British Royal Wedding Four Years On: The Bride

2011-04-29 William and Catherine

While much of the royal watching world has their attention glued to the doors of a certain hospital’s maternity wing, it seems like a great time to take a royal hat detour. Numerous readers here have requested look back at the hats worn at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. As the couple celebrates their fourth anniversary tomorrow, let’s revisit these millinery masterpieces.

Before we get to the hats, we need to look back at the bride. Expectations for Kate’s gown were monumental- not only was this a dress for a future queen, it was going to placed under more media scrutiny than any other British royal wedding gown had ever been before. Kate entrusted this challenge to Sarah Burton, creative director at Alexander McQueen, and reports are that the two worked closely together on the design.

The dress’ bodice followed a decidedly traditional shape, thanks to a McQueen signature boned corset, with a cinched waist and sweetheart neckline. Made of ivory satin gazar, it was overlaid in appliquéd silk net tulle; 58 gazar and organza buttons fastened up the back with rouleau loops.

While initial reports stated the lace was handmade, the Royal School of Needlework confirmed that the lace appliqué was cut out of larger lengths of lace produced on large 19th-century machines (from Sophie Hallette and Solstiss in France as well as the Cluny Lace Company in Derbyshire) then hand stitched to silk net tulle. This method of assembly created the illusion of lace woven to perfectly (and symmetrically) fit the bodice of the dress.

In a patriotic nod, Kate reportedly requested the lace include all flowers of Great Britain- roses for England, daffodils for Wales, thistles for Scotland, and shamrocks for Northern Ireland.

Following a traditionally Victorian shape, the dress was lightly padded at the hips and opened into a long, full skirt. The pleated skirt, described by McQueen as designed to echo an opening flower, featured a back bustle which flowed into a three metre (nine foot) train. Unlike many other trains on royal wedding dresses, McQueen’s incomparable structure held the shape of the dress and the train beautifully as Kate walked the aisle of Westminster Abbey. I loved how the train seamlessly flowed from the skirt, making it look like an integrated part of the design (instead of looking like a long bed sheet thrown on the back, as many royal wedding trains unfortunately do).

Also made of satin gazar, the skirt was covered in the same lace appliqué as the bodice. Unfortunately, the intricate lacework did not show up well on video and the detail we see now in photographs was not visible to viewers on television.

Kate topped her gown with a fingertip veil of ivory silk tulle edged in lace. For her processional down the aisle, she wore the blusher over her face. During the first hymn, her father folded it back.

Kate’s veil was was anchored by the Halo tiara; the scroll motif of the tiara was a beautiful compliment to the delicate lace on her gown and edging her veil. The Middletons commissioned diamond earrings for the daughter as a wedding present. The earrings that incorporated the scroll of the tiara and an acorn from their family crest.

Kate changed into a different McQueen gown for the private evening reception. The strapless dress was also made of white satin gazar and featured similar padded hips and full skirt. A diamante studded belt gave a little sparkle and Kate topped the dress with a short white angora cardigan to keep away the evening chill. While this dress was an anticlimactic end to Kate’s wedding fashion, it looks like a fun frock for dancing.

It was reported that Kate’s ‘something old’ was the 19th century style lace on her dress, ‘something new was her dress and earrings, ‘something borrowed’ was the tiara, and ‘something blue’ was a ribbon sewn inside the dress. While this may or not be true, what’s clear is that Kate followed very traditional shapes and materials for her dress. At the time, I remember those in the fashion world being slightly underwhelmed as it was not the high fashion masterpiece they had hoped for. Looking back, Kate’s dress seems entirely her- traditional, understated and classic with a subtle modern twist. It’s a royal wedding dress that I think will stand the test of time and look as beautiful to us viewers in 40 years as it does to us now. I think it  is a dress of exquisite detail that was a perfect proportion for both Kate and for Westminster Abbey.

What did you think of Kate’s wedding dresses? Did you think the Halo tiara was the right choice for her? Stay tuned first thing tomorrow morning for our first look at the hats worn at this wedding. As I’m sure you can recall, there were some corkers.

