Royal Bridal Style Evolution: From Queen Victoria To The Duchess of Cambridge

As Princess Beatrice becomes the latest royal bride to walk down the aisle, we look back at the style evolution of royal brides through history.

Royal wedding dresses

by Shana Lynch |

Happy wedding anniversary to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge! Today marks 9 years since Kate Middleton and Prince William walked down the aisle together at Westminster Abbey while over 20 million people looked on around the world.

And while Kate's 12-carat sapphire engagement ring, which originally belonged to Princess Diana, quickly became one of the most recognisable pieces of jewellery in the world after Kate and Will announced their engagement in 2010, it was her bespoke Alexander McQueen wedding dress designed by Sarah Burton that had everyone talking nine years ago today.

For the royal family, tradition is, of course, of the greatest importance. Indeed, Kate Middleton’s Alexander McQueen gown has drawn comparisons to the Norman Hartnell creation worn by her grandmother-in-law Queen Elizabeth II on her wedding day in 1947. Last year, despite predictions of wearing Erdem, Burberry, or McQueen, Clare Waight Keller provided the royal treatment, as Meghan Markle walked down the aisle of St George’s Chapel in Givenchy.

So, what makes a classic royal wedding dress? Fashions may come and go (Princess Diana’s iconic Emanuel confection, which set the gold standard for ‘80s brides with its puffed sleeves and jaw-dropping train, is certainly a case in point) but a royal bride’s gown tends to follow a time-honoured formula: white or ivory satin, maybe a smattering of tulle and lace (made in a workshop in Honiton, East Devon), often with long sleeves and plenty of beaded embellishments. It goes (almost) without saying, too, that the designer will be British, or at least based in the UK.

In honour of nine years of wedded bliss for Kate and Will, below are just some of the memorable royal bridal dresses throughout history, from Queen Victoria's simple white style to Princess Margaret's timeless long-sleeved ensemble to Princess Diana's trend-setting fairytale gown...


Royal wedding dresses through history - Grazia

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Queen Victoria is one of just two British Queens to have married while reigning (the other is Queen Mary). For her wedding to Prince Albert at St James' Palace, the young Queen chose a simple off-the-shoulder style in white satin, with a flounce of Honiton lace at the neckline. Instead of a coronet, she wore a simple orange blossom garland.

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Princess Victoria, daughter of Queen Victoria, wed Prince Frederick William of Prussia, in January 1858 wearing a rich white moire antique decorated with three flounces of Honiton lace designed to resemble bouquets of rose, shamrock and thistle in three medallions. Each flounce of the dress had a wreath of orange and myrtle blossoms, which were the bridal flower of Germany.

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For her wedding to Prince Henry of Battenberg in 1885, Princess Beatrice, the youngest daughter of Queen Victoria, wore a fashionable white satin dress, trimmed with lace (which the Princess is said to have loved) and orange blossom. She was the only of Victoria's daughters to wear her mother's veil down the aisle, too.

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The future Queen Mary's wedding dress was designed by Arthur Silver of the Silver Studio, whose designs epitomised the Art Nouveau look. Her classic gown was embroidered with roses, shamrocks and thistles, with the choice of orange blossom for the trim echoed in small wreaths adorning her neckline and her hair. Her 'something old' was a small piece of Honiton lace from her mother's own wedding gown, with diamond jewellery from future mother-in-law Queen Victoria ticking off 'something borrowed.'

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The future Queen Mother's wedding dress was quintessentially 1920s in style, with a simple drop waist. Designed by Madame Handley-Seymour, the dressmaker to Queen Mary, it was made of ivory silk crepe and embroidered with pearls. Her Flanders lace veil was held in place by a wreath of orange blossom and white roses, the latter a nod to the her future title of Duchess of York.

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Court couturier Norman Hartnell described the wedding gown of the then-Princess Elizabeth as 'the most beautiful dress I had so far made.' Patterned with stars and floral embellishments, the dress – and its 13 foot train – was said to be inspired by Botticelli's Primavera, and to symbolise the nation's rebirth following the war. As clothing rationing was still in place (even for a Princess), Elizabeth had to purchase the fabric with ration coupons (though she was inundated with coupons from young women across the country, she had to return them to their owners).

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When Princess Margaret married photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones, she opted for a design by royal couturier Norman Hartnell. Comprising 30 metres of silk organza, the dress's simple shape and clean lines were designed to flatter the Princess's petite frame.

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Ahead of her marriage to Captain Mark Phillips, Princess Anne seemed to take sartorial inspiration from times past, specifically the court of Queen Elizabeth I: her wedding gown, designed by Maureen Baker for Susan Small, featured a Tudor-style high neck and sweeping, almost medieval sleeves.

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Lady Diana Spencer's now-iconic 1981 wedding dress set bridal trends for years to come, with its puffed sleeves, 25-foot train and full skirt. Designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, the ivory silk taffeta gown was embellished with tiny sequins and pearls in a heart motif.

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Lindka Cierach designed this quintessentially '80s wedding dress for Sarah Ferguson's wedding to Prince Andrew. Made from ivory duchesse satin, it boasted a 17 foot long train embroidered with bees and thistles (a nod to her family's crest) and anchors and waves (symbolizing Prince Andrew's naval career). The York Diamond tiara which Fergie wore on the day was commissioned especially for her by her mother-in-law, the Queen.

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Samantha Shaw was tasked with designing and making a dress for the wedding of Sophie Rhys-Jones (now the Countess of Wessex) to the Queen's youngest son, Prince Edward. The long-sleeved style was embellished with 325,000 cut glass and pearl beads.

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Camilla's embroidered coat in pale blue and gold and matching chiffon gown were designed by Robinson Valentine for her wedding to the Prince of Wales at St George's Chapel, Windsor. Her statement headpiece – which featured Swarowski diamonds – was the handiwork of the royal family's favourite milliner, Philip Treacy.

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Canadian-born Autumn Kelly opted for a classic gown by British designer Sassi Holford, which featured a bodice fashioned from hand-beaded lace and a silk duchesse skirt, worn with a beaded shrug. The Festoon tiara which the bride wore on the day was borrowed from the collection of her mother-in-law, Princess Anne.

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Zara Phillips wore a simple, classic gown with a full skirt and corseted bodice by Stewart Parvin, one of her grandmother the Queen's favourite couturiers, when she married rugby player Mike Tindall at Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh. The diamond tiara was the bride's 'something borrowed,' a loan from her mother Princess Anne.

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Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen landed the biggest fashion gig of the century so far when she was chosen by Kate Middleton to design a dress for her Westminster Abbey wedding to Prince William. The gown itself was made from ivory satin with long lace sleeves and floral motifs which were cut from machine-made lace then appliqued onto silk net by workers at the Royal School of Needlework.

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We all know that Givenchy's Clare Waight Keller designed Meghan Markle's wedding dress, but there's a fun fact about the detailing. The flowers embroidered into the veil represent the 53 nations of the Commonwealth, a nod to Prince Harry's role as Youth Ambassador.

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Princess Eugenie had a very particular request when it came to her wedding dress, which designer Peter Pilotto accommodated. He designed her dress with a low-back as to reveal the scars from her scoliosis surgery.

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Lady Gabriella Windsor walked down the aisle in a Luisa Beccaria gown, which as made "entirely in Valencienne écru lace layered with ribbons of flowers and buds" says the designer.

Now, find your perfect wedding dress, fit for a queen...


SHOP: The Best High Street Wedding Dresses UK

Self-Portrait, Ivory Corded Lace Voluminous Skirt Midi Dress, £420
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It's all about the detail on this dress from the lace peplum over lay to the diamanté trim.

Monsoon, Vera Bridal Catin Cape Maxi Dress Ivory, £299
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A cap makes an excellent addition to your wedding day dress, go on, float about that venue.

best high street wedding dresses Reformation, Lark Bridal Shrug, £80
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An ideal addition to and sleeveless gown or top, for those who want a little extra arm coverage, changing up their wedding day outfit or are simply a little chilly.

best high street wedding dresses Reformation, Ivory Flowing Faye Pant, £180
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A pure silk crop top with spaghetti straps, fancy something other than an ivory gown? A two piece is the chicest Bridal outfit out there.

best high street wedding dresses Reformation, Ivory Silk Cider Top, £150
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Something you'll be able to wear time and time again, a classic wide leg cut is seriously flattering, too.

best high street wedding dresses Self-Portrait, Ivory Blossom Sequin Tiered Midi Dress, £380
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The trademark cut out lace of Self-Portrait makes an ideal bridal outfit.

best high street wedding dresses
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Tulle tiers and a one shoulder style are an instant update.

best high street wedding dresses Whistles, Esther Bardot Ivory Wedding Dress, £499
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A Bardot neckline could potentially be the most flattering out there.

best high street wedding dresses Ghost, Laurel Dress, £495
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The vintage feel of this dress makes it feel like one-of-a-kind.

best high street wedding dresses Hope & Ivy Plus, Plunge Embroidered Ivory Maxi Dress, £150
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A deep plunging neckline and embroidery give a relaxed boho feel.

best high street wedding dresses Vila Bridal, Maxi Dress With Covered Buttons, £65
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An easy breezy style that would look just as good at a beach wedding as it would a town hall ceremony.

best high street wedding dresses Self-Portrait, Metallic Bouclu00e9 Tailored Mini Dress, £400
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A tux style mini makes the ultimate cool-girl alternative to a wedding gown.

best high street wedding dresses Rixo, Silk Shift Dress With Feathers, £650
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Rixo's debut bridal line has been a roaring success – and it's not hard to see why. This feather-trimmed style would be perfect for a registry office wedding.

best high street wedding dresses Sir, Pleated Cotton and Linen Blend Dress, £360
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Super simple, super chic; the fashionista wedding dress.

best high street wedding dresses Monsoon, Laurie Lace and Tulle Bardot Bridal Dress, £359
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This dress is as demure as it is pretty and you could even shorten it after the wedding so you can wear it again.

best high street wedding dresses best high street wedding dresses House Of CB, Delphine Ivory Draped Corset Gown, £649
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If your style is more glam than traditional bride, this gown is a great option.

best high street wedding dresses ASOS Edition, Flutter Sleeve Wedding Dress, £150
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A flutter sleeve is the ultimate flattering style.

Self-Portrait, White Taffeta Bow Mini Dress, £350
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A big bow makes a great plus one (Groom aside).

best high street wedding dresses Jenny Yoo, One Shoulder Sequin Gown, £545
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Add a little pizzazz to your wedding day with a floor length sequin gown.

best high street wedding dresses Whistles, Mia Square Neck Wedding Dress, £499
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Square necklines are currently one of the most sought-after details on wedding dresses. This Whistles gown has nailed it.

best high street wedding dresses BHLDN, Willowby by Watters Hearst Gown, £1,148.57
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If you're looking for something dramatic that's still affordable, BHLDN is the place to go.

best high street wedding dresses  RIXO, Feather Trim Mini Dress, £600
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Feathers may not be a bridal staple but Lena's more than able to tempt you away from tradition, with glamorous silk jacquard, responsibly sourced ostrich plumes and a flattering miniskirt.

best high street wedding dresses Bronx and Banco, Bridal Midi Dress, £759
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This is a glorious dress that would work for a civil ceremony, dinner the night before or even a second outfit.

best high street wedding dresses Coast, Long Sleeve Bridal Maxi Dress, £134.25
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It's hard to believe this dress is under £150. It will look lovely as it is or, if you want a more traditionally bridal look, add a long veil.

best high street wedding dresses Phase Eight, Elyse Lace Tiered Wedding Dress, £299
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Cut to a shorter length, this floral lace dress features a tiered skirt with feminine border trims.

best high street wedding dresses Needle & Thread, Amalie Sequin V-Neck Gown, £450
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This dress looks far more expensive than the price tag would suggest thanks to the intricate detail.

best high street wedding dresses Sister Jane, Aurelie Oversized Midi Dress in Ivory, available to rent at Rotaro from £19
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Get on the rental hype.

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