The royal wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry is a time of pomp and pageantry steeped in tradition. But Meghan and Harry are also putting their own mark on the celebration. Here’s a look at a few elements of a royal wedding — what’s old and what’s new this time around, along with the symbolism and significance tied up in each one.

Table of contents:

The bride's dress

That first glimpse of the royal bride on the wedding day is one of the most anticipated moments, and will be again on May 19. Royal wedding dresses can also be trendsetters, with Queen Victoria’s dress reviving and popularizing the white wedding dress.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

Meghan's wedding dress
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    • The dress was designed by Clare Waight Keller, the first female artistic director at Givenchy.
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    • The veil has flowers from all 53 countries of the Commonwealth. It's five metres long. Meghan also selected two more flowers: Wintersweet, which grows at Kensington Palace, and the California Poppy, the state flower from where Meghan was born.
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    • The tiara. Many people guessed that Meghan might wear the Spencer tiara, which Diana wore at her wedding; they were wrong. Meghan wore Queen Mary's diamond-and-platinum bandeau tiara, lent to Meghan by The Queen.

    Prince William and Kate Middleton

    Kate's dress for her 2011 wedding.
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    • Kate’s ivory satin dress was designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen.
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    • The dress, with its fitted bodice and long lace sleeves, was a much sleeker silhouette than Diana’s and was praised for its timeless elegance.

    Prince Charles and Diana

    Charles and Diana's dress
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    • Diana’s dress was made of ivory silk taffeta and adorned with sequins and 10,000 pearls.
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    • It was designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, who were only a year out of college.
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    • It was very much a dress of its time: with colossal sleeves, a 7.6-metre train, bows and lace.

    Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip

    Meghan Markle's engagment ring
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    • Elizabeth’s dress was designed by Norman Hartnell, who also created her coronation gown.
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    • The ivory silk dress had a five-metre train.
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    • The elaborate embroidery was inspired by the Botticelli painting Allegory of Spring.

    The groom's attire

    Royal grooms have often spent some time in the armed forces, and often opt for military uniforms on their wedding day.

    Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

    Harry’s wedding attire
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    • Prince Harry wore the Blues and Royals frockcoat uniform. And so did Prince William, who stood up with his brother (as Harry did for him in 2011).
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    • With his uniform, Prince Harry wore four medal ribbons (left to right): K.C.V.O., Afghanistan with rosette, the Queen's Golden Jubilee medal, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
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    • He also wore his pilot's wings, which he got while serving with the Army Air Corps for flying Apache helicopters.

    Prince William and Kate Middleton

    William's red tunic.
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    • William wore the red tunic of a colonel of the Irish Guards in 2011. He had been appointed colonel two months before the wedding.
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    • William wore the star emblem with St. George's cross that indicates that he is a Knight of Most Noble Order of the Garter.
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    • William also wore the Queen's Golden Jubilee medal.

    Prince Charles and Diana

    Charles was married wearing a Royal Navy commander’s full dress uniform
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    • Charles wore a Royal Navy commander’s full dress uniform for the 1981 wedding. He had trained as a jet pilot in 1971 and served in the Royal Air Force and and Royal Navy. He left active service in 1976.
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    • Prince Charles's medals include the Queen's Coronation medal and Queen's Silver Jubilee medal.
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    • At his neck, he wore a white enamelled Maltese Cross indicating that he is Grand Master and Principal Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath.
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    • Below his medals, he wore the the star emblem as a Knight of Most Noble Order of the Garter, and the Order of the Thistle Star.

    Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip

    Philip wore his naval uniform
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    • Philip wore his naval uniform for the 1947 wedding. He served during the Second World War, with his active naval career ending in 1951.
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    • He used his ceremonial sword to cut the wedding cake.
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    • Like Charles and William, below his medals, Prince Philip wore the the star emblem as a Knight of Most Noble Order of the Garter.

    One of the most hotly debated guesses leading up to the wedding: Whether or not Harry would shave his beard. (He kept it.)

    The ring

    Once there’s an engagement, so many people want to see the ring. For royal brides-to-be, their rings have often had an emotional significance and a link to brides who have gone before them. And in one case, the bride picked the ring out herself.

    Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

    Ms. Meghan Markle's engagment ring
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    • The centre stone in is a cushion cut diamond sourced from Botswana, a country with a deep personal significance for the couple. Harry has visited several times; they took a trip there shortly after they met. Experts estimate the main stone at about five carats.
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    • The smaller outside stones are from the collection of Harry’s mother, Diana. They’ve been estimated at about 0.75 carats each.
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    • Harry designed the ring, just like his grandfather Prince Philip did for Elizabeth prior to their wedding in 1947.