32 thoughts on “British Royal Wedding Four Years On: The Bride

  1. I did not know about all the restrictions on royal wedding dresses before this wedding and just learned today that it had to be long sleeved. Since Kate has such a long, lean figure I was hoping for a more fitted dress-mermaid style or something more column-like. But, now that I know Kate’s style better and all the details of the dress that did not show up on TV I really like it. I am impressed by all the thought that went into it with the flowers on the lace and the hints of medieval and Victorian style with the bustle and the opening “like a flower” of the skirt. I think Kate was very respectful of the role she was taking on through this marriage. It was very beautiful dress and I agree that it will stand the test of time.

    • Hmmm… I don’t remember anything official about a dress code at Westminster Abbey so I don’t think long sleeves were required. The last major royal wedding held there was Andrew and Sarah’s in 1986 and Sarah’s dress did not have long sleeves.

  2. I was underwhelmed by Kate’s dress. I have seen this style of dress before. I have seen much better bridal dresses on the ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ TV show and in bridal stores. In its favour, the train attaching directly was good, though a few feet longer would have given it more impact in the large Abbey corridor. I liked the veil, but it was a thick fabric, and when the blusher section was down, it was difficult to make out the tiara and the details on the dress. This tiara is beautiful and feminine, but alas it was too small to wear with this veil and with her hair down. The lace detail looks good in close-up, but from the TV coverage, it didn’t look good. It sits on the list of my least favourite royal wedding outfits.

  3. I think Royal Wedding dresses are daunting to create. On the one hand you have a bride with individual style and expectations of HER day, trying to balance that with tradition, the hopes and expectations of the public, and the enormity of the occasion. There are only so many necklines, skirt styles and colours of white that can be worked with, so, inevitably, there will be a comparison to another Royal bride’s dress.

    I thought this dress was beautiful, and the construction of the skirt, especially when you study the photos, was exquisite. The dress is elegant and timeless and will stand up well in the decades to come.

  4. The train is constructed brilliantly. The bodice is too low and her bosom could have been a bit softer. Eyeliner was too harsh but she looked like herself – important for this big day. If that’s how William thinks she looks beautiful then who are we to argue? Not my favorite royal wedding gown but certainly not the worst.

  5. I think this dress is stunning, gorgeous, fabulously elegant, flattering and perfectly tailored. Like a couple of other readers, I find the neckline a tad too deep.
    And I also think that since that very day, lace dresses and lace in general have become more popular, at least in France (where I live).

    Not a huge fan of the evening gown. We don’t have enough pictures to see it properly! 🙂

  6. I loved Kate’s dress. Everyone said it was a copy of Princess Grace’s dress but it’s cut very different. Thanks for explaining how the lace was made. I always wondered how they could possibly have woven lace in a pattern that fit her so perfect.

  7. I still think this is one of the best wedding dresses I’ve ever seen; very timeless and full of great detail. I especially love the nod to all parts of the UK with the lace detailing in the dress: roses, daffodils, thistles, and shamrocks. Kate looked stunning, and yet it wasn’t over the top.

  8. I love the Halo tiara; however, it’s too small to wear as a wedding tiara, and it disappeared when Kate’s blusher was over it. It looked its best when the young Princess Anne wore it in her bouffant updos. I didn’t like the dress and I thought it just looked like a rip-off of Princess Grace’s dress. It was tacky too, way too low-cut and without appropriate undies. The evening reception dress was too plain, and also needed appropriate undies. As for Pippa’s dress, it was totally inappropriate for a bridesmaid’s dress.

    • You said Kate’s dress was “tacky too, way too low-cut and without appropriate undies”. You and I are seeing 2 totally different dresses. How is it tacky? It’s made of lace and silk. Not tacky at all. Low cut? The top of the dress fits perfectly and nothing is on display that shouldn’t be. And how can you even comment about Kate’s undies since you didn’t see them. That’s so rude.

      Calling Pippa’s dress inappropriate shows how little you know about current fashion. Get a grip.

