It has been over 70 years since Queen Elizabeth walked down the aisle to wed Philip Mountbatten, Duke of Edinburgh at Westminster Abbey. The year was 1947 and Elizabeth was 22 years old. The royal wedding fell in post-WWII Britain and was seen as a new beginning after the horrors of the war. At any rate, royal weddings are a big spectacle and the public likes to hang onto every little detail, but this one in particular offered a new sense of hope and positivity.
Leading up to Elizabeth and Philip’s big day, there was endless speculation about Elizabeth’s dress and who exactly would be given the honor of designing the gown. In the end, designer Norman Hartnell took on the role of creating the iconic gown and vowed to make it “the most beautiful gown he ever made.” Hartnell, along with a huge team of seamstresses, certainly did not disappoint and went on to design an extremely luxurious and lavish gown.
Even now, people still continue to admire the hard work, detail, and dedication that went into the gown. Its exquisite beauty is admired all over the world and regularly appears on display in London. There are also many interesting facts surrounding Elizabeth’s gown. So sit back, relax, and read about 15 secret facts about the dress you never knew about.
15. She Never Tried On The Dress Until The Wedding
Unlike many brides who spend hours in front of the mirror trying on and admiring their wedding dress, Queen Elizabeth had in fact never before tried on the dress until the morning of her wedding.
It is believed that trying on the dress before the wedding was bad luck and Elizabeth chose to respect the tradition
and didn’t dare try to slip into her gown prior to the big day. Unsurprisingly, those close to Elizabeth said she was very nervous in the time leading up to her wedding that the dress wouldn’t fit. However, the then-princess was not disappointed when she eventually got to try on her dress as it fit perfectly.
14. It Took 350 Pairs Of Hands To Make The Gown
It’s not surprising that it takes a large number of people to create an iconic dress, but did you know that it took 350 women to make the garment? As many know, Norman Hartnell was the Court dressmaker and mastermind behind the design, which he entrusted to the workroom of Germaine Davide. Nevertheless, many are not aware that
the dress and train took a total of 350 women working in secrecy to get it done.
It is believed that Davide was rather selective in whom she let work on the gown. At first, she refused to allow an eager group of 18-year-old girls to help out as he was worried about their dedication and ability to keep quiet. However, she eventually decided to let the girls participate once they worked hard and kept their work secret.
13. The Embroidery Was Inspired By A Painting
Different designers have different ways of coming up with inspiration for their designs. When putting together a design as important as Elizabeth’s, you can imagine the careful consideration that went into what detailing to use. When crafting the masterpiece,
designer Hartnell supposedly took inspiration from Botticelli’s Renaissance masterpiece—the Primavera.
It is important to remember that Elizabeth’s gown signified a new world following the war, and Hartnell wanted the gown to symbolize motifs of rebirth, renewal, and growth. The war had taken its toll on everyone and the royal wedding was seen as a positive gathering to bring people to rejoice in a new beginning and something positive. Hartnell crafted patterns using gold and silver thread of wheat, roses, and star-shaped flowers to recreate the detailing used in Botticelli’s famous painting.
12. It Has 10,000 Pearls
The beading and pearls used on Elizabeth’s gown are part of the reasons why it is so magnificent. Much of the beading used was made in England, but
10,000 pearls were brought in from The United States to add to the dress.
The iconic dress was encrusted with 10,000 seed pearls in addition to the sequins and crystals already attached. The hard work, dedication, and attention to detail certainly paid off in the end as the dress is an amazing piece of work, with such perfect precision and detail it can, in its own right, be considered art.
11. The Silk Was Imported From China
The pearls used on Queen Elizabeth’s iconic gown may have been imported from The United States of America, but the silk used was actually brought in from a different country; it was imported from China. After the war, Hartnell didn’t want to collaborate with those on the opposing side like Japan or Italy, so instead, he opted to have the silk flown in from Nationalist China. You will notice how the silk used on the dress was rich and of a rather ivory tone, whereas the silk chosen for the train was more supple.
10. The Silk Quickly Deteriorated
Although a lot of thought was put into the process of choosing the silk for the gown and importing it from China, it turned out to be perhaps not the wisest of decisions after all, at least not in the long run. Three decades after the royal wedding,
the curator at the London Museum observed when the dress was on display that the fabric had deteriorated and didn’t age well.
This is likely down to bad selection when it came to the silk used. Apart from this, another concern raised was regarding the manner in which weight of the embroidery dragged the skirt down, increasing the strain on the weave.
9. She Used Coupons To Pay For It
One of the most interesting facts about Queen Elizabeth’s iconic dress is that she was forced to pay for it using coupons. The royal wedding fell after the war. And just like everyone else during this era, finances were an issue for the royal family.
Elizabeth is said to have saved up all her coupons, so she could have the wedding dress that she had always dreamed of.
In the end, the government made an exception for the wedding and granted Elizabeth with 200 extra clothing coupons to add to the ones she had already saved to purchase the material she needed for the gown. Due to this, Elizabeth was able to add to the dress, ensuring that it was everything she ever wanted and more.
8. It Took Half A Year To Make
Although there were 350 women working on the dress, it still took the seamstresses a total of six months to complete the garment. All the women worked long hours and dedicated much of their time to creating the perfect dress for Elizabeth. One of the workers, seamstress Betty Foster, who was only 18 at the time, claimed that it was a professional understanding that you
never spoke outside of work about the projects you were working on.
It was very important that the public did not catch wind of any of the dress’ details as it was something that was a big reveal on the actual day of the wedding. It must have been a challenge for many of these women to remain tight-lipped about the details of the garment as it was something that everyone at the time was eager to hear about.
7. The Train Was 15 Feet Long
The train is a hugely important part of any wedding gown. With all eyes on the royal wedding, it was essential that the train of Elizabeth’s dress was up to the highest standard and didn’t let down the dress’ overall appearance. Thankfully, Hartnell’s train didn’t disappoint anyone. Elizabeth’s dress stretched 15 feet down the aisle behind her, creating quite the breathtaking sight. At the time of Elizabeth’s wedding, this was seen as a very extravagant length. However, in the 80’s, Princess Diana walked down the aisle with a train of 25 feet trailing behind her.
6. Her Tiara Was Her Grandmother’s
As many may already be aware, it is seen as tradition within the royal family to wear an heirloom from another family member on your big day. Queen Elizabeth followed suit by wearing her grandmother’s beautiful diamond fringe tiara. The tiara itself has quite the interesting history.
It was originally made for her grandmother, Queen Mary, in 1919
5. The Tiara Broke The Morning Of The Wedding
So, although the tiara had quite the exciting history, it certainly wasn’t indestructible (it was rather old, after all). Disaster struck on the morning of the wedding when the tiara snapped in two, causing quite the conundrum. Thankfully, a jeweller was on sight and managed to quickly put the tiara back together in time for Elizabeth to wear it down the aisle. Many have pointed out, though, that if you examine the wedding photos closely enough, you will be able to notice a small gap in the tiara.
4. Her Bouquet Went Missing
The broken tiara wasn’t the only issue that came about on the morning of the wedding, but Elizabeth’s bouquet of flowers also went missing. Florist Martin Longman was given the privilege of being in charge of the bouquets for the royal wedding and he allegedly submitted five designs, but his arrangement of three all-white orchids was the chosen style for the big day. To add a special touch of sentimentality to the flowers, myrtle was added to the orchids. The myrtle used was grown from the same myrtle in Princess Victoria’s wedding bouquet. However,
when Elizabeth and Philip went to pose for pictures after the wedding, the flowers were missing.
3. There Was A Secret Lucky Shamrock Design
Not even the Queen herself was aware that a secret lucky four-leaf clover had been beaded into her wedding gown for good luck. Hartnell chose to place the secret detail on the dress to bring Elizabeth good luck on her wedding day, but decided not to tell her until only after her big day. The good luck four-leaf clover was sewn onto the left side of the skirt,
“so that Her Majesty’s hand could rest upon it during the ceremony,”
2. The Heels Were Studded With Pearls
Hartnell did not just design Elizabeth’s iconic gown but he was also responsible for the design of her matching shoes. Hartnell decided on open-toe sandals with silver buckles along the ankle, which were then beautifully studded with small pearls to compliment the pearl-encrusted dress. Although the heels were designed by Hartnell, it was a craftsman known as Rayne that was given the task of making the shoes from scratch.
This accomplishment made Rayne a favorite among the royal family and launched his career in a big way.
1. Netflix’s The Crown Made An Exact Replica
Netflix’s The Crown is a hugely popular show at the minute, reigniting an interest in all things Queen Elizabeth-related. But did you know that the show actually recreated an exact replica of the dress?
The dress appears in the opening episode and roughly cost $37,000 to replicate.
Actress Claire Foy, who plays Elizabeth on screen, dished the details of what it was like to wear a gown of this stature. “It took five days to shoot that scene, and the dress, an exact replica, weighed a ton. All the fiddling to get it right and needing the loo and you’ve got a crown on your head. For this young woman to be wearing all that and then have the composure to walk through the Abbey full of dignitaries and heads of state, and then having to be anointed… It must have taken huge gumption.”
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