All about the dress

Welcome to The Royal Fascinator, your invitation to royal wedding news and analysis ahead of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's nuptials on May 19.

Newsletter: Your invitation to royal wedding news ahead of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's nuptials

Kate Middleton arrives at Westminster Abbey for her marriage to Prince William in central London April 29, 2011. (Phil Noble/Reuters)

Welcome to The Royal Fascinator, your invitation to royal wedding news and analysis ahead of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's nuptials on May 19. Sign up here and it will land as a newsletter in your inbox every Saturday.

What about the dress?

It will be one of most anticipated moments of the royal wedding — that first glimpse of Meghan's dress. But so far, the dress has been one of the biggest secrets. That has fuelled endless speculation about possible designers — Erdem or Ralph & Russo perhaps? — and chatter about how Meghan may convey  her own fashion sense in a dress that is so much more than one bride's choice for her big day.

"I expect a dress that manages to be classic, elegant, glamorous and modern all at the same time," says Toronto wardrobe stylist Ingrie Williams, who styled Meghan for a 2016 cover of Best Health magazine. (Coincidentally, she wore white.) "I think we'll see a style that favours clean lines and includes unexpected embellishment, something that embodies respect for the historic occasion while highlighting her own sense of style."

Royal wedding dresses have their own fashion formula: be grand enough for that historic occasion and locale, but also show a regal modesty. Strapless and sheer really aren't the order of the day.

The gowns royal brides have worn have been making statements — and influencing fashion for brides far beyond palace walls — for a very long time. Queen Victoria revived and popularized the white wedding dress with the silk and satin gown she wore for her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840. "I don't think it was actually intended to symbolize purity, but that of course is what it came to mean," says Alison Eastwood, editor-in-chief of Hello! magazine.

The current Queen had her own iconic fashion moment in a duchesse silk satin gown with fine pearl embroidery at her 1947 wedding to Prince Philip. Designer Norman Hartnell took much floral inspiration from a Botticelli painting called Allegory of Spring.
Lady Diana Spencer, soon to become the Princess of Wales, showing her wedding gown for the first time, turns as her bridesmaids set her train on arrival at St. Paul's Cathedral for her wedding to Prince Charles in London on July 29, 1981. (Mal Langsdon/Reuters)

A generation later, Lady Diana Spencer made her statement in an ivory silk taffeta design by David and Elizabeth Emanuel when she married Prince Charles in 1981. Colossal sleeves, colossal train, bows and lace – it had pretty much anything a wedding dress could have. As such, it was very much a dress of its time. "She was just kind of a vision [in] it . She was just very confectionary," says Alison McGill, editor-in-chief of Weddingbells.

Fast forward one more generation, and the royal bridal silhouette was much more streamlined. The Alexander McQueen dress Kate Middleton wore when she married Prince William in 2011 won praise for its timeless elegance. It also had its own impact on other brides walking down much more modest aisles.

"When Kate appeared and she had that gorgeous dress with a beautiful bodice and sleeves, the whole industry … went on its head in terms of bridal fashion," says McGill, "because the sleeve was back and I think a lot of women thanked her for that and they still are."

What brides will thank Meghan for remains to be seen, but count on there being something.
A dress worn by Queen Victoria on her wedding day to Prince Albert in 1840 is pictured in Kensington Palace in central London, on March 20, 2012. (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)

When logistics get in the way

Brides want everything to be perfect with their dress, but it doesn't always work out that way, even at a royal wedding.

After Diana arrived at St. Paul's Cathedral on July 29, 1981, no one could help but notice the wrinkles and crumples, especially on her train.

"The dimensions of the glass coach that she took … didn't really allow for the massive train of her dress," says royal historian Carolyn Harris. "So that resulted in the train looking a bit rumpled."

The bridesmaids and the designers did what they could to smooth things out before Diana and her father headed down the aisle. "In the tiny carriage, it had crumpled far more than we'd anticipated. We'd done a rehearsal, but not with her father, Earl Spencer, in the car, too — and he was quite a large man," Elizabeth Emanuel recalled last year.

What about a tiara?

Beyond the dress, there's also been some curiosity about whether Meghan will wear a tiara, and if so, which one.

While the Royal Family has several tiaras, it seems to be a given that she won't wear the same one that Kate did. It's part of a Cartier exhibition on now until July 22 in Australia. Some speculation has suggested she might choose the Spencer Tiara, which Diana wore on her wedding day in 1981.

Royally quotable

"I felt so happy when the ring was put on, and by my precious Albert."

-- Queen Victoria, on her marriage day, Feb. 10, 1840. Victoria revelled in her love and devotion to her husband, and fell into a deep and lasting mourning after his death in 1861.

Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge introduce their newborn baby son at St Mary's Hospital in London on April 23. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press)

Here's the new nephew

It's not all about the wedding. For a while this week, the royal spotlight shifted from Meghan and Harry to the newest member of the family, Louis Arthur Charles, who will be known as His Royal Highness Prince Louis of Cambridge.

Just seven hours after his birth, Harry's nephew — who pushes him down a notch to sixth in the line of succession — was making his debut in that media spotlight. As the cameras focused in tight, a few tiny fingers wiggled and some of those watching wanted to see it as his first royal wave.

Meghan and Harry have not been shy in showing an interest in children, and it's a fair bet they'll be an eager aunt and uncle to the third child of Harry's older brother William and his wife, Kate.

And many of those watching the family leave hospital Monday saw a nod to Harry's first public appearance with his parents after his birth nearly 34 years ago. Kate is nothing if not deliberate in her sartorial choices, and her bright red dress seemed to channel the dress Diana was wearing that day in 1984.

Harry and Meghan attend the dawn service at Wellington Arch in London to commemorate Anzac Day on Wednesday. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Royal reads

  • Prince William will be standing up with Harry, but he's vowing a bit of "sweet" revenge on his brother when it comes time for his best man's speech. (BBC)

  • Even though she's not an official member of the family yet, the drive to get Meghan up to speed on royal duties continued at full throttle this week, with her attendance at her first memorial service. (The Times)

  • Sometimes it's a good idea to take a call from an unknown number — at least that's what a young cellist who will be part of the wedding music found out recently. (The Telegraph)

  • Meghan walked down another aisle this week — on the small screen. Her final episode on the legal drama Suits aired, wrapping up with her character's marriage. (The Guardian)

  • The wedding really can't mean anything to him, but one pampered pooch did get new digs inspired by the upcoming nuptials. He seems happy. (BBC)

Royal decoder

From Annette: Is