As Sweden’s Royal Wedding quickly approaches, the final details for the event are being finely tuned. Tradition, ceremony as well as modern elements are being intertwined to not only create a memorable service for the happy couple but also a festival for the people.
Royal weddings have fascinated people for centuries. But what really seems to intrigue many in the 20th and 21st Centuries is the actual wedding dress. What will it look like? What materials are being used? Where is it being made? What will be worn with the dress? Who is the designer? The questions are almost limitless. Stories, rumors and “facts” have been circulating for quite some time now about Crown Princess Victoria’s wedding dress. One thing is almost certain though – her dress will remain top secret until June 19.
While royal wedding dresses excite and enthrall many, they also reflect the times while also setting the trend for many years to come. The tradition of the white wedding gown did not actually appear in western society until the mid 1800’s. Until then the fabrics and styles could vary greatly, all depending on social status, income and other trends of the day.
Legend has it that it was England’s Queen Victoria that introduced the white wedding gown, wearing one on the occasion of her marriage to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. The young Queen’s wedding dress was quickly mimicked by many women around the UK and soon spread throughout many other parts of the world. The tradition has continued since then, with variations varying on the colour chart from the purest of whites to cream to ivory.
In 1956 what was billed as the “wedding of the century” took place at the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Monaco. On April 19 Prince Rainier III married actress and movie star Grace Kelly. Driven by the public relations machinery of her film studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the wedding was a media extravaganza.
Much of the focus was of course on Princess Grace’s gown. It was designed by MGM’s Oscar-winning designer Helen Rose and was fashioned in lace, silk faille and silk tulle, and accentuated with small pearls. The style of the dress, with its fitted bodice, broad skirting and extensive train became the inspiration for many wedding gowns in the late 1950’s. The fairytale princess look was copied by many.
The luxurious gown also reflected the hopes of her new home Monaco. The country had been suffering economically since World War II and Miss Kelly’s wedding dress symbolized the expectation she brought for a return of opulence and tourism to the small Mediterranean principality.
For her wedding to Sweden’s King Carl XIV Gustaf, Silvia Renate Sommerlath chose a simple and elegant dress by the House of Dior. The long sleeved, floor long dress in white satin redefined the definition of elegance in the late 1970s. The veil accompanying the couture gown was made of 150 year old Brussels lace, and had been previously worn at the weddings of the King’s sisters Birgitta, Desirée and Christina. Her uncomplicated gown with a hint of tradition also mirrored the mood of the country. Support for the monarchy had been dwindling and lavishness and display of wealth were looked down upon.
One of the most widely discussed wedding dresses of the 20th Century was Lady Diana Spencer’s on the occasion of her marriage to the Prince of Wales in 1981. Designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel it was the gown of gowns. The ornate ivory silk dress, accentuated with small ribbons and large sleeves was made famous for its train measuring almost 8 meters. Like other royal wedding dresses before hers, Princess Diana’s gown also reflected the times. It marked the ending an era and the start of the overabundant and affluent 80’s.
The enduring popularity of these wedding dresses can be seen time and time again. They are often written about and all have been displayed at various exhibitions with flocks of visitors gathering to catch a glimpse of a piece of history. And what has been true of so many royal wedding dresses before will most likely be true of Crown Princess Victoria’s.
In all probability her dress will, in contrast to that of Queen Silvia, be created in Sweden. This will most likely be viewed as the politically correct thing to do – the Crown Princess is a symbol for the nation and her gown will not be hers alone. This will be a dress for the people and will help promote Swedish design. In one sense, however, Victoria’s dress will be comparable to that of her mother: it will reflect the straitened times we live in. Simplicity, once again, will override abundance.
The question remains though what makes a wedding dress, especially a royal one, so fascinating? Is it a symbol for something more than a wedding? Is it perhaps a lasting reflection and symbol of the times? Or perhaps it is a symbol of hope – dreams realized and dreams to be? A fairytale come true?
Juan Navas, a journalist, former information secretary at the Royal Court and co-author of ‘The Royal Year’, is writing a series of articles about Swedish royalty in the run up to the royal wedding on June 19th. He is also blogging about the wedding for The Local