gown in 1927 and it was all uphill from there. Weddings were a huge source of income for him, as he would not only design for the bride (who was more likely than not one of his former debutante clients), but also for the bridal party, the mother of the bride, the bride’s family members, and quite often the groom’s family as well. Most brides would also have him create their honeymoon wardrobes and trousseau, making him money hand over fist.

The dresses featured in this installment will range from 1927 through 1938, and are very good examples of the many embellishments and fine embroidery that his brand became known for. There are a lot of photos, so you should probably grab your favorite beverage and settle in. It’s going to be a while. LOL.

The first bridal gown Hartnell created was for the October 1927, “second” wedding of Daphne Vivian to Henry Thynne, 6th Marquess of Bath. (Due to parental disapproval, they were first married in secret at St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, in 1926.) The gown was made out of nets of silver and gold, and the press at the time declared her the “eighth wonder of the world.”

Henry’s sister, Lady Mary Thynne (who was a bridesmaid to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon), was a great friend of Daphne’s, so when it was time for her wedding a month later to Lord Nunburnholme, she naturally commissioned Hartnell as well. The photo isn’t very good, but there is a video.

Photo Credit: “Be Dazzled” p.82

1927 was also the year he made the gown for the wedding of Barbara Cartland. Hartnell had made her presentation dress, so she naturally chose him to do her wedding gown. Although he didn’t design this one himself (that honor went to the bride), I included it here. The dress was made of white tulle, with frills of tulle forming the lower skirt and the lower part of the sleeves. The train was of white satin embossed with pale pink flowers and edged with ermine, which had been worn by her mother at her own wedding. The veil was of white tulle. Cartland would later say that her dress had been a disaster, due to her lack of design skills. Hartnell agreed.

Our next gown was declared, “The Wedding Dress of 1928”, even though it was never used in a wedding. There is a very long story behind it, but I’ll keep it short. This dress was donated to the London Museum in March of 1928, after it was used in a charity fashion show. It’s made out of pale pink satin and decorated with flowers outlined in clear glass bugle beads and silver metal thread. The center of each flower is a cabochon pearl that has been dyed pink. The dress has a dropped waist and a pale pink crepe de chine silk underslip, with two deep layers of netting attached to the hem. It also features ten metal weights suspended from strips of tape attached internally to the waistline, keeping everything smooth and sleek. The train is made of pink silk net.

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If you liked that gown, you’ll love this one. Hartnell created a dress almost identical to the one above, but this time it was for an actual wedding. The Bowes Museum has possession of this gown and describes it as follows: “Silk satin and silk net embroidered with silver lace, bugle beads and pearls. This is a romantic creation with deep medieval-style sleeves. The graduating design of flowers on the drop-waisted skirt is echoed in satin on the train.” Make sure to click through to see the entire dress.

He designed the dresses for at least two of the Guinness sisters weddings, one in 1929 (Oonagh – Top) and another in 1930 (Maureen – Bottom).

Blogger Fiona from My Blogging London Life was kind enough to let me use some of her photos for this series, and these are the first set. She attended the “Hartnell to Amies” exhibit at The London Fashion Museum several years ago and took some fabulous photos. You really need to check out her blog. Lots of goodies! Here is Oonagh’s gown close up.

It’s not a great photo, but this is Maysie Gasque who was the Woolworth’s heiress. She married barrister John R. Robertson in 1930. Here is a link to a video of their wedding.

Next up is a gown worn by Deirdre Hart-Davis for her marriage to Ronald Balfour. Deirdre was the niece of  Lady Diana Cooper, Viscountess Norwich, who was considered one of the “Bright Young Things” of 1920’s London.

Although Hartnell was best known for his elaborate embroidery, this dress shows that he was just as comfortable fashioning simple designs as well. This gown was made in 1934 out of plain, unadorned white satin.

And our last dress belongs to actress Jeanne Stourton, who wed Ralph Robert Watts Sherman Stonor, 6th Baron Camoys in 1938. It appears some crazy times were had during that marriage. Her story could certainly keep you entertained for a while.

So what do you think? While the 20s gowns aren’t particular favorites of mine, the 30’s most certainly are, and all are truly works of art. It’s no wonder all of the young brides were hot on Hartnell’s trail! OH! One more thing. In the “gift that keeps on giving” department, I came across ANOTHER video having to do with the Gloucester wedding. THE GIFTS! Check ’em out! and be sure to comment on everything below.


Battle of the Ballgowns – Kate versus Kate

White has been the order of the night for the Brits and their evening gowns recently. The Duchess of Cambridge has jumped into this fray with two entries that deserve an epic Kate on Kate battle. She’s made it easy for us to even out the sides, since she has two white gowns from the same designer. You tell us which is more successful for the Duchess. (Note: These aren’t really ballgowns, but alliteration always rules here.)


For the US/UK State Visit in June 2019, the Duchess floated in to the event wearing this frilly, swishy concoction from Alexander McQueen. The sleeveless dress features a sweetheart neckline, a structured bodice, and a skirt of row upon row of lace layers built upon each other. It’s a feminine, swirling type frock, yet dignified enough for one of the most important official events she attends. She accessorized this dress with the Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara, a four strand bracelet, and a pair of sapphire fringed earrings from the Queen Mother’s collection.

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For the 2019 BAFTA awards, the Duchess also wore a white McQueen, but one with a different aesthetic. This one shoulder gown featured a bodice with a delicate pleating effect. The shoulder strap incorporated beautifully layered floral embellishments. The skirt flows into floating hem. She accessorized with a pair of diamond and pearl drop earrings from Princess Diana’s collection and the Diamond Quatrefoil Bracelet on loan to her from the Queen.

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Which McQueen works best for Kate?