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?
Britain · Romania · Sweden

Royal Wedding Gowns – Orange Blossoms

Welcome our Royal Wedding Gown summer series, where we look at royal gowns from a different perspective. Today we’re taking a in-depth dive on gowns that are bedecked with orange blossoms.

Although no longer as common as they once were, historically, royal gowns made bounteous use of the blooms. They were considered symbols of both fertility and chastity, a dual message that is a bit boggling. “The Blossom” was also expensive and not easy to procure, which limited its use to those with means. Royals definitely had the resources to bedeck themselves in these powerful symbols.

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

Bride: Elisabeth, Queen of Romania
Elisabeth of Wied was the Queen of Romania as the wife of King Carol I. She was a talented and flamboyant woman, known as much as for her literary endeavors (under the name Carmen Sylva) as she was for being royal. Her wedding dress was dramatic, big and heavily decorated with strands of orange blossom, threaded through the skirt and bodice.

Bride: Princess Maud
Princess Maud was a diverse character, described both as simply drop dead chic and terrifically rambunctious. For her wedding dress, she directed the designer, Miss Rosalie Whyte of the Royal Female School of Art, to design something simple and memorable. Her dress was woven in Spitalfields of pure white English satin. The square neckline was decorated with a full bow of mousseline de soie and orange blossoms, the skirt hem was trimmed with a ruche of chiffon and orange blossoms, and the bodice also sported a bow of mousseline and a cluster of orange blossoms.

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Bride: Victoria of Baden
Remember our lovely bride from the Baden post? It seems appropriate to see her again here, since she absolutely defines the word “festooned”, as in festooned in The Bloom. Neckline, veil, bodice and skirt are all decorated with orange blossoms.

Bride: Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria wore a wedding dress that was, well, fit for a Queen. Orange flower blossoms liberally decorated the skirt and the neckline in dense bunches. Victoria also started a trend by wearing a wreath of orange blossoms instead of a tiara over her veil.

Bride: Princess Alexandra of Denmark, later Queen Alexandra
The ultimate orange blossom wedding ensemble was worn by then Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Made of white silk satin (the silk was woven at Spitalfields), the dress was trimmed throughout the skirt and bodice with orange blossoms, myrtle and puffs of tulle and Honiton lace. Princess Alexandra wore a wreath of orange blossom and myrtle, and carried a bouquet of orange blossoms, to carry through the theme.

Modern Takes on the Tradition

The orange blossom tradition does continue, although as they have become easier to procure, their prominence in royal wedding dress has receded. Both the Queen Mother and the current Queen Elizabeth wore orange blossoms scattered throughout their wedding attire. The QM wore a wreath containing the flower and Queen Elizabeth’s dress was hemmed with the blossom. In 2013, Princess Madeleine decorated the base of her tiara with orange blossom, in a lovely nod to tradition.

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Which one of these best uses orange blossoms?
Britain · Denmark

Royal Wedding Gowns – Out of the Past

Welcome our Royal Wedding Gown summer series, where we look at royal gowns from a different perspective.

While not entirely exclusive to royals, using historic and artistic references as the basis of the design of a dress is not something most brides have the resources to do. Let’s explore how some of our royal brides, and their designers, worked from paintings and history to craft one-of-a-kind, memorable gowns. Previous entries in this series include: Danish Heirloom Lace , Royal Wedding Venues and Venue Scale and Size.

Bride: Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones
Designer: Jasper Conran
Inspiration: Holbein Portrait

Given Lady Sarah Chatto’s profession, it’s not surprising that she chose an artist as the inspiration for her gown. The dress designer, Jasper Conran, delivered a square necked gown, done up in flowing georgette. With its tightly fitted bodice and dropped waist, it is a direct nod to the paintings of the sixteenth century master, Hans Holbein the Younger.

Sarah wore a simple hairstyle, similar to the style of the women in Holbein’s paintings. The adult bridesmaids dresses were of the same type of design, making the reference to the painter consistent throughout the wedding party.

Hans Holbein the Younger, Royal Collection, Public Domain

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Bride: Princess Anne
Designer: Maureen Baker of Susan Small
Inspiration: Court dress of Elizabeth I

It was said that Princess Anne herself was the force behind the idea of using court dress from the Elizabethan era as an inspiration for her 1973 gown. The designer, Maureen Baker, worked in secret for months to create the white silk dress. It had a high neck and exaggerated medieval sleeves, which opened to reveal a chiffon cuff. The train’s subtle embroidery was done by Lock’s Embroiderers. The dress was finally revealed on the wedding day, when Anne walked into Westminster Abbey.

