07 March 2012

Wedding Wednesday: The Countess of Wessex's Gown

 HRH Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Sophie Rhys-Jones
June 19, 1999
St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle

When Prince Edward married, it seemed like the whole theme and idea of the wedding was to mark a departure from the royal weddings of the past. Queen Elizabeth's youngest child did not get married in St. Paul's Cathedral or Westminster Abbey like his older siblings, but in the cozier St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. It wasn't a state occasion and the prime minister wasn't invited. There was no balcony wave, and no kiss for the cameras. Even the guests had to switch it up: the early evening wedding demanded long dresses with covered shoulders and no hats for the ladies.
The bridal gown was a departure too. Sophie, Edward's long-time girlfriend, chose designer Samantha Shaw to create her wedding dress. The end result was a v-neck coat made of hand-dyed ivory silk organza with tulle and silk crepe. The coat was paneled and adorned with approximately 325,000 pearl and cut-glass beads, and featured a train and a longer veil.
The dress seemed to honor the history of St. George's Chapel with its slight medieval feel, and the outfits of the children in the bridal party paid homage to another significant part of the cathedral's story: the Order of the Garter. St. George's Chapel is the home of the Garter, and the blue velvet capes worn by the children were a wee interpretation of the famous Garter robes.
Sophie wore a tiara lent to her by the queen and possibly composed of elements from Queen Victoria's Regal Circlet (though the exact provenance was not officially released). It is a tiara which has drawn much ire, but not nearly as much as the rest of her wedding jewelry: her earrings and cross necklace are black and white pearls and were designed by Prince Edward. Horribly clunky thing, that necklace.
I have qualms about the wedding jewels, and to tell you the truth, I have qualms about the rest of the thing too. I can't help but find fault in some of the finer points of the execution here: the train and veil sort of collapsed into a trailing ribbon as she walked down the aisle, the veil fell victim to the wind both entering and exiting the cathedral (and didn't make the prettiest of silhouettes when draped over the pointy tiara on arrival).  And most of all, it didn't fit - it seems too large for Sophie, as though her ritual bridal slim down went faster than the tailoring could handle.
That said, I also think that there was no other dress for Sophie. This was the perfect choice for this bride and this wedding. If the dress was a departure from the previous big fat royal wedding norm, so was the bride: she was 34 years old and ran her own public relations firm when she married Edward. She was no young girl fulfilling a fairy tale role. I don't think she could have or should have attempted some massive meringue thing. My qualms are all execution, not concept.
As we've discussed in the past, after a bumpy road trying to make it as royals in the commercial world, Sophie and Edward are both now full-time royals. Edward received the titles of Earl of Wessex and Viscount Severn on his wedding day with the note that he will someday become the Duke of Edinburgh. The couple now has two children, Louise and James, and they are styled as the children of an earl (Lady Louise and Viscount Severn).
The wedding, Part 1
I've received many requests to feature this gown, so I'm anxious to know what you think...

Was Sophie's dress a success, or not?

Photos: Life/BBC/AllOver Press/Hello