Monday, April 30, 2012

A Royal Affair - One Year on - and it's History

Okay, I say it all the time. I know. But can you really believe it's already been ONE YEAR since William and Catherine got married?! How quickly time flies!

Anyway, just thought I might finally share a little post which I actually began writing about year ago to commemorate their wedding, but unfortunately never finished due to technical issues... (Yes, I've learnt a lot about Blogger since...!)

I hope you enjoy it as much as I've enjoyed researching and writing it....


Not really one to typical get caught up in the whole media circus surrounding most celebrity events, I have to admit that I, like many others, couldn't help but be drawn into the excitement of the wedding of UK's couple-of-the-moment, Will and Kate this past Friday...

After all, who doesn't like a wedding, especially a Royal one... And didn't Kate look simply stunning...!  

Kate and Pippa Middleton in their elegant Sarah Burton designed gowns. Photo by Getty Images

Catherine's veil - layers of silk tulle hand-embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework
- and vintage 'Halo' Tiara, made by Carter in 1936 and loaned to her by the Queen.
Photo by AP
Detail of the delicate lace appliqué bodice. Painstakingly handcrafted using a technique originating in
Ireland in the 1820's called Carrickmacross, it features symbolic roses, thistles, daffodils, and shamrock.
Photo by Snapper.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, surrounded by the rest of the Royal family and bridal party.
Image courtesy of PA.

Classic, elegant and romantic, I was reminded not only of the wedding of Crown Prince Frederik and Mary Donaldson back in 2004, but also of my own not so very long ago...

Australia's own: Mary Donaldson on her wedding day.
Image courtesy of Order of Splendor

Mary's simple, yet elegant ivory satin and lace gown, designed by Danish designer
Uffe Frank. Courtesy of Getty Images.

Detail of the 100 year old Irish lace veil, originally given to Princess Margaret
of Connaught (grand-daughter of Britain's Queen Victoria) as a wedding gift.
Image courtesy of AFP.

Detail of Crown Princess Mary's Wedding Tiara, a gift from the Queen and Prince Henrik, and stunning earrings, featuring brilliant-cut diamonds set in platinum with Sout Sea Island pearls created by Marianne Dulong.
Image courtesy of Order of Splendor 

Not that I had such a regal ensemble for mine, but I did choose vintage lace and antique styling as they both did... and I did marry my prince... ♥

Photos taken at Montsalvat by Ultrapix.

In my reading about the event I came across an interesting statement that I thought deserved a little more research - that Queen Victoria was the first to get married in white. Having a background in textiles and deep interest fashion history, I already knew that she was a trend setter in this regard,  however I wondered if she was really the first...

Queen Victoria in her wedding gown by Winterhalter. 1842.
Image courtesy of The Royal Collection/Historic Royal Palaces

According to more in depth research I found that it was actually Princess Phillippa of England, daughter of Henry IVth of England that is said to have been the first documented royal bride to have worn white. She wore a tunic and cloak of white silk edged with grey squirrel and ermine when she wed Eric of Pomerania on the 26th of October 1406.

Stained glass window depicting Philippa of England, Queen of Denmark,
Norway & Sweden at the Vadstena Monastary. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Mary, Queen of Scots, also wore a white wedding gown in 1559 when she married her first husband, Francis Dauphin of France. She was described as being dressed in clothing as white as lilies, made so sumptuously and richly it would be impossible to describe. Two young ladies carried the marvellously long train’ Although at the time white was the colour of mourning for French queens, she chose to wear white because it was her favourite colour. 

Mary Stuart, shortly before her marriage to the Dauphin Francois of France, 1558.
Image courtesy of Madame Guillotine.
It is also documented that Henriette-Lucy Dillon, who later became the future marquise de la Tour du Pin, wore a wedding 'gown of white crepe, beautifully trimmed with Brussels lace' in 1787. The reason why she did so, however, is likely due to that fact that she was in 'demi-deuil' or light mourning at the time, following the death of her mother, and not because of any other wedding tradition. This is made clear when she wore a white dress at court presentation a few days later.

