15 November 2017

Jewel History: Rich Materials for Princess's Wedding Dress (1947)

Detail of Hartnell's sketch of Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress (Central Press/Getty Images)

"Rich Materials for Princess's Wedding Dress"
(originally appeared in the Nanaimo Daily Free Press, 11 Oct 1947)

LONDON -- On a red satin settee and a leopard skin rug in the lush, empire-style "designing room" of the royal couturier, Norman Hartnell [1], lie the two top-secret breathtaking bales of material of Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress and going-away outfits.

Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress and jewels on display, 2007 (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

As my editor signed a pledge for my integrity in keeping Princess Elizabeth's secret for her husband until November 20, the marriage date, I can only say that the materials are indeed worthy of a royal princess.

Hartnell's salon in Mayfair, October 1947; note that the windows are whitewashed to help keep the royal wedding dress design a secret (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The wedding dress material brought forth gushings from women reporters. And when they saw the material for the eight bridesmaids' dresses, they said, "Not quite so gorgeous. That is the way it should be. But gorgeous enough."

Hartnell's sketch of Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress (Central Press/Getty Images)

The press had been briefed so thoroughly about the previews of the materials that they did not bother to ask Hartnell's secretary about the style. It had been impressed upon them that they would have to wait for the sketches to be displayed in the first week of November. A question about the prices was turned away with aghast looks [2].

Norman Hartnell sketches at his salon in Mayfair, January 1947 (Fred Ramage/Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Princess Elizabeth's materials, for a peek at which Hartnell attendants have been approached with bribes, could not have been displayed against a more elegant background.

Princess Elizabeth's wedding dress on display, 2002 (Sion Touhig/Getty Images)


1. Sir Norman Hartnell (1901-1979) was a British fashion designer best known for his work with Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mother. His most famous creations include the Queen's wedding and coronation dresses, the Queen Mother's "white wardrobe," and the wedding dresses worn by Princess Margaret; Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester; and Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent. He also designed costumes for various films, including Katharine Hepburn's wardrobe for Suddenly, Last Summer.

2. Remember that Britain was still in the midst of post-war austerity in 1947, and clothing was still being rationed. The palace was keen to avoid questions about rationing and the royal wedding, but it was eventually made public that the government had granted Elizabeth 200 extra clothing coupons for her wedding dress. Members of the public had also sent the princess their own clothing ration coupons to help pay for the dress, but those had to be returned, as using them would have been illegal. The dress was made of heavily-embroidered silk and satin; the silkworms used were from China, not Japan or Italy, two countries which had recently been Britain's wartime enemies.