On 20th November 1947, royal history was made at Westminster Abbey with the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten – now better known as Queen Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh. They are the first royal couple to ever reach the incredible milestone of a platinum anniversary (70 years!), and we thought we’d mark the occasion by taking a look back at the fashion of the bride on that historic day.
The royal wedding came at a difficult time for British society: the Second World War had ended in Europe just two years before and so rationing was still order of the day. While the public wanted to see their young Princess married in style, there were also concerns that the royal couple would be allowed to enjoy luxuries not given to other engaged couples.
Princess Elizabeth had to save up her clothing coupons in order to purchase her dress; she was granted 200 extra coupons for the celebrations as well. However, some royal enthusiasts felt this was not sufficient for their future Queen, and sent their own coupons to the young Princess. Sadly, the regulations did not allow the transfer of rations, and so the coupons were returned with a note of thanks, but rejection, and Elizabeth made do with her own allowance.
Rumours about the dress were swirling around the UK and even further afield: foreign magazines, such as the Italian publication Domenica del Corriere, claimed that the dress would be made of Italian silk, among other stories. The idea of the British Princess using silk from Japanese or Italian silkworms – popular gossip at the time – was unpopular, given that these were still considered to be “enemy” territories, having been on the other side. The silk for the dress actually came from Chinese silkworms, and the fabric itself was created by the Scottish firm Winterthur.
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The dress was designed by Norman Hartnell, who became known for the clothes worn by his royal fans, including Elizabeth and her younger sister, Princess Margaret, who also wore a Hartnell design on her wedding day in 1960.
Hartnell was known for his incredible use of embroidery, and so the royal dress was adorned with embroidered designs of roses, star-shaped flowers and wheat, the latter symbolising fertility. A number of Commonwealth symbols were present too: . The patterns used were said to be inspired by Bottielli’s 1482 painting of Primavera. The dress was made of ivory silk and included a 13ft long (4 metres) intricate train, which was adorned with more of the star-shaped flowers. The modest heart-shaped neckline had a scalloped edge, which included some of the dress’ 10,000 seed pearls.
Elizabeth and Philip’s wedding was a key event in the post-war British calendar and it really lifted the nation’s spirits at the time – this is where the Monarchy has real power, in bringing people from all walks of life together, and we saw the same happen in 2011 with the wedding of William and Catherine.
The dress also played a role in this feeling; the Royal Collection Trust have said that the design was meant to symbolise the country’s “rebirth and growth” after the war. As is tradition for royal brides, the design was kept a secret right up until the day of the wedding. The dress took seven weeks to make, with a team of 350 women working carefully on the precious dress.
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The young Princess Elizabeth accessorised the stunning gown with Queen Mary’s Fringe tiara to secure her silk tulle veil. The tiara actually broke on the day of the wedding and had to be fixed at the last minute – any bride’s worst nightmare! The tiara was often worn by the late Queen Mother, who received the piece as a gift from her mother-in-law in 1936. The Queen Mother lent it to her eldest daughter for her wedding day, and also to Princess Anne, who wore it when she married Mark Phillips in 1973. The Fringe Tiara has largely been out of public sight in recent years; The Queen has also only worn it a few times since her mother’s death.
Her Majesty also wore simple high heels in ivory duchess satin, which were lightly embellished with silver and pearls. She chose two pearl necklaces, the shorter of which is said to have belonged to Queen Anne, the last of the Stuart Monarchs. The longer pearl necklace is thought to have belonged to Queen Caroline, wife of King George II. Both necklaces belonged to Queen Victoria, and were given to the current British Queen by her father as a wedding present.
Elizabeth also wore pearl and diamond earrings which had been given to her by her grandmother, Queen Mary, earlier in 1947.
As befitting a royal wedding, there was a big bridal party: eight bridesmaids accompanied the bride up the aisle, including her sister, Princess Margaret, and the late Margaret Rhodes. Sadly, only two of Her Majesty’s bridesmaids are still alive to see the royal couple reach their platinum wedding anniversary: Princess Alexandra and Lady Pamela Hicks.
Lady Pamela Hicks shows Katie Couric her bridesmaids dress
The wedding dress has been on display a number of times, including in 2016, as part of an exhibition of Her Majesty’s clothing.
In my opinion, the dress worn that day in 1947 by the-then Princess Elizabeth has gone on to become one of the most iconic wedding dresses of all time, alongside that of Hollywood and Monegasque royalty, Princess Grace, and the Duchess of Cambridge. I can even see the influence of The Queen’s dress in other brides, not just in the 20th century but also in recent years. Maybe it’s just me, but I am always reminded of the 1947 Norman Hartnell dress when I see the dress worn by Mary Donaldson in 2004 when she married Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik – I think it’s the heavy silk that reminds me of the British Monarch’s dress.
This dress has not just importance in the fashion world, but became an icon of post-war Britain, and is easily one the most recognisable dresses worn by a royal bride during the last few centuries.
Experience the couple’s special day with this video: