October 2, 2023


Singularly dandy shopping

How Kate Middleton’s Wedding Dress Honored A Hollywood Royal Bride

When Kate Middleton emerged from her car outside Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011, an estimated 17.6 million people watched as the most anticipated dress of the 2000s was revealed.

The designer was announced to have been Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen and its design featured a nod to one of Hollywood’s most stylish royal brides, Grace Kelly.

As Kate and Prince William celebrate their 11th wedding anniversary, Newsweek looks back at the wedding dress which told more than one love story on their special day and the hidden details you might have missed.

Kate Middleton Grace Kelly Dress
Kate Middleton’s Alexander McQueen wedding dress featured a nod to Grace Kelly in its elegant lace bodice overlaid on top of a white bustier. Kate (L) photographed April 29, 2011. And Grace (R) photographed April 18, 1956.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images/AFP via Getty Images

The Bad Boy of Fashion Meets Royal Wedding

As with Grace Kelly’s 1956 wedding to Prince Rainier III of Monaco, the question of who would be designing the wedding dress of the future princess was a subject that dominated the fashion press for months in the lead up to the 2011 royal wedding.

It was almost certain that the bride would choose a British designer. Not to do so would have broken with tradition—something that Kate was not known for doing. It was also speculated about whether Kate would pay homage to her tragically absent mother-in-law Princess Diana in her choice of designer, perhaps the princess’s favorite house of Catherine Walker would get the commission or even the maker of Diana’s own wedding dress Elizabeth Emmanuel?

Vivienne Westwood, Steward Parvin and Jenny Packham were all rumored to be in the running alongside one of Britain’s biggest fashion hitters, Alexander McQueen.

McQueen the designer had died in 2010 and his fashion label was now run by his assistant Sarah Burton, who possessed the love of referencing classic British tailoring and aristocratic dressing that McQueen loved to subvert.

McQueen was by no means a fan of the establishment. When he was a tailor on Savile Row he told a story of drawing a large phallus into the canvas lining of a suit jacket belonging to Prince Charles in chalk. It was perhaps then a strange choice for Kate to give such a classic and conservative commission to McQueen but under the leadership of Burton the house had become far more aligned with her sense of style.

Kate Middleton Sarah Burton McQueen
Kate Middleton’s wedding dress was designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen. Kate in her wedding dress (L) April 29, 2022. And (R) Sarah Burton, May 2, 2011.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images/Larry Busacca/Getty Images

A statement released at the time of the wedding ceremony from Buckingham Palace read: “Miss Middleton chose British brand Alexander McQueen for the beauty of its craftsmanship. Miss Middleton wished for her dress to combine tradition and modernity with the artistic vision that characterises Alexander McQueen’s work.

“Miss Middleton worked closely with Sarah Burton in formulating the design of her dress.”

Kate has remained a loyal client of the designers of her wedding dress, wearing many new and old McQueen pieces for some of her most important royal engagements.

A Nod to Grace Kelly

The design of the wedding dress itself was deceptively simple in appearance.

Underneath, a masterful implementation of darts, seams, tucks, pleats and boning created a bride that appeared as serene as a swan floating down the aisle.

The dress bore a strong visual similarity to one worn by the most elegant royal bride of the 20th century, Grace Kelly.

Kelly’s dress had been designed by her Hollywood costume maker, Helen Rose, and as such not only looked beautiful in person but photographed to its absolute advantage.

The elegant gown featured a delicate long-sleeved lace bodice with a high tulip neckline over a strapless bustier beneath. This bodice design was replicated for Kate though, unlike Kelly’s, had a deep V neck detail.

Since her wedding day in 1956, the Oscar winning actress’ wedding dress has become one of the most referenced and enduring gowns of all time. It is no surprise then that when looking for inspiration for another royal bride that she should choose to honor it for her big day.

Kate Middleton Grace Kelly Lace
Kate Middleton’s wedding dress echoed that worn by Hollywood’s Grace Kelly. Kate (L) photographed April 29, 2011. And Kelly (R) photographed April 18, 1956.
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images/Bettmann

Hidden In The Lace

It was the lace details of the soon-to-be Duchess of Cambridge’s dress that echoed most closely Kelly’s ethereal 50s design.

The lace that was overlaid on most of Kate’s wedding dress was made by craftsmen and women at the Royal School of Needlework located at Hampton Court Palace. The technique used was the Carrickmacross lace-making, which originated in Ireland in the 1820s.

Hidden in the lace design were subtle references to the lofty position that she would inhabit as the new Duchess of Cambridge, a granddaughter-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II.

Like the queen for her coronation dress, Kate had the floral emblems of the four nations of the United Kingdom represented in lace on her wedding dress. These included the rose for England, the thistle for Scotland, the shamrock for Northern Ireland and daffodil for Wales (unlike the queen, Kate was allowed to use the daffodil instead of the more traditional Welsh leek).

Kate Middleton Wedding Dress Lace
The lace elements of Kate Middleton’s wedding dress were worked, in part, by the craftsmen and women of the Royal School of Needlework. The dress (L) photographed at Buckingham Palace, July 20, 2011. And Kate with William on their wedding day, April 29, 2011.
Lewis Whyld/WPA Pool/ Getty Images/Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Something Blue

Kate honored many traditions on her wedding day from making a curtsey to the queen after saying “I do”, to having William drive her in her wedding dress from Buckingham Palace to Clarence House in a specially decorated “going away” car after the wedding breakfast.

Kate also abided by the tradition of wearing something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue on the big day.

The something old was reportedly the lace technique used to make part of the dress design, the something new a pair of diamond earrings given to the bride by her parents and the something old was the diamond tiara loaned to Kate from the queen’s personal jewelry vault.

The something blue was a small detail only reported after the fact which was represented by a small blue ribbon sewn into the back of the gown by designer Burton.

Ingenious Train Engineering

Unlike Grace Kelly’s gown, Kate’s had a wide expansive train measuring nine feet in length.

The engineering work which was covered by yards of white lace and organza was shown to its full advantage when Kate began her walk down the aisle.

The road to the altar is not straight in the abbey, as before the great west door lies the grave of the unknown warrior, which no one walks on top of. As such, royal brides make a respectful detour around the grave marker and later send their wedding bouquets to be placed on top of it, a tradition started by the queen’s mother whose brother died in World War One.

Kate Middleton Wedding Dress Train
Kate Middleton’s Alexander McQueen wedding dress featured ingenious skirt panels which fanned out when walking to avoid an unbalanced look. April 29, 2011.
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

The detour can mean the painstakingly created wedding trains become bunched up or lopsided. Kate’s ingenious McQueen had no such trouble. After becoming disturbed during the detour the expanse of fabric fanned out and righted itself due to the shape of its cut panels. This ensured the bride was picture perfect by the time she arrived at the high altar in front of the entire royal family and 17.6 million other guests at home.

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