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Royal weddings: inspiration & imitation

Sponsored Content: Looking to royal families for the latest in style, trends, and social etiquette


Today’s celebrities include tech industry billionaires, social media icons with millions of followers, and beloved actors and athletes. But, before the Internet, before television, before tabloids, we looked to royal families for the latest in style, trends, and social etiquette, especially when it came to weddings. From the dress to the cake to the flowers, the big-day choices of queens, princesses, and duchesses fed our curiosity and influenced our decisions. Now, with interest in Prince Harry’s upcoming nuptials reaching fever pitch, it’s clear that our fascination with royal weddings hasn’t waned.


Princess for a day

In Sarah Doran’s “The real royal wedding—what were Victoria and Albert’s nuptials actually like?” (radiotimes.com), we learn that the “bride in white” tradition was popularized, if not started, by Queen Victoria, who wore white not as a symbol of purity, but as a sign of her family’s wealth.


“Victoria wore a white dress, which was seen as unusual at the time. It was more traditional for brides to wear colors, with gold or silver embroidery running throughout their gowns,” writes Doran. “She opted for a white silk dress, made from silk spun at Spitalfields in London, and added some rather splendid Honiton lace, which was worked at the village of Beer in Devon. Queen Victoria wasn’t the first royal to marry in white, but she certainly made sure she wouldn’t be the last.”


In 2018, many brides still choose to walk down the aisle in white or ivory. However, it should be noted that progressive brides who opt for colorful dresses aren’t bucking tradition at all—they’re merely echoing pre-Victorian fashion!


In 1956, more than a hundred years later, film star and model Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III of Monaco and wowed crowds in a gown with high neck, full skirt, and fitted waist. According to beyondgracekelly.com, the legendary gown was “offered by MGM and created by the studio’s wardrobe department and designed by its costume designer Helen Rose, featuring 125-year-old Brussels lace, yards of silk taffeta, and thousands of tiny hand-sewn pearls. It took six weeks for thirty-six seamstresses to make the wedding gown. Even today, the high-necked, long-sleeved dress with a fitted bodice and billowing skirt made of rose point lace, yards of silk faille and taffeta and seed pearls, is one of the most elegant and best-remembered wedding gowns of all time.”


An American actress marrying a handsome young prince? History seems ready to repeat itself with the engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. And, if Markle’s wedding day look is as stunning as Queen Victoria’s, Grace Kelly’s, or, more recently, Kate Middleton’s, one can only guess at the number of brides it will inspire. (And brides, you certainly don’t need to marry a prince to rock a tiara or a ten-foot train!)


Cakes fit for kings

The elaborate confections that mark royal weddings inspire and impress us as much as the gowns. No one could thumb a nose at the cake made to celebrate the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Doran’s article states that it weighed 300 pounds and measured more than three yards in circumference. (The logistics of transporting that creation in 1840 must have been complicated.)


Hello! Daily News and “Ten-Show Stopping Royal Wedding Cakes” say that in 1934, “The Duke of Kent and Princess Marina of Greece’s wedding cake featured Grecian-style pillars between the tiers in honor of Marina’s nationality. It stood at nine feet high and weighed about 362 kilograms.” That’s nearly 800 pounds that surely required a ladder to serve. In 1981, Prince Charles and Princess Diana served twenty-seven cakes on their big day. However, “only one served as the official cake, prepared by chef David Avery of the Royal Naval Cookery School. Topping out at more than five feet high, the cake was adorned with both the prince and his family’s royal coat of arms, the couple’s first initials, and a spray of roses, lilies of the valley, and orchids” (blog.hellomagazine.com).


Multitiered delicacies adorned with flowers (both real and iced) have become celebrated conventions of “commoners’” weddings, too, with “What kind of cake did they serve?” a vital part of postwedding gossip. So go for the extra tier. Ask the baker to add more roses. And make sure the photographer gets pictures before it’s cut.


Flower Power

For what many refer to as “the wedding of the century,” Princess Diana needed a bouquet that wouldn’t get lost in the folds of her voluminous gown. In Jess Ilse’s “Royal Wedding Bouquets” at royalcentral.co.uk, she writes, “Diana’s bouquet was equally overthe-top, a forty-two-inch cascading design that contained gardenias, freesias, lilies of the valley, ivy, hebe, stephanotis, odontoglossum orchids, tradescantia, Earl Mountbatten Roses, and the traditional sprig of myrtle.” In 2011, Catherine Middleton “carried a smaller, shield-shaped bouquet that contained myrtle, lily-of-the-valley, sweet William (a nod to her husband-to-be), and hyacinth” (Isle).


