09 March 2011

Wedding Wednesday: Queen Elizabeth II's Gown

A wee while ago, reader Lea emailed me with a suggestion for a new blog feature: Wedding Wednesdays. Say what?!? Combining my love for royal weddings and my love for slightly cheesy days-of-the-week themed posts?! Reader Lea is a genius. Like Einstein, but with better hair. Let's do this thing:

We might as well kick off our new feature with one of the most famous royal wedding gowns of all time, that of Queen Elizabeth II.
Princess Elizabeth married Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten on November 20, 1947 in Westminster Abbey. I think you could call this wedding the beginning of what we know now as Royal Wedding Fever. Post-war Britain needed a pick-me-up, and their pretty, dutiful young Princess stepped up.
The bride selected court dressmaker Norman Hartnell for the design duties, as she would continue to do for decades to come. Hartnell's inspiration for the gown was Botticelli's Primavera (above left), which symbolizes the coming of Spring - certainly a metaphor for England's rebirth after the war. The result (his sketch, above right) was a rather intricate and dreamy creation in ivory duchesse satin that was both extravagant and yet somehow fitting for the austere times.
Just like everyone else in the country, Princess Elizabeth had to fund her gown with clothing ration coupons. Unlike everyone else, she was allowed 200 extra coupons by the government. Famously, people sent in their own coupons to help the Princess out (these were sent back with a note of thanks, since it was illegal for her to use them). In another sign of the times, the public had to be reassured that the silkworms used to create the gown came from China, rather than enemy countries such as Italy and Japan.
The gown was heavily embroidered with thousands of seed pearls (flown in from the United States), silver thread, crystals, and tulle appliqués. I do wonder how much this gown weighed, with all this going on. Amongst all this embroidery, you can be pretty much assured all your symbolic bases were covered.
The train was silk tulle embroidered in a star pattern that extended 13 foot back from the bride's shoulders. The silk tulle veil was shorter than the train, leaving the embroidery to be the star of the show. The overall effect is quite diaphanous, like a halo of tulle surrounding the bride.
The bride accessorized with sandals in ivory duchesse satin fastened with a silver buckle ornamented with yet more pearls. Her bridal bouquet was made of white orchids (and the traditional sprig of myrtle) and was sent back to the Abbey the day after the wedding to rest on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as was tradition to do. In one of the many  hitches experienced by the bride on her wedding day, her bouquet was temporarily lost until someone remembered it was in a refrigerator.
The shorter of her two pearl necklaces was the 'Queen Anne' necklace, said to have belonged to Anne, the last Stuart Queen. The longer 'Queen Caroline' necklace was said to have belonged to the wife of King George II. Both were left to the Crown by Queen Victoria and were given to Elizabeth as a wedding present by her father, King George VI. In another mishap, both were left on display with the rest of the gifts at St. James Palace and had to be fetched through the crowds. They were returned to Buckingham Palace with minutes to spare before the bride's departure. Her earrings were a 20th birthday present from Queen Mary, who had inherited them from her mother.
The diamond fringe tiara was lent to the Queen on her wedding day by her mother (and will be detailed further in tomorrow's tiara discussion). And in yet another wedding day oops, the frame of the gem broke as the bride was putting it on and had to be quickly repaired. She must be an awfully calm person, the Queen: that's a lot of important mishaps to take on one's wedding day.

This dress has far more detailing on it than is usually my taste, but somehow I've always liked it. Unlike some gowns that suit their times but get swept away by the changing current of the trends, I think this one stands strong. You know it was the ultimate dress for the time, and for the Princess, and sometimes that's all that matters.

And you? Is this a favorite or yours - or not?

Photos: Getty Images/Central Press/Hulton Archives/Berty Hardy/Picture Post/JA Hampton/Topical Press Agency