08 June 2011

Wedding Wednesday: The Duchess of Kent's Gown

 HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, and Miss Katharine Worsley
June 8, 1961
York Minster, York, England

Today is the golden wedding anniversary of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, so I thought we'd commemorate the occasion by remembering this young, aristocratic girl named Kate and her royal wedding dress.
On the recommendation of her future mother-in-law, Princess Marina, Katharine chose John Cavanagh to design her gown (just as Princess Alexandra would do two years later).
Both Marina and Katharine had reservations about the gown while in the design phase. They were concerned about the scale, which appeared massive in the designer's work room. They were also concerned about the weight and the pull of the train. Cavanagh had to reassure them that the scale would be fitting within the cathedral, and had to help the soon-to-be Duchess with her curtsying form to accommodate the train pull. She also had to practice kneeling and standing to be certain she'd be able to move in the gown without assistance. Quite a production, this gown must have been.
Of course, the designer turned out to be correct. Rather than marrying in London, the couple married in the bride's territory: at York Minster, near her childhood home of Hovingham Hall. The "Westminster Abbey of the North" hadn't hosted a royal wedding since Edward III in 1328. Her 15 foot double train, edged in satin, did all it could to fill the enormous cathedral.
The gown was crafted from 237 yards of diaphanous white silk gauze made in France and patterned with a design that glimmered with a pearl luster.
The tight bodice and stiff neckline give way to a huge full skirt. The whole effect creates the tiniest of waists for the bride, and I have to say, makes it one of the most ladylike wedding gowns I've ever seen. It also makes it immediately evident why the aforementioned practice was required to move in this structural dress. Click here to see video of the wedding, and the dress in action.
Atop her white tulle veil, she wore a small diamond bandeau tiara once worn by Queen Mary. She actually had three veils made: one for her understudy at rehearsals (now that's a wedding production, when the bride requires an understudy), one she actually wore, and another to be kept at Hovingham Hall in case it was needed for the official photographs.
The Duke and Duchess of Kent haven't had the easiest run of it in their fifty married years. They've dealt with a stillborn child as well as depression and illness on the part of the Duchess. In 1994, she drew headlines for converting to Catholicism. She withdrew almost entirely from official royal life, and started working as a school music teacher. These days, we only see the Duchess at the largest royal events. The couple have three children (George, the Earl of St. Andrews; Lady Helen Taylor; Lord Nicholas Windsor) and nine grandchildren.

Do you think the gown has aged well over the past 50 years? 

Photos: Christopher Warwick/Rex Features/Getty Images