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“She had not the least gentility of appearance and her manners were shockingly vulgar, particularly when she stood up,” the May 1816 issue of The Lady’s Magazine reported.
This unflattering description was reserved for Princess Charlotte, known for her feisty nature. However, the princess traded her tomboyish ways for a delicate and ornate gown on her wedding day on May 2, 1816. Her dress was constructed of silver lame and net over a silver slip. The empire line gown was femininely embroidered at the hem with shells and flowers, while the bodice and sleeves were trimmed with Brussels lace. She also wore a French fashioned bonnet decorated with a wreath.
Although a largely popular princess, Charlotte did not possess the kind of self-command required by a princess and friction with her husband abound, although he always managed to ‘tame’ her before public appearances, where she apparently stood before him like a young rebellious boy in a petticoat. What an English rose.
Prior to Queen Victoria’s wedding in 1840, dresses were worn in all colours (including black) and were usually just a ‘Sunday best’ kind of outfit as against an expensive once-in-a-lifetime luxurious gown which left a gaping hole in your pocket. With her choice of white satin and lace, Queen Victoria popularized the now-traditional white wedding dress. A white gown was considered an extravagance because it couldn’t really be worn for future events
Queen Victoria met her husband to be, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha at the age of 17 in 1836. He was her first cousin which, although weird now, was common practice in aristocratic circles. She went on to become Queen of England a year later aged eighteen and married Prince Albert at St James’s Palace in London on February 10, 1840.
Her choice of a white silk and satin wedding gown was unusual for Victoria, both as a bride and even more so as a monarch. Stripping herself of the family’s affluent regalia, she opted for a minimal diamond necklace and earrings. Also doing away with a heavily-encrusted tiara, she wore a wreath of orange blossoms as a symbol of fertility. It must have worked like a charm, because Queen Victoria was delivered of nine children.
Popularly known as the Queen mother, Elizabeth was the first British ‘commoner’ to marry into the royal family in around 200 years, and accepted Prince Albert’s proposal, later King George VI, after his third attempt. They wed on January 13, 1923.
The wedding dress was designed by a former court dressmaker to Queen Mary, Madame Handley Seymour, and received little celebration for its beauty as it was considered unglamorous and conservative. In 1923, fashion had done away with frills, bows and fancy fabrics. Straight, fairly shapeless dresses took centre stage, popularised by Chanel’s eveningwear. However, the design is said to have looked ill-fitting on Elizabeth, because of her curvy figure. Despite being a charming, captivating woman and good wife material for a king, she did not exude natural glamour when compared to her contemporaries.
Their wedding was a public affair at Westminster Abbey instead of the Royal Chapel, breaking away from traditional practices. It is believed that the decision was based on the hope of lifting the nation’s spirits, following the ravages of World War I.
On November 20, 1947, Princess Elizabeth, who was later crowned Queen Elizabeth II, married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, in a wedding dress that remains amongst the most memorable for a Royal wedding.
Numerous factors confined the couple’s hopes for marrying at the time. Philip, although of noble bloodlines, did not have many fortunes. He was also Greek Orthodox and, most importantly at the time, was not approved of by Elizabeth’s mother because of his ties to Germany, (considering the engagement’s proximity to the end of World War II). Although born in Greece and raised in Britain, he had spent some school age years in Germany. Additionally, his sisters had married German nobleman with suspected Nazi ties. As a result, Philip was nicknamed “The Hun” by Elizabeth’s mother.
This made for some interesting developments for the wedding. While they were eventually allowed to marry, none of Philip’s relatives were allowed to attend the ceremony. Most surprisingly, since post-war England was still rationing goods, Elizabeth had to save up her ration coupons for the fabric of her royal wedding gown, just like any other bride.
The dress was created by designer Norman Hartnell, who had experience in theatre costumes. Understanding the level of competence required for such an event, he drew inspiration from artist Botticelli’s figures and transposed flora found in his paintings onto a modern dress through the use of white crystals and pearls. Hartnell special ordered 20,000 pearls from the US.
The finished product was a beautifully crafted white silk satin dress, embroidered with floral motifs of orange blossoms, jasmine, wheat and white rose of York. The embroidery was carried out using crystals and 10,000 of those pearls, and also embellished the sweetheart neckline, long sleeves, hem and fifteen foot train. A long silk tulle veil and small diamond tiara- the ‘something borrowed’ from her mother- sealed her regal appearance.
Princess Margaret, daughter of the Queen Mother, had interests in art and fashion, and created buzz and anticipation when she announced her engagement to Anthony Armstrong Jones, a professional photographer. Their wedding was the first to ever be televised, drawing in around 20 million viewers, while thousands of nationals lined the streets to witness the event.
Norman Hartnell also designed this memorable Royal number, constructed of white silk organza. A jacket-style bodice with long sleeves and a V-cut neckline flattered Margaret’s petite frame, together with a full skirt cinched at the waist made of 40 yards of fabric draped over tulle petticoats.
Princess Margaret’s fashion choices were recently used as inspiration by some of the UK’s most celebrated designers. Christopher Kane’s spring/summer 2011 collection was described by the brand as “Princess Margaret on acid”; a catch phrase portraying the contemporary twist on early 1960s modesty (surely how she would have liked to be remembered).
Although she will always be known as one of the royal family’s most controversial members, she was also lauded for being the most stylish. She died in 2002, after suffering a stroke in her sleep.