    Prince William and Kate Middleton

    Kate Middleton's engagment ring
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    • Prince William gave Kate the 12-carat sapphire and diamond cluster ring his late mother Diana wore.

    Prince Charles and Diana

    diana Spencer's engagment ring
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    • Diana chose her engagement ring herself from a selection provided by the royal jeweller, Garrard. Its price listed at the time was 28,000 pounds.

    Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip

    queen elizabeth's engagment ring
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    • Elizabeth’s platinum and diamond ring was designed by Philip (with assistance from a jeweller). The centre diamond is estimated to be about three carats. The ring showcases diamonds from a tiara owned by Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Greece.

    Harry and Meghan's rings were made by Cleave & Company (the company also made Meghan's engagement ring). Meghan's wedding band is Welsh gold given by Queen Elizabeth II.

    The invitation

    Royal wedding invitations follow a general and rather formal pattern. They are simple cards where the names of those invited are added on lines that have been left blank.

    Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

    Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's invitation
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    • This is the first time the word “Ms.” has appeared on a royal wedding invitation, reflecting that Meghan is divorced.
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    • It’s the first time the invitation has been issued in the name – and under an emblem – of the Prince of Wales, Charles.
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    • It’s less formal: Charles requests “the pleasure of the company” of guests; in previous invitations, the “Lord Chamberlain is commanded” by the Queen, or the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, to invite the guests.
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    • This may be the first time — or close to it — when the RSVP can come via email.
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    • Just like Meghan and Harry, the invite is a U.S.-U.K. alliance: The ink is American and the card is English.

    Prince William and Kate Middleton

    William and Kate's invitation to their 2011 wedding.
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    • The invitation was issued on behalf of the Queen, and was more formal than Harry and Meghan’s.
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    • There’s a dress code for men, but not women, unlike Harry and Meghan’s, which mentions “day dress with hat.” That said, women were wearing hats at William and Kate’s wedding.

    Other subtle difference are noticeable on earlier invitations. When guests received their invitation to Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981, Diana’s status as a member of the aristocracy was reflected in her title: Lady Diana Spencer. Guests to the wedding of the Queen’s parents in 1923 found themselves invited by “Their Majesties,” while later invitations identify the royal parents more specifically by either name or title, such as the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, or Prince Charles.

    The venue

    Royal wedding venues are steeped in history and seat hundreds, if not thousands, of guests.

    Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

    Meghan and Harry’s wedding venue
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    • With capacity for about 800, this is a smaller royal wedding venue, relatively speaking. Meghan and Harry’s wedding won’t fill it completely – about 600 guests are invited to their ceremony.
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    • The Gothic chapel includes memorials for 10 monarchs. Harry and Meghan will walk over the marble slab marking the final resting place for King Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour.
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    • The chapel was built between 1475 and 1528, and features soaring stone pillars and elegant fan vaulting on the ceiling.

    Westminster Abbey (Kate and William)

    William and Kate's venue for their 2011 wedding.
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    • It’s a larger venue than what Meghan and Harry are using —1,900 guests were at Kate and William’s wedding there in 2011.
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    • Coronations have taken place here since 1066, and it’s hosted 16 royal weddings. Seventeen monarchs are buried here.

    St. Paul’s Cathedral (Diana and Charles)

    Charles and Diana's venue
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    • The biggest of the three: Charles and Diana married here in 1981 in front of 2,500 guests.
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    • It was designed by Christopher Wren and is a masterpiece of English baroque style. Wren is buried here, along with the first Duke of Wellington.
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    • Charles and Diana married here, but it’s is an unusual choice for a royal wedding. The last one — held at the Old St. Paul’s Cathedral — was in 1501, when Prince Arthur, eldest son of King Henry VII, married Princess Catherine, the youngest daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon.

    Royal weddings can take place elsewhere, too. Zara Phillips, granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth, married Mike Tindall at the Canongate Kirk on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh in 2011. Zara’s mother, Princess Anne, married for the second time, to Tim Laurence, at Craithie Kirk, near the Queen’s Balmoral Castle in Scotland in 1992.

    Photo credits: Owen Humphreys/Associated Press, Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images, Associated Press/Matt Dunham, Associated Press/Kirsty Wigglesworth, EPA, Getty Images, Victoria Jones - WPA Pool/Getty Images, John Stillwell/AFP/Getty Images, Reuters/Dominic Lipinski/Pool, Dave Thompson/AFP/Getty Images, Jennyx Goodall/AFP/Getty Images, EPA, Reuters, Reuters, Associated Press, Martin Meissner, American Press, Associated Press, AFP/Getty Images

    Editing: Megan Griffith-Greene | Development: Jessica Willms, CBC News Interactives