Henriette Lucy Dillon. Image courtesy of Madam Guillotine

These three examples show that prior to Queen Victoria's wedding on the 10th of February, 1840, some brides had already worn white, but not because it had become de rigueur for brides to do so. 

Although, having said that, there does seem to have been a changing of perceptions during the 18th century. In the play by Oliver Goldsmith, ‘The Good-Natur’d Man’, first performed in 1768, a maid laments the absence of a white gown for her mistress’ elopement, saying: “I wish you could take the white and silver to be married in. It’s the worst luck in the world, in anything but white.”

Rare hand-painted floral silk wedding gown worn by Mary Chaloner when she married
Colonel John Hale in 1763. Image courtesy of McCord Museum.

British 'Robe a la Francaise', of 1775 - 80. Said to have been a wedding dress.
Image courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum.

American Wedding Dress worn by Eunice Hooper. Made of Indian embroidered mull,
white with all over silver dots. About 1799. Image courtesy of MFA.

White, it seems, was beginning to become a popular choice at the turn of the 19th century - at least for weddings of the nobility and the higher social classes. As these sorts of marriage unions were often more about political alliances and the transferral of wealth, then about love, brides were expected to dress in a way that cast their families in the most favorable light. Her wedding dress therefore, was a principle way to display the wealth and culture of her family.

The sheer muslin and lace gown thought to have been worn by Elizabeth Patterson when she
married Jerome Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, on the 24th of December 1803.
Image courtesy of MET.
Bridal Dress Fashion Plate from Ackermann's Repository - an early 19th
century English magazine published monthly. Series 2, Vol 1. 1816
Image courtesy of EKDuncan

American Wedding Dress featuring elaborate hem detail known as 'Hem Sculpture'. 
ca 1824. Image courtesy of MET 

Wedding Dress Fashion Plate, January 1827. Image courtesy of LACMA.

Wealth, of course, could be demonstrated by means of jewellery, but also with textiles. The more elaborate the weave of the fabric, the richer the fibres used, the rarer the colour, the better the display of wealth. Before the development of effective bleaching  and cleaning methods, white cloth was highly valued, as it was difficult to achieve and hard to maintain. (In fact, 'white' wedding dresses of the 19th century were actually cream as bleaching silk to a crisp white only became possible in the 20th century). Therefore, wealthy brides often would wear white, not so much to demonstrate their purity, but their prosperity and social status.

Wedding Dress 1832. French Fashion Print.
Courtesy of Wedding Dress Gallery

French Cotton Wedding Dress ca 1837.
Image courtesy of MET

Wedding Dress, Wool brocaded with silk. 1837-38.
Image courtesy of LACMA

Among the nobility in Europe, however, heavily brocaded gowns embroidered with real gold and silver thread, were a more common way to demonstrate wealth, as the following examples show.

An stunning example of a wedding gown worn to a 1730's Russian Imperial wedding, featuring
weaving incorporating silver metallic thread. Image courtesy of MET.

Stunning silver lace wedding gown of Queen Hedvig (Edwige) Elisabeth Charlotte de Holstein-Gottorp.
ca. 1774. Image Courtesy of Stockholm, Sweden.

Princess Charlotte, Queen Victoria cousin and aunt (who would have been queen had she not died tragically in child birth in 1817) was married to Prince Leopold in a gown of metallic cloth, as had the majority of brides in the English royal family for centuries prior to her. 

Engraving of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold's wedding.

Princess Charlotte's Wedding Dress comprised of a petticoat of
white and silver, worn under  a net dress of silver lame. 1816
('Apron' created after alterations to original)
Images courtesy of Jane Austen's World

So why then did Queen Victoria wear a white gown, when the royal tradition was to wear one of gold or silver cloth?

The simple answer is because Victoria was no ordinary bride. Unlike the majority of royal brides, she did not marry as a princess, about to become Queen Consort. She already was the Queen, head of state. Therefore as such she needed to make a statement as the leader of her country. Thus she chose a gown that would help her make a political statement, a dress that put her duty to her people and country on display, rather than her wealth or beauty. 

Wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Courtesy of Victoriana Magazine

Since one of the biggest concerns in England in the late 1830’s was the effect that the Industrial Revolution was having on traditional industries, particularly in the area of lacemaking, Victoria chose to incorporate a large piece of handmade Honiton lace for her gown. As one museum curator put it, she 'saw it as her business to promote all things British', thus her gown became the means to showcase the unique British-made lace and white was chosen as the most suitable colour for this purpose. 

Detail of Queen Victoria's wedding dress, made of exquisite Honiton lace made in the
village of BeerImage courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces


Much to Victoria’s delight, her wedding widely publicised and copied - though initially her dress was thought to be shockingly plain - causing a large increase in the number of brides who chose to wear white, as well as the popularity of handcrafted Honiton lace. However, this didn’t mean that every bride from the 1840’s onwards now wore white lace gowns at their weddings. White was still a very expensive colour choice for fabric at this time, meaning that only wealthy brides could afford a white wedding dress. A few who just managed to do so did, and then dyed the gown increasingly darker colours to hide stains so that they could wear it may more times over. However, in France and Scandinavian more practical colours still remained popular particularly among those of modest means, with many brides even choosing to wear black wedding gowns! 

Tartan check silk taffeta wedding dress worn by Ellen Whipp, the daughter of a cotton mill
owner, in 1849.  Image courtesy of Manchester Art Gallery
French black lace wedding gown 1869. Image courtesy of MET.

Deep red American wedding dress of 1878 in 'Cuirass style', referring to the
form-fitted bodice. Image courtesy of MET.

By 1849 though, Godey's Lady Book - the Good Housekeeping magazine of 19th century America - stated that "Custom has decided, from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is the emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one" - completely forgetting that brides wore many different 'hues' through the ages. Roman brides wore yellow. In the middle ages they wore blue, as it was considered the colour of purity and virginity (not white, which had in fact been thought of as the colour of mourning and death at this time), and pale green in the 16th and 17th centuries, due to it's association with fertility.

Pale green figured silk empire line wedding dress worn by Elizabeth Marsden in 1793,
and later also her daughter, Ann, in 1822. Image courtesy of ADR. 

In fact, prior to and well into the 19th century, there was no single customary colour for bridal wear. Women had simply just worn a new 'best' dress, whatever it's colour, and thereafter adapted to so that it could be worn for other occasions, even as maternity wear!

Maria Harper's 1883 wedding dress. Alterations to the skirt is likely evidence that this dress
was not worn only to her wedding, but probably also let out for her seven pregnancies.
Image courtesy of Port Macquarie Historical Society.

However, it is clear that Queen Victoria's white wedding gown changed societies view of  the most suitable colour for bridal wear, and that sentiment, as demonstrated by the following rhyme, continued into the 20th century. (Notice that white and blue are the most preferable options, and the completely changed view of green and black.)

Married in white, you have chosen alright,
Married in green, ashamed to be seen.
Married in blue, love ever true,
Married in grey, you will go far away.
Married in red, you will wish yourself dead,
Married in pink, of you he’ll aye think.
Married in yellow, ashamed of your fellow,
Married in black, you will wish yourself back.

                                        (From Every woman’s Encyclopedia, first published  in 1910/1912)

Queen Victoria in her wedding dress. Painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter in 1847 for their
seventh anniversary. Image courtesy of The Royal Collection

So in conclusion, it can be said that while Queen Victoria was technical not the first to wear a white when she married her cousin, Albert of Saxe-Coburg in 1840, she certainly set a trend that many were later to follow, one that continues to endure even in our day.  

So, what colour did you wear (or, would you like to wear) to your wedding?