Kate Middleton's wedding dress, designed by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, has fast become one of the most iconic bridal fashion moments of all time. The classic style, with its long lace sleeves and a full, princess-worthy skirt, nodded to the gowns worn by two other royal brides, Princess Grace of Monaco and Kate's grandmother-in-law, the then-Princess Elizabeth, and will doubtless continue to inspire weddings for years to come. But how was this beautiful gown kept so entirely secret in the run up to William and Kate's Westminster Abbey wedding? And how did Kate eventually decide upon a designer?
How was Kate Middleton's wedding dress kept secret?
It's no surprise that such an anticipated design was shrouded in secrecy until the big wedding day reveal at Westminster Abbey - though just quite how secretive the process was has (appropriately) remained under wraps until dressmaker Mandy Ewing revealed the lengths to which she and her team went to keep the dress a surprise.
'We knew who it was for, but it was very secret - we had net curtains up and cleaners were not allowed into the room and the code on the door was changed,' she explained after Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, visited the Royal School of Needlework in November 2017.
'The dress was all in the news, but nobody knew who was doing it. When you're working on it you just focus on it and try not to think about what's in the news. But it was an exciting event and everybody loved working on it - it was a once in a lifetime opportunity,' she added.
Sarah Burton was 'honoured' to be chosen as Kate's wedding dress designer
While designers like Jasper Conran and Bruce Oldfield (a favourite of the late Princess Diana) were rumoured to be in the running for the job, Alexander McQueen eventually came out on top. According to a palace statement on her wedding day, the Duchess chose the British brand ‘for the beauty of its craftsmanship and its respect for traditional workmanship and the technical construction of clothing,’ and wanted the dress to ‘combine tradition and modernity with the artistic vision that characterizes Alexander McQueen’s work.’ Sarah Burton, the brand’s creative director, certainly achieved that brief.
Discussing the process in an interview with the New York Times' T magazine back in 2014, the designer said: 'Some people think that I'm afraid to speak up about the happy experience I had creating the Duchess of Cambridge's wedding dress, but I can tell you that is nonsense.'
'I loved making the dress [...] and we put our hearts into it. I respect the intimate nature of that lovely project and I respect the friendships that were forged during it [...] An instinctive, intelligent, imaginative young woman's wish for a beautiful wedding dress - or any kind of dress - is the most natural thing in the world. And I was honoured to pick up the challenge and always will be.' Indeed, the process marked the start of a strong fashion partnership between the house of McQueen and the Duchess of Cambridge: for a high profile royal event, such as the Trooping the Colour, a christening or even the recent wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Kate tends to opt for a smart custom design by Burton.
Look back at royal wedding dresses through history in the gallery below...
Royal wedding dresses through history - Grazia
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The train was almost nine feet long
The gown’s dramatic nine metre train certainly made for impactful wedding photos, but it wasn’t even half the length of Princess Diana’s wedding dress train, which famously measured 25 feet (and was almost too big for the Princess to fit into the royal carriage in which she travelled with her father to St Paul’s Cathedral…)
The lace bodice used a traditional Irish technique
Though the lace appliqué for the bodice and skirt of the dress was hand-made at the Royal School of Needlework, the talented craftspeople used the Carrickmacross technique of lace-making, which dates back to Ireland in the 1820s. Individual flowers were hand-cut from lace, then appliquéd onto ivory silk tulle. The floral design incorporated the rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock, a nod to the national flowers of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
The dress design included numerous nods to British design history
According to a palace press release, the dress paid tribute to the Arts and Crafts movement, which favoured simple forms and traditional craft techniques. The narrow bodice, meanwhile, nodded to the Victorian tradition of corsetry, a hallmark which has run through McQueen’s design DNA since the designer’s infamous MA collection.
Kate actually had two wedding dresses
Just like the new Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, Kate wore two dresses on her wedding day: one for the Westminster Abbey ceremony and another for the evening reception at Buckingham Palace. Her second gown was a simpler affair, a strapless style in white satin with a jeweled band at the waist, worn with a faux fur bolero.
NOW READ: Kate Middleton's Best Fashion Moments
Kate Middleton's Best Fashion Moments
When Kate and William announced their engagement in 2010, Kate wore a sapphire blue Issa dress.
During the President's visit in 2011, Kate greeted the First Lady, Michelle Obama, wearing a nude Reiss dress.
Kate wowed in a Jenny Packham dress and LK Bennett heels when she attended the ARK (Absolute Return for Kids) gala dinner in 2011.
On April 29th 2011, Kate married Prince William and became Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. She wore an Alexander McQueen dress, designed by Sarah Burton.
The couple visited Belfast in 2011, and Kate wore a Burberry coat and Marvin K boots.
At the Trooping of the Colour ceremony in 2011, Kate opted for an Alexander McQueen coat.