Sketch from Maureen Baker; Mary Dudley in 16th century court dress, Wikimedia Commons

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Bride: Mary Donaldson
Designer: Uffe Frank
Inspiration: Danish Masters

Mary Donaldson was an Australian commoner marrying a Danish prince, the heir to the throne, no less. She and her designer, Uffe Frank, worked to design an overall look that would nod to Danish history and art, and to tie the bride to her new home. One of the references found in Mary’s gown are the paintings of Andreas Møller.

Møller was a Danish portrait painter, and a pioneer of miniature painting. He worked at, and was influenced by, many European courts in the early 18th century. The royal and society women of the time wore the latest low, often round necked and full skirted fashions. Bodices were tight and smooth, and often free of adornment. These features found their way into Mary Donaldson’s ivory duchess satin gown: a unique and historically influenced bridal dress.

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Which gown best reflects its influences?
Britain · Netherlands · Spain

Royal Wedding Gowns – Scale and Size

Welcome our Royal Wedding Gown summer series, where we look at royal gowns from a different perspective. In this entry, we examine how the size of location can influence the dress design. A royal bride needs to make an impact coming down the aisle. She needs to be seen not only in the venue, but by crowds on the street and often, on television screens. Previous entries in this series include: Danish Heirloom Lace and Royal Wedding Venues

Note: When I mention the size and scale of the venue, I am talking about the location of the actual religious ceremony. All these brides wore their gowns in several places on their wedding days; such is the whole point of a royal wedding.

Bride: Máxima Zorreguieta Cerruti
Designer: Valentino
Venue: Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam
Number of Guests: 1700

(Nieuwe Kerk By Arch – Own work, Public Domain,
(Queen Maxima and King Willem-Alexander by Image Source: Getty)

Nieuwe Kerk is an expansive fifteenth-century church, which is used primarily as an exhibition and arts space. Regular services are no longer held there, although is the venue for Dutch royal investiture ceremonies and the grandest of weddings. Valentino knew he had to design a dress that wouldn’t get lost in the space and the sea of guests. And he responded. He delivered a dress in heavy silk Mikado (it was February, and that helped the bride stay warm), with embroidered lace panels in the skirt that were revealed as the bride moved. But it was the back view which made the most of the venue. The designer included a five-meter (16 foot) train, and a floral hand-embroidered veil that rested over the train. The entire effect made the beautiful bride visible and interesting from front and back, and a lovely complement to her surroundings.

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This one is definitely worth a watch from the camera placed above the events. You will definitely get a feel for the scale of the venue, and the way the gown and train fill the space.

Bride: Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano 
Designer: Manuel Pertegaz
Venue: Santa María la Real de La Almudena Cathedral in Madrid, Spain

Number of Guests: Approximately 1700 (unofficial)

(Santa Maria Cathedral By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0, (Queen Letizia and KIng Felipe by Image Source: Getty)

Madrid’s cathedral is relatively new. Begun in 1879, it was constructed in fits and starts throughout the 20th century and finally consecrated by Pope John Paul in 1993. It was built to impress, size-wise, and to make a statement that Madrid was the country’s spiritual capital. The ceilings soar, and the main aisle is 102 meters long. Considering this length, Manuel Pertega designed a dress that is narrow, but long. The skirt extends from the waist and flows into a train measuring 15 feet, or 4.5 meters. From the front, the bride is a slim column, but from the side and rear, she takes up space. The dress is made from Valencia silk woven with threads of fine silver, and embroidered with fleur-de-lys flowers, the heraldic fleur-de-lys, ears of wheat, clover, and strawberries. The veil echos the shape of the train. Made from off-white silk tulle and hand-embroidered, it is embellished with scrolls and garlands of ears of wheat, and fleur-de-lys.

The criticism of this dress is that it appeared to overwhelm the slender bride, and indeed in motion, there are times when it looks like she struggles to control all that fabric. In still photos, however, you can see what the designer aimed for, the feeling of stature in an enormous venue.

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Bride: Lady Diana Spencer
Venue: St. Paul’s Cathedral, London
Designers: David and Elizabeth Emanuel
Number of Guests: 2,650

(St. Paul’s Cathedral By Photo: Harland Quarrington MoD/MOD, OGL v1.0, (Princess Diana and Prince Charles by Image Source: Getty)

We can’t talk about scale without talking about this wedding. St. Paul’s is one of the grandest possible venues possible for a wedding. The present building dates from the late 17th century, and was designed in the English baroque style by Sir Christopher Wren . The dome dominates the London skyline, and the building is one of the largest churches in England. It can hold up to 3,500 worshipers. By any measure, this is an impressive space.

