I remember waking up early on July 29, 1981, to watch Prince Charles and Diana's wedding with my mother -- we were two of the 750 million to watch on television. I remember how long her train was, and how her dress choice was a surprise. Without the Internet or blogs, we didn't get updates seemingly every minute of every day. Right now, whose dress Kate Middleton will ultimately choose is still a mystery, but speculation has reached a fevered pitch. Everyone is talking about it in New York. I can only imagine what London is like right now.
British royal brides, especially, are always the focus of attention, and this obsession pre-dates Diana and Sarah Ferguson and their respectively unforgettable wedding dresses. Princess Anne, who married Mark Phillips in 1973, was canny enough to understand what her dress would look like from behind -- the vantage point of television cameras allowed into Westminster Abbey -- so she asked designer Maureen Baker to add little details, like long Medieval-looking sleeves for extra interest.
Queen Elizabeth's own gown deserves its moment of appreciation. When she married Philip Mountbatten in 1947, the then princess opted for something less obviously opulent to show solidarity with her countrymen who were still feeling the restraints of post-World War II shortages. Still, the Sir Norman Hartnell-designed look didn't scrimp on the embroidered details -- employing hundreds of British craftsmen. The dress later made a tour of major cities in the British Isles. When Elizabeth's sister Margaret walked down the aisle in 1960, Hartnell kept in stride with more modern times, creating a detail-free but beautifully-constructed look.
Before all of these glamorous nuptials, though, was "The Wedding of the Century" -- what British press dubbed the 1923 wedding of Prince Albert (eventually King George VI) and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Mum). The bride wore an ivory drop-waist dress and a floral circlet in her hair -- of the moment for the early twenties. When she arrived at Westminster Abbey, she placed her bouquet at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, an unscripted moment that every royal bride since has followed. They celebrated with a 10-foot, 770-plus pound cake.
Even though it took three marriage proposals before Elizabeth said yes, Elizabeth and Albert's was definitely a love story (most recently witnessed in The King's Speech). For as much as royal weddings throughout history in every country seemed to be about duty first-love later, there are those weddings that were true affaires de coeur.
In 1956, Americans were swept away right along with Grace Kelly as she went from being the queen of Hollywood to the Princess of Monaco when she married Prince Rainier III, who proposed just three days after meeting her. It took Academy Award-winning costume designer Helen Rose 36 seamstresses and six weeks to complete Princess Grace's now-iconic rose point lace dress.
Both HM Queen Noor of Jordan and her daughter-in-law Queen Rania of Jordan experienced whirlwind courtships, getting engaged after six weeks and two months, respectively. Queen Noor's wedding in 1978 was a low-key affair, highlighted by a deceptively simple, pretty Christian Dior dress. In 1993, Queen Rania completed the fairy tale-perfect picture in a voluminous, gold-trimmed dress by Bruce Oldfield.
Oldfield, incidentally, was rumored to be one of the designers in the running for Kate Middleton's dress but just announced that he did not receive the commission. I guess we'll just have to wait and see, but in the meantime, it's fun to speculate and think back on all those incredible royal weddings...
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