The custom of royal British brides carrying myrtle in their nosegays was born, according to Ilse, when “Prince Albert had a bush of myrtle brought over from Germany to the Isle of Wight, where it grew and sparked another royal wedding tradition. Since the wedding of Queen Victoria’s oldest daughter, Princess Victoria, a sprig of myrtle has been used in every royal bouquet.” This inclusion makes sense, as many consider myrtle to be symbolic of everlasting love (though not all British royals lived happily ever after).


Another white flower “lived up to its name” in Denmark, when, in 1967, Queen Margrethe married Prince Henrik. “The quirky queen, whose nickname is Daisy, made sure that daisies were on display that day. She wore a daisy brooch pinned to her bodice, carried daisies in her bouquet, and the bridesmaids had daisies in their hair,” says Ilse.


Many brides still take their floral cues from those posh women across the pond, overwhelmingly choosing white flowers for all or most of their bouquets. Whether the style is cascade or round, posy or pomander, white floral arrangements with well-placed greenery are elegant and timeless.


Elegant entourages

These days, we’re used to bridesmaids in creamy pastels or saturated jewel tones, but Kate Middleton (her own wedding dress clearly inspired by Grace Kelly’s), dared to be different. In Terri Pous’s “8 Ways the Royal Wedding Ceremony Is Still Influencing the Bridal World,” (brides.com), the News & Celebrity writer says that Pippa Middleton, Kate’s sister and maid of honor, wore white.


“It was once thought that only the bride should wear white, but Pippa Middleton’s knockout white cowl-neck bridesmaid dress threw that idea to the wind,” Pous states. “No one could deny the appeal of a crisp-looking bridal party, and Pippa’s simple silhouette ensured that Kate still had most (if not all) of the attention. Thanks to the royals, it’s always a nice day for a white wedding.”


Pous writes that brides all over are trying this look, and brides.com advice writer Heather Lee says: “Clean, crisp white always looks chic and the color (or non-color, really) is universally flattering. Plus, white is so versatile and works for every type of wedding, from a breezy beach bash to a preppy, country club celebration” (“Can My Bridesmaids Wear White?”).


If you’re emulating this look, Lee advises noticeable differences between the wedding gown and the bridesmaids’ dresses. If your gown is long, choose knee-length for your attendants. If your gown has a V-neck, go for halter-style or strapless bridesmaids’ dresses. Your accessories—veil, train, bouquet, hairstyle, tiara or other jewelry—will also help you stand out. (Bonus: if you’re a fan of black-and-white photos, imagine the effect of those white dresses, especially against a contrasting background.)


The ring and the bling

Royal weddings are the perfect occasion to take gleaming gemstone-and-precious metal treasures from their glass cases and give them a spin, and kings and queens have been “icing” themselves for their nuptials for centuries. Queen Victoria’s personal diary doesn’t mention whether or not she observed British tradition by wearing anything “old” or “borrowed” in 1840, but she did deck herself out in opulent gemstones. Doran’s article quotes the diary, in which the royal says she wore her “Turkish diamond necklace and earrings.” The same account states that she accessorized with something blue— “a beautiful sapphire brooch.”


Sapphire also played a role in Princess Diana’s wedding, and her son, Prince William, continued the tradition. According to Melissa Castellanos for CBSnews.com, the famous piece is “a dazzling oval, eighteen-carat blue sapphire and white diamond ring. Diana, who died in 1997, chose the elegant cluster ring after becoming engaged to Charles in 1981.” Prince William, in turn, passed it to his betrothed, Kate Middleton. (“Kate Middleton’s Engagement Ring Is Princess Diana’s”).


The ring’s second appearance has renewed the colored gemstone engagement ring trend among the noncrowned masses, and for good reason. Colored gemstones allow for more personalization and almost guarantee that the lucky lady’s ring won’t look like anyone else’s. For couples considering stones like sapphires, emeralds, rubies, or topaz, take another cue from Diana and keep the style simple and timeless. Her ring is just as beautiful today on her daughter-in-law’s hand as it was on her own.


Riding in style

Since they were girls, women might imagine arriving at their weddings by fairy tale coach—Cinderella’s iconic pumpkin coach drawn by white horses is embedded in memory—and real-life royalty do indeed travel in luxury style, though many prefer vintage sports cars to antique carriages. In 2004, Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe married former TV personality Letezia Ortiz, according to Bootie Cosgrove-Mather of CBS.com (“Spain’s Royal Wedding”). Ortiz is the first non-royal-born woman in history to be in line for the Spanish crown, and, on the day she became a princess, Cosgrove-Mather alleges that the “newlyweds’ procession through the streets of Madrid [was via] vintage, black, armor-plated Rolls- Royce.” It’s a good thing the couple didn’t choose an open carriage ride or a convertible—the day was marked by “torrential rain”! (Some might say that brought heaps of good luck.)


Cloudy skies also darkened Pippa Middleton’s May 2017 wedding. The Duchess of Cambridge’s sister married millionaire fiancé James Matthews in what USA Today calls a “semi-royal wedding” (Maria Puente, “Pippa Middleton Marries in Lavish, Semi-Royal Wedding”). Puente states that Pippa “arrived for the ceremony with her father in an open-top 1951 Jaguar Mark V, a somewhat risky move given the sporadic rain.” The rain didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits, though, and “after the ceremony, Pippa and James drove off, both waving, to their reception in another vintage Jaguar—this time, a rare, E-Type convertible from the 1960s,” says Puente, adding that the moment “immediately recalled memories of sister Kate and brother-in-law Prince William’s post-nuptial ride in his father’s  beloved Aston Martin Volante convertible, as the couple was escorted from Buckingham Palace by a RAF rescue helicopter flying overhead.”


What are inspired brides and grooms to do if no one’s father owns a classic car? Many limousine and transportation services keep vintage automobiles in their fleets, though specialty options often come with added regulations and heftier price tags. For example, many vintage cars cannot be driven on high-speed roadways, so couples will need to choose surface-street routes between venues. Antique autos may also have antique speeds, so allow for plenty of time, and consider weather; older cars may not have heat or air conditioning.


Guests dressed to the nines

The Middleton sisters’ weddings proved that the brides aren’t the only ones who can show up looking festive; some of their guests’ outfits and accessories could put even seasoned Kentucky Derby attendees to shame. Liz Jones, writer for The Daily Mail (dailymail.co.uk), remarks in her article “The style queens (and a few too many court jesters): How the wedding guests fared,” that “on the whole the female guests at the Royal Wedding [of Will and Kate] were a colourful, spectacular, reverential bunch. It was almost as if everyone wanted to do the couple justice.


“Carole Middleton chose a pale blue Catherine Walker wool crepe coat-dress over a matching silk dress. Her Jane Corbett hat was dramatic, but we could still see her proud face. The queen was so cheerful in a primrose dress and coat by Angela Kelly. Never mind the fashionistas: she has been colour-blocking for decades. Camilla (Prince Charles’s wife) wore a lovely hand-embroidered Anne Valentine champagne silk dress and duck egg blue coat.”


It wasn’t just the family matriarchs who turned up their style. Guests arrived in flouncy, broad-brimmed hats, neat cloches, smart pillbox hats, bejeweled fascinators, bird-cage veils, feathers, pearls, bows, and gloves. “Bright colours and top-to-toe shades were the order of the day, as Westminster Abbey was lit up with vibrant tones of teal, coral, cobalt, and pink,” says Jones.


Brides can encourage style by adding a dress code to invitations, asking that guests wear hats, or “At the couple’s behest, we request: bowties for guys; pearls for girls!” If it seems too much to ask, keep a table of accessories for guests who “forgot” about the dress code. Add fun hats, feather boas, ropes of costume pearls, and statement headbands. With a photo backdrop nearby, the items can double as props. Incorporate prizes for the best hat, brightest outfit, etc., to play up the British theme even more.


Wedding days should be as outrageous and unforgettable as the brides and grooms desire. At Grace Kelly’s wedding to her prince, doves flew from the cake when it was cut. Kate Middleton had two wedding gowns—one for the ceremony, one for the reception. There’s no telling what newly engaged Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will plan.


It’s likely that most of us won’t get married at Westminster Abbey, on a balmy Greek island, or in front of thousands of adoring subjects. But why should that stop couple from having a royally inspired wedding? Float down the aisle in a snow-white dress that makes you feel like a queen. Add myrtle to your bouquet. Order a cake that requires on-site assembly. Ride off into your own love story in a rented Rolls-Royce, and remember that, even if the car isn’t yours, the heart the person sitting next to you is.


Rebecca Cuthbert lives, writes, and cares for shelter dogs in Dunkirk. She is a frequent contributor to Spree and Forever Young. 


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