The Incredible Story Behind Queen Elizabeth’s Wedding Gown
If you watched the first episode of the Netflix series The Crown you couldn’t help but notice the stunning wedding dress that actress Claire Foy as Princess Elizabeth wore when walking down the aisle at Westminster Abbey. The gown was made from ivory silk satin, encrusted with 10,000 seed pearls, and embroidered with star lilies and orange blossoms. It cost a whopping £30,000 (that’s about $37,000) and took seven weeks to make. This wasn’t just extravagant costuming, though. The gown was an exact replica of the one Princess Elizabeth wore when she wed Prince Philip at Westminster Abbey in 1947.
Princess Elizabeth’s dress was designed by royal couturier Norman Hartnell, who, according to Harper’s Bazaar, was inspired by Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli’s “Primavera”, full of flowing lines and flowers that are reminiscent of the painting. According to the Royal Collection Trust, the gown and its evocation of spring was meant to symbolize "rebirth and growth" in Britain after the war.
It took 350 women nearly two months to bring Hartnell's design to life. It wasn’t just the embroidering of the 13-foot train, careful tailoring of the bodice, and importing the pearls from America that took so long. In 1947, the United Kingdom was working to rebuild after the devastation of World War II, and the country had strict austerity measures in place which applied to princesses as well as commoners. That meant that Princess Elizabeth had to pay for her dress with clothing ration coupons, which she dutifully saved up until she had enough to pay for the gown with a little help from the government in the form of a 200-coupon supplement. According to Town & Country, when some of the soon-to-be Queen’s young admirers heard about the rationing, they tried to send their own coupons to Elizabeth. However, transferring coupons was illegal, they were all returned with a thank you note and the princess paid for her gown herself.
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Her patience paid off and the dress was absolutely gorgeous. It had a high neckline and long sleeves paired with a carefully tailored bodice and full skirt that led to a dramatic train that trailed after the soon-to-be queen. The young bride finished the look with a double strand of pearls and a diamond tiara. Since even royal weddings have a little behind-the-scenes drama, according to Town & Country, Elizabeth’s crown broke as she was getting ready for the ceremony and a royal jeweler had to rush over to repair it before the wedding.
The dress was a huge success. “With her bridal dress and tiara on her wedding day, she was a knockout,” Lady Pamela Hicks, one of Elizabeth’s bridesmaids, told People. That’s exactly what a bride—commoner or royal—wants to hear on her wedding day.