      • You are entitled to your opinion Gigi. There was an aerial camera angle where you could see right down the top of Kate’s dress in the TV coverage I watched. It looks like there is no bra under the Wedding or Reception dresses she wore. I will never like Pippa’s dress nor will I ever be convinced it was an appropriate bridesmaid’s dress. I hate cowl necklines with a passion too. If you like these clothes, then good for you.

        • Let’s keep things respectful. To be fair, I assume that Kate’s dress, like most couture dresses, had the right ‘supports’ constructed into the dress and there would have been no need for her to wear a bra.

  9. I have to agree with mostly everyone is saying, the dress was pretty but underwhelming–and too low cut. The best part was the tiara and veil.

  10. I remember being in the camp of those were slightly disappointed in the dress, not because it isn’t lovely but being a huge fan of Alexander McQueen, when I learned it was the House of McQueen who designed it, I just thought it a bit too expected. Not surprised at the beautiful tailoring and detailing but hoped for something with a little more originality. I remember that I had bought my young daughters the royal wedding themed “Sticky Dolly Dressing” books BEFORE the wedding and the gown featured on the cover was the same design as Kate’s actual dress. I don’t think there was a leak–I just think that the design was so predictable that even Usborne had it pegged before the big day!

    • The overall look of the dress wasn’t particularly original – lace bodice and sleeves over a lower lining, full skirt etc – but the detail, the detail. The perfect fit, the way the flower petal train opened out at the back and held its shape so beautifully – that’s couture. I don’t think there’s much scope for royal brides to be all that original, to be honest – there are norms (shoulders covered, substantial train and all that) to which they have to conform. We’re not going to see an avant garde dress on one of these brides, I don’t think. Princess Mabel probably came the closest, but even her bow-bedecked dress was basically a classic shape.

  11. My first look at the gown was when she got into the car at the Goring (got up at 4am to watch with my mid-80’s aunt at her house). Almost perfect, but way too low in the front -there were a number of pap shots straight down her front, like from the mid-aisle over structure (sorry, don’t know the proper term offhand) and when she bent over on the balcony….just wrong, for any bride -it’s not a T&A show after all. And the makeup -applied with a trowel? Loved the choice of tiara, the veil -wonder how much the dress weighed?

  12. Goodness, I seem to be the lone voice! I thought she looked perfect. I remember talking to my daughter and saying “perfect, absolutely perfect”. The dress, the veil, the tiara, the flowers, the earrings! She looked like a wedding doll and the only critique I have is her overly aging eyeliner! I’ve not changed my opinion. I still think she looks perfect.

    • I did too, she was just beautiful. It’s how she wanted to look. I’m sure she went back and looked at the video, maybe she was aware of the cleavage thing after, but I guess not anymore than her dresses flying up when she was on tour. Twice, but I don’t think she really cares what anyone thinks. She was marrying her soul mate, and happier than any one has ever been. Probably still is. But everything went on without a hitch, my dress she wore was going to be scrutinized, and a timeless dress that will be looked at for centuries to come like Victoria. I just wish I could find my soul mate like her. Blessings!

  13. I’m not really a fan of her style in general and didn’t really like the veil, tiara, make up and hair in her wedding look. But the dress… The dress is absolutely amazing. I love the vintage flair and all the little details in it. Also, as you pointed out Hat Queen, the train flowed from the skirt gorgeously and in general this dress seems to be a absolute masterpiece in it’s execution. Everything fits, looks sophisticated and flawless. Loved it.

  14. I think I totally concur here. I remember feeling initially disappointed – it offered nothing new or original, and wasn’t even that ‘big’ (but then I did grow up I’m the Di and Fergie era!) it’s just looked like an updated version of Princess Grace’s dress to me.

    However – she looked undoubtedly beautiful. And the construction is exquisite – I went to see it at Buckingham Palace and the detail was amazing. So I’ve changed my view – it’s a wonderful dress in its execution and fit for the bride. I just wish the design had been a tad more original.

    And I’ve always rather liked the halo tiara – although I think I might just have preferred the lotus flower – I think it fitted her bridal look very well.

  15. It wasn’t the EPIC dress I wanted her to have but now that we know her more, it was the right dress for her. Never saw such a good view of the skirt before and the train-skirt combo is good. I think I saw a pic of her shoes and they were also covered in the same lace.

  16. I agree with Hatqueen, MrFitzroyobe, Penelope and Jane. Beautiful dress that will stand the test of time, unlike Princess Diana’s I think. I myself followed Princess Diana a lot when I was young as we were only 2 weeks apart in age. I grew disenchanted with her as the years wore on but always followed her fashions.

  17. Thank you HatQueen for a lovely and complete walk down memory lane.
    MrFitzroy thinks that the dress was right for the occasion and will stand the test of time. Unlike some royal wedding gowns, it may not be an instantly recognizable icon, but it fit the tenor of the occasion and seemed most appropriate for the particular bride. It will stand the test of time.
    It’s wonderful to see the details in lace and design in the still photos that did not translate well in the televised coverage, one can only imagine that the dress is even more lovely in person. MrFitzroy recalls being a bit underwhelmed by the tiara while watching the wedding, but in hindsight, it seems a logical, and lovely choice.
    Now, can we have The Duchess appearing in that (and other) tiaras more often? That would be lovely.
    Can’t wait to revisit some of the “Oh Dear” hats on a few of the relatives and guests as the retrospective continues….it remains a bit of an understatement to say “there was a whole lotta hat going on” that day!

  18. I thought she looked so perfect. Perfectly herself somehow. The dress suited her and she suited the dress. Her love of lace, her understanding of the symbolism of the flowers, the shape… all understated, exquistely detailed and not over done.

  19. The reception dress is probably what Kate would have liked to wear as her wedding dress if she was allowed to choose whatever she wanted. The tiara was very appropriate as it originally belonged to a consort, which is what Kate will be.

  20. I thought it was beautiful and classic like Catherine herself. I think it should be remembered that, as a royal wedding and the vows were to take place in Westminster Cathedral, there were restrictions on what she could wear. I remember that she had to be covered, unlike Pippa, and long sleeves were a requirement. So I am sure there were some beautiful wedding dresses out there that she might have wished to wear, but were not appropriate for this wedding. And quite frankly, as long as a groom thinks his bride looks beautiful, that is all that really matters, isn’t it?

  21. I loved the wedding and really admire William and Catherine. I was underwhelmed by Catherine’s dress, though. I think it had some style; however, it seemed to be not a cohesive design to me, and the veil obscured the shape and line of the dress in front by being too long, I felt. I didn’t like Pippa’s dress at all. I’ve been underwhelmed by nearly all if not all of the British royals’ wedding gowns (of televised weddings) through the years, and I always plan/hope to be wowed; it just hasn’t happened. I think I liked Sarah Ferguson’s fairly well, now that I think about it.

  22. I might be a bit severe. Everyone was so excited that day , I think we believed the gown veil tiara were
    beautiful. I could not understand the bodice ,it was overdone and not natural. The veil was heavy like netting and the tiara could barely be seen. Her hair seemed to be higher. Nothing was overwhelming as it was completely underwhelming. The makeup perhaps for TV and pictures was so dark. Everything was stiff and beyond sedate. Her sister’s dress was outstanding but a bit too sexy for a wedding.
    No I was not impressed. I still cannot understand the veil the tiara and the bodice.
    Princess Margaret’s dress, tiara and veil was the opposite and is still imo the most beautiful ever.

  23. Great!! What would be the possibility of doing a feature on Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding hats at the same time,p – grandparents of the new baby? Would be great to see them!!!

  24. It’s funny since all the critique of the dress erupted after it was first seen that day, I remember distinctly getting my first peek of her in it before she got out of the car and thinking how it reminded me of Grace Kelly’s dress – guess because of the sleeves and higher collar part – and since then so many have compared it to Princess Grace’s dress.I thought it was perfect tho I wished she had put her hair up.

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