Royal Wedding Gowns – British Embroidery

Welcome our Royal Wedding Gown feature, where we look at royal gowns from a different perspective. Today we’ll talk about how embroidery can transform an ordinary bridal look into that worthy of a royal wedding. We will focus on three British weddings.

Sadly, it is worth noting that photos, even high-quality photos, can’t reveal all of the nuances of embroidered elements. In some cases, we’ll have to rely on descriptions from those who have seen the gowns in person.

Previous entries in this series include Danish Heirloom Lace , Royal Wedding Venues, Venue Size and Scale, Historical and Artistic References, and Orange Blossoms.

Bride: Princess Elizabeth
Designer: Norman Hartnell

This is the grandmother of all symbolically embroidered gowns. Initially, there were fears that the entire wedding would be a quiet and reduced scale affair. The country was still under rationing, but royalty being what it is, Princess Elizabeth was allowed an additional 200 coupons for the creation of her dress. She then engaged Norman Hartnell, the king of exuberant embroidery, to design her gown. Fears of a grim, ration-induced celebration and un-embellished gown were set to rest.

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The overall theme of the dress is rebirth and growth after World II, and Hartnell used Botticelli’s Renaissance masterpiece Primavera as an inspiration. He blanketed the bodice and skirt with diamanté-encrusted star flowers, roses, jasmine blossoms and ears of wheat using thousands of seed pearls, silver thread, crystals, and tulle appliqués.   The dress included an unusual silk tulle train, embroidered in a star pattern, which was starkly visible when viewed against the dark flooring of the Abbey. It is a lot of embroidery, and a heavy dose of symbolism – the message of Queen-to-be and country beginning anew is strong.

Primavera/Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Bride: Princess Mary
Designers: Messrs Raville

1922: From left to right; Queen Mary, King George V, with their daughter Victoria Alexandra Alice Mary, the Princess Royal, and Viscount Lascelle, 6th Earl of Harewood, on their wedding day. (Photo by W. & D. Downey/Getty Images)

World War I was fresh in the collective memory of Britain when Princess Mary, the Princess Royal, married Viscount Lascelle. The Princess elected to pay honor the British Empire with the embroidery of her dress. The symbols in the gown reflected the contributions of the Empire and Dominions to the Allied cause during the First World War.

Princess Mary’s wedding gown is to be of cloth of silver of magnificent design. The material was bought by the Queen from India some years ago and is described as a triumph of native manufacturing

The Associated Press

 The hand-woven ivory silk as embroidered with floral symbols, including the maple from Canada, the lotus from India, the wattle from Australia and the fern from New Zealand.

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Bride: Meghan Markle
Designer: Clare Waight Keller
, for Givenchy

Meghan Markle was an American marrying a British prince, and both their wedding and her wedding dress were highly anticipated. She chose to announce her new-found commitment to husband, family, and country by wearing a veil that embodied the elements of her new role. The Prince and the Duchess of Sussex are Commonwealth Youth Ambassadors. To emphasize the importance of this role, Clare Waight Keller designed the 16-foot veil with embroidered signature flowers from the 53 Commonwealth countries. In a nod to Duchess’ home state, a California poppy was also included. According to the Duchess, the veil details were a secret to everyone prior to her entrance, and she reported later that Prince Harry, in particular, was touched and delighted by the thoughtful inclusion.

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Detail of Veil, Screen Capture Pedestrian TV

Which of these showcases the best symbolic use of embroidery?