Weddings are about commitment, celebration and, of course, love but there’s really only one element that most guests look forward to — the bridal gown.
It’s no different for royal nuptials; in fact, with the world watching on, there’s even more pressure on the bride to get the dress absolutely right.
Whether they opted for a 25-foot train (Princess Diana), a puffy ‘80s sleeve (the Duchess of York) or a vintage frock (Princess Beatrice), brides of the British royal family have been turning heads in their wedding dresses for generations.
Princess Beatrice in the Queen’s vintage dress
While she caught us all off guard with her secret wedding to Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi on July 17, it was Princess Beatrice’s choice of bridal gown that really surprised.
Instead of opting for a modern designer dress, the 31-year-old decided to honour her grandmother, the Queen, by wearing one of her vintage frocks.
The ivory Peau De Soie taffeta dress was designed by Norman Hartnell — who was also behind the Queen’s own wedding gown — and features an ivory Duchess satin trim and a geometric checkered bodice.
Her Majesty’s dressmakers, Angela Kelly and Stewart Parvin refitted the dress to suit Beatrice, adding organza sleeves to the diamanté encrusted straps.
The royal bride also borrowed the same tiara worn by the Queen on her wedding day to Prince Philip over eighty years ago.
Known as the ‘Queen Mary diamond fringe tiara,’ the sparkler was made for Queen Mary by Garrard and Co. in 1919, from a diamond necklace given by Queen Victoria for her wedding.
Princess Eugenie in Peter Pilotto
Princess Beatrice’s younger sister, Princess Eugenie, tied the knot with Jack Brooksbank in an off-the-shoulder design in October 2018.
The 30-year-old commissioned Austrian-born, British-based designer Peter Pilotto to create her sleek gown which featured a fitted bodice and full pleated skirt.
The dress’s backless design allowed for the royal’s back scar to be on full display; Eugenie underwent major surgery at the age of 12 to correct the curvature of her spine.
Meghan Markle in Givenchy
For her wedding to Prince Harry in May 2018, Meghan Markle selected a custom Givenchy dress designed by the brand’s then-artistic director Clare Waight Keller.
Described as ‘modern and fresh’ by the designer, the gown featured long sleeves and a boat neck and is estimated to have cost a cool AU$360,000.
The former actor’s 15ft veil was embroidered with 53 flowers from all over the British Commonwealth and was secured by the Queen Mary diamond bandeau tiara on loan from her new grandmother-in-law.
For the reception, Meghan slipped into a halterneck dress by British designer Stella McCartney which she accessorised with a sweet tribute to her late mother-in-law, one of Diana’s aquamarine rings.
Kate Middleton in Alexander McQueen
Meghan’s sister-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge, also opted for a big-name designer to create her bridal gown for her April 2011 nuptials.
Kate Middleton said ‘I do’ to Prince William wearing a bespoke Alexander McQueen gown by creative director Sarah Burton that was rumoured to have cost AU$445,000.
Featuring long, lace sleeves and a 2.7m train, the dress melded tradition and modernity and sparked countless knock-offs by retailers such as H&M.
The future queen topped off her wedding look with the Cartier scroll tiara — Queen Elizabeth II’s 18th birthday gift — and a bouquet that included her late mother-in-law Diana’s favourite flowers, Lily of the Valley.
Zara Tindall in Stewart Parvin
For her July 2011 wedding to UK rugby star Mike Tindall, Princess Anne’s daughter Zara Phillips donned a ready-to-wear gown by one of the Queen’s go-to dressmakers, Stewart Parvin.
The ivory silk dress featured a chevron-pleated bodice and a drop-waist that showed off the then-30-year-old’s curves.
Zara’s veil was secured with the Meander Tiara, which was loaned to her by her mother for her big day.
Sophie, Countess of Wessex in Samantha Shaw
Sophie, Countess of Wessex wed the Queen’s youngest son, Prince Edward, in a dress by British designer Samantha Shaw in June 1999.
Constructed from hand-dyed silk organza and crepe, the v-neck gown was studded with 325,000 cut-glass crystals and pearl beads.
The bride wore a black-and-white pearl necklace and matching earrings — both designed by her husband-to-be — along with a diamond tiara from the Queen's private collection.
Sarah, Duchess of York in Lindka Cierach
When Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson in July 1986, the bride’s dress was the source of much consternation among royal watchers due to its largely unknown designer, Lindka Cierach.
The Duchess of York was Lindka’s first big client and the heavily beaded ivory duchess satin gown put her firmly in the spotlight.
“Lindka was a genius,” Fergie reflected in her 1997 memoir, My Story. “I knew she could make the most flattering gown ever, and she had. It was amazingly boned, like a corset.”
For her part, Lindka revealed how she “wanted [Fergie’s] sense of fun to come out in the dress,” but tells how she vetoed her idea of embroidering lovebirds and helicopters into the fabric.
In a nod to her sister-in-law Princess Diana’s lengthy train, Fergie’s own train measured 17ft and featured the intertwined initials A and S sewn in silver beads.
Princess Diana in Emanuel
Arguably one of the most iconic royal wedding dresses of all time was worn by Lady Diana Spencer for her July 1981 wedding to Prince Charles.
Princess Diana entrusted designer duo David and Elizabeth Emanuel to create her ivory silk taffeta and antique lace gown, which was kept a closely-guarded secret in the lead up to the big day.
While the designers themselves declared the entire look ‘suitably dramatic,’ it was the epic 25ft train that captivated the worldwide audience tuning in to the live telecast.
The train, coupled with an equally impressive 140m tulle veil, proved rather impractical on the day as it barely fit inside the carriage that shuttled Diana to St Paul’s Cathedral.
Instead of accepting her future mother-in-law’s offer to borrow the Queen Mary's Lover's Knot Tiara, Diana opted to pay homage to her family and wear the Spencer family tiara.
Princess Anne in Maureen Baker
The Queen’s only daughter, Princess Anne, wed her first husband, Mark Phillips, in November 1973 in a custom dress by Maureen Baker, the chief designer for the ready-to-wear label Susan Small.
Described as ‘Tudor-style,’ the gown featured a high-neck and long, fluted sleeves reminiscent of the medieval era. The remainder of the dress was kept simple which gave it an of-the-moment feel.
Like her mother, the Princess Royal also wore the Queen Mary diamond fringe tiara — which her niece, Princess Beatrice, would go on to wear for her own nuptials over four decades later.
Queen Elizabeth II in Norman Hartnell
The Queen — then 21-year-old Princess Elizabeth — walked down the aisle to marry Prince Philip in November 1947 wearing an intricate design by Norman Hartnell.
Featuring a fashionable fit-and-flare silhouette, the dress was made from Chinese silk embroidered with flowers — Hartnell’s speciality — as well as crystals and 10,000 pearls.
At 13ft, her bridal train was on the shorter side by modern standards and was overlaid by a tulle veil topped with the glittering Queen Mary diamond fringe tiara.
As the ceremony took place just a few short years after the end of WWII, the Queen was obliged to pay for the fabric for the dress using clothing ration coupons just like any other bride. She did, however, receive some special treatment from the UK government in the form of 200 extra coupons, plus more donated by the British public.
Additional reporting by Alison Coldridge.