What happens when you put together ration books, a row about silk worms and a 15th century Italian masterpiece? Why, one of the most famous royal wedding dresses of all, that's what. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary today. Seven decades may have passed since the world first got a glimpse of that gown but it still retains its power to wow. On this special day, here's a look back at the Queen's wedding dress....
It was, of course, designed by Norman Hartnell, the British couturier who has been mentioned so often in recent weeks he might just be the most talked about fashionista of 2017 despite passing away almost forty years ago. The Streatham boy made good was already a firm royal favourite when he got the commission everyone wanted in 1947 but if you think this frock was an easy win for him then think again.
First of all, Hartnell had to submit several designs to the Palace for approval. We all know that brides, particularly royal brides, want a big say in how they look but despite all his confidence, his royal warrant and his reputation as one of the designers of the day, Hartnell had a queen consort, a queen dowager and a queen regnant in waiting all casting their eye over his ideas. The one the Royal Family picked was inspired by Boticelli's Primavera, the rebirth of spring. Remember, those great PR brains, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth, were involved in this. They knew how much this wedding meant to a country trying to get back on its feet after the long, hard years of war. Their bride, Princess Elizabeth, wasn't just to look regal. She was a symbol of hope and the frock had to fit.
Having got that box ticked, Hartnell then had to make the dress and being as his royal clients only gave him the go ahead in August 1947 for the November 20th wedding, there was no time to lose. So far, so nerve wracking. But then the famous row broke out about where the silk had come from. Just two years after the end of World War Two there was much anxiety and a paper furore when it was suggested that the worms making the material might have links to Japan, an enemy in the conflict. A public announcement that Chinese silkworms based at Lullingstone Castle in Kent were busy doing whatever it is they need to do to make the fabric led to widespread relief. Meanwhile, the weavers at Winterthur Silks near Dunfermiline were turning it into the material that would shimmer into the Abbey.
As all that was going on, women around Britain were trying to do their bit to help the princess who had to contend with rationing. At the time, fabric was still limited and Elizabeth had to save up her coupons like everyone else. However, she received a flood of ration coupons to help her obtain the fabric she needed from generous women who wanted to help her look her best. The only problem was that giving someone your ration coupons was against the law. They all had to be returned to sender although the government intervened and gave the future queen a few extra clothing coupons to help make a fitting frock.
She needed them. The gown itself featured a heart shaped neckline, fitted waist with a dropped V shape and panelled skirt. Attached to the shoulders was a fifteen foot court train made of tulle and embroidered with flowers. There was also a tulle veil. Hartnell had it decorated with crystals and 10,000 seed pearls which were imported from the USA.
The result was kept under lock and key at his design studio until the day before the wedding when it was taken to Buckingham Palace. Rumour has it that Hartnell even had a member of staff sleep at his offices to stop anyone breaking in and getting so much as a glimpse of the design. It was worth the wait. The dress was an instant hit and credited with inspiring a change in bridal fashions. It was displayed around the UK and has been on exhibition several times since. The Queen has worn many outfits in her record breaking reign but her wedding dress remains one of the most special. As she celebrates her Platinum Wedding Anniversary, it still appears as magical as it did on November 20th 1947.