At Wimbledon in 2011 Kate wore a dress by Temperley London.
Kate looked stunning during the Canadian Royal Tour in 2011, wearing a white Reiss dress.
During the Royal Tour in Canada, 2011, the Duchess wore an Alice by Temperley blouse with Goldsign jeans.
During their Canadian Royal Tour, Kate boarded a plane in a pale yellow Jenny Packham dress.
On the final day of the Canadian Royal Tour in 2011, Kate wore a Catherine Walker dress with LK Bennett heels.
in 2011 Kate visited Copenhagen's Unicef centre wearing a red coat by LK Bennett.
On Remembrance Day in 2011, Kate wore a Diane von Furstenberg coat.
Kate was stunning when she attended the premiere of War Horse in 2012, wearing a Temperley London black lace gown.
in 2012 Kate boarded the Diamond Jubilee flotilla wearing a scarlet red Alexander McQueen dress.
In 2012 Kate wore Zara jeans with a Burberry shirt to visit the Widehorizons Margaret McMillan House.
Kate wore an Emilia Wickstead coat dress at the Thistle Service in Edinburgh in 2012.
During the Diamond Jubilee tour of South East Asia, Kate wore a Jenny Packham dress and LK Bennett heels to visit Singapore's Botanical Gardens.
Pregnant Kate was glowing at the National Review of the Queen's Scouts in 2013, wearing a Mulberry mint green coat and LK Bennett heels.
Pregnant Kate attended the 60th anniversary of the Queen's Coronation in June 2013, wearing a bespoke Jenny Packham lace dress with a peach jacket.
On July 23rd 2013 Kate and William introduced their son, Prince George, to the world's press. Kate looked lovely in a blue polka dot Jenny Packham dress.
At the christening of Prince George in October 2013, Kate wore a pale Alexander McQueen dress.
In April 2013 Kate, along with William and George, landed in Wellington Airport, New Zealand. Kate looked amazing in a scarlet red Catherine Walker coat.
When visiting Whenuapai, near Auckland, Kate wore a striped Breton top with a Zara blazer and J Brand jeans.
Kate arrived at Dunedin International Airport wearing an Emilia Wickstead pleated dress.
The couple visited Winmalee in 2014 to meet victims of the bush fires in the area, and Kate wore a DVF printed dress.
At the Queen's Garden Party in 2014 Kate looked stunning in a lace Alexander McQueen dress.
Whilst pregnant with Princess Charlotte, Kate visited Portsmouth in 2015, wearing a MaxMara coat, Jimmy Choo heels and a clutch by L.K. Bennett.
Kate made her first public appearance since the birth of Princess Charlotte at the Trooping of the Colour in June 2015, wearing a Catherine Walker coat.
For the christening of her daughter, Princess Charlotte, in July 2015, Kate wore an ivory Alexander McQueen dress.
In November 2015 Kate visited Caernarfon in North Wales, and kept warm in a Reiss coat.
During the 2016 tour to India and Bhutan, Kate wore an Emilia Wickstead dress in Mumbai.
Kate wore a pale yellow Emilia Wickstead dress when she arrived in Bhutan in April 2016.
During the Canadian Royal Tour in 2016 Kate wore a scarlet Preen by Thornton Bregazzi gown at the Government of British Columbia reception.
Kate chose a powder blue suit for by Catherine Walker for her visit to the Netherlands - her first solo overseas engagement.
For an event marking World Mental Health Day in 2016, Kate chose a floral patterned dress with pleated front by Kate Spade.
Kate wore a checked Erdem coat for a visit to Manchester in October 2016
For a reception of Team GB athletes at Buckingham Palace, Kate chose a poppy print tea dress by Alexander McQueen
Kate Middleton wearing a £320 white Self Portrait dress at the Recovery Street Film Festival
The Duchess donned a Preen by Thornton Bregazzi dress to the Place2Be Wellbeing In Schools Awards.
In December 2016 Kate attended the Christmas party for volunteers at The Mix youth service.
On St. Patricks day Kate wore a green coat by Catherine Walker. She didn't have time to to change, though, as she had to board a plane to Paris that same day to meet with President Hollande.
Kate dazzled on the Paris royal tour in March 2017. She wore a sparkling Jenny Packham gown to the gala dinner.
When in Paris on the royal tour, Kate wore a pillarbox-red Carolina Herrera coat to watch the Six Nations rugby game.
When visiting the National Portrait Gallery in March 2017, Kate wowed in a forest green lace dress by Temperley London.
During the Paris royal tour, Kate wore a black Alexander McQueen gown at the British Embassy reception.
The Duchess of Cambridge made a day trip to Luxembourg, amid reports the royal family are becoming Britain's "Brexit ambassadors", opting for a chic baby blue dress coat by Emilia Wickstead.
On the first day of Royal Ascot, Kate wore a white lace dress by Alexander McQueen with a matching fascinator.
On 29 June, the Duchess of Cambridge opted for a Gucci dress to the opening of a new exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
At day one of Wimbledon 2017, wearing a pretty polka dot dress.
The Duchess wore a pussybow Prada dress in scribbled poppy print for a visit to Kensington Palace's Sunken Gardens, marking the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana's death
Check-out Kate in this stunning houndstooth coat by Catherine Walker, which she accessorised with a Chanel bag. The Duchess donned this outfit for a royal visit to Sweden and Norway with her husband in January 2018.
Nailing BAFTA pregnancy style (always a tricky category) Kate was radiant in a Jenny Packham gown for the 2018 BAFTAs.
Who's the queen of Alexander McQueen? Kate Middleton is (obviously). The Duchess showed us all how to go about meeting Norwegian dignitaries in style in this show-stopping embellished dress.
Once again Kate delved into her limitless archive of chic coat dress for the 2018 Commonwealth Day service.
For the first pictures of Prince Louis outside of the Lindo wing on April the 23rd, Kate selected a pillar-box red Jenny Packham dress.
Kate (almost) twins with Princess Charlotte For Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's wedding, in the palest yellow Alexander McQueen coat dress.
Tapping into the Lavender trend (as well as the extra-millennial matching tiny bag trend), Kate Middleton wears Lavender Emilia Wickstead for the Mental Health summit.
Kate wore another signature dainty polka-dot dress for a visit to the Evelina Children's hospital.
PSA: Kate Middleton has re-introduced us to the hiking boot. If this look wasn't brilliant enough already - her jeans are reportedly from Zara.
The Duchess won over fashion-editor's nationwide in this peplum Oscar De La Rent skirted suit.
For the 2019 BAFTAs Kate wore a floor-sweeping chiffon ballgown made by British designer Jenny Packham.
This delicate rose-hued gown by Gucci was another major style win for the Duchess of Cambridge as she attended the Women In Finance Gala at the V&A in February.
For her arrival in Northern Ireland Kate Middleton changed up her usual coat-dress ensemble by finishing the look with jeans and heeled boots.
Marking to first day of the Northern Ireland tour, Kate Middleton wore a periwinkle-blue caped Mulberry coat dress.
A pale blue dress was worn with her signature nude heels and a clutch as Kate attended the 50th anniversary of Prince Charles's investiture as the Prince of Wales.
Wearing a red double-breasted coat dress and matching hat for the 2019 Commonwealth Day services in March.
Kate paid tribute to the Irish for the annual visit to the Irish Guards for St. Patrick's Day. Her green coat dress marked another of the Duchess's Alexander McQueen moments.
The Duchess of Cambridge attended the Horse Guards Parade in order to take the salute at the Beating Retreat military pageant for the first time. She wore a Catherine Walker cream coat and a Mulberry clutch bag for the occasion.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrived in Pakistan ahead of their tour of the country. Kate wore a version of the shalwar kameez - a traditional dress and trouser outfit - in beautiful aqua shades, which had been made for her by Catherine Walker.
To visit the Islamabad Model College in Pakistan, the Duchess of Cambridge wore traditional blue kurta and asymmetric dupatta by local designer Maheen Khan with shoes from – wait for it – New Look.
For a visit to meet the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, Kate wore a green tunic by Catherine Walker, white trousers by Maheen Khan, a scarf by Satrangi and earrings by Zeen.
Kate Middleton wears Emilia Wickstead for a visit to St Martins in the Fields to meet victims of the Grenfell Tower blaze in November 2019
Kate Middleton wears Missoni for a reception in Belfast. The occasion was a party in Belfast Empire Music Hall, where both Duke and Duchess celebrated the youth and their achievements in Northern Ireland.
Kate Middleton in an Alexander McQueen gown, Erdem earrings and a Jimmy Choo clutch at the Royal Variety Performance at the Palladium Theatre in November 2019.
Kate Middleton attended SHOUT's crisis volunteer celebration at Troubadour White City Theatre in London, November 2019. She was wearing a Jacket by Smythson, Trousers from Joseph Fashion and heels by Gianvito Rossi.
Kate attended the 2017 Royal Variety performance in a sheer Alexander McQueen gown, a Jenny Packham clutch with pumps by Oscar de la Renta.
Kate attended the BBC Radio 1 Teen Hero Awards wearing a £395 LK Bennett dress in October 2019
Kate mixes traditional attire with her Asprey earrings and Hampton Canvas trainers.
Whilst attending the National Monument in Pakistan for an event celebrating the best in Pakistan's culture, Kate wore a shimmering green Jenny Packham own and Silver Jimmy Choo heels.