First-time royal wedding dress designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel had a task in front of them to make their very young bride both visible and memorable in the midst of all the space, people and hubbub of this event. When talking about the failures of the dress, most people point to the eighties excess and the wrinkled fabric, however, their major success was that the designers correctly accounted for the scale of the event. A pared-down, minimalist bride would have been lost in this venue, and the designers understood that.

The Emanuels delivered a dress that was big by any measure. The fabric was an ivory pure silk taffeta with Carrickmacross lace panels, said to be from Queen Mary, at the front and back of the bodice. The volume was achieved in the full skirt, lace-flounced sleeves, and a neckline enhanced with taffeta bows. The old lace-trimmed train was twenty-five feet long.

Time often isn’t kind to this dress, but there is no denying the effect of the very young bride, in her very big dress, on the steps of one of the grandest cathedrals of them all.

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Which gown do you feel was scaled best to the venue?
Britain · Greece · Sweden

Royal Wedding Gowns – Venue

Welcome our Royal Wedding Gown summer series, where we look at royal gowns from a different perspective. Today we’ll talk about how the venue of royal weddings can influence the design of the dress. In the previous entry to this series, we discussed how heirloom lace can transform an ordinary gown to a royal gown.

Most royals are not getting married on the beach or in a village church, but in historic and royal spaces. In some cases, very grand spaces. The dress designer is often tasked with providing a dress to stand up to such surroundings. Let’s take a look at three brides and how their dresses reflected the venue of their weddings.

Bride: Marie Chantal Miller
Dress Designer: Valentino
Venue: St. Sophia Cathedral, London

(Photo of St. Sophia: by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0″)
(Photo of Marie Chantal by Source, Fair use,

St Sophia is a Greek Orthodox Church built in a Byzantine Revival design. The interior is an explosion of color and intricate design. When Valentino was tapped for the design, he probably looked around at the venue, rolled up his sleeves, and set to designing a dress to stand up to the mosaics and intricate tiling. The designer delivered a heavy ivory silk dress with rose appliques, a lace bodice – with twelve different kinds of lace – and sleeves decorated with floral motifs.  The bride borrowed the Antique Corsage Tiara from Queen Anne-Marie to attach her 4 and 1/2 meter long Chantilly lace veil. The veil was finished with a scalloped edge and butterfly embroidery. It is a very complicated bridal ensemble, and some say it overwhelms the delicate bride, but it holds up to the intricately designed interior of the church.

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Bride: Lady Helen Taylor
Dress Designer: Catherine Walker
Venue: St. George’s Chapel, Windsor

(Photo of St. George interior by Josep Renalias – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link)

St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle is designed in the high-medieval Gothic style. Catherine Walker was inspired by the soaring arches in the chapel, and created a dress for Lady Helen that reflects the architecture in its wide neckline and sleeves. The cathedral length train and the full skirt filled some of the wide aisle space in the chapel. Helen chose some dramatic jewelry that also gave a nod to the venue: a diamond and pearl necklace, matching earrings, and a modified fringe tiara of diamonds and pearls. The designer added the embroidery to the dress after learning of the bride’s jewelry choices. Altogether, the ensemble is unique, and a gorgeous reflection of the environment.

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Bride: Princess Madeleine of Sweden
Dress Designer: Valentino
Venue: Royal Chapel, Stockholm Palace, Sweden

(Royal Chapel By Holger.Ellgaard – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, (Princess Madeleine and Chris O’Neill Photo credit: Ewa-Marie Rundquist, Swedish Royal Court

The Royal Chapel’s design was completed in the mid 1700s. The sculptures, statues and ceiling paintings were produced by the foremost craftsmen of the period. The predominant feel of the chapel is ornate, but filled with light. The primary color is white, with gold accents. Valentino, a practiced purveyor of royal gowns at this point, designed a dress for Madeleine that reflected the light and romantic overtones of the chapel. The gown was made of silk organza with ivory-colored Chantilly lace. The a wide skirt, rimmed with a deep ruffle, flowed a four-meter train. Her veil was also silk organza, edged with tulle and small lace orange blossoms. Princess Madeleine chose to wear the Modern Fringe Tiara, but I believe that traditional Cameo Tiara might have tied this look to the venue event even more strongly. Still, the hyper-feminine effect melded beautifully with the summer day in the light filled chapel.

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Which dress coordinates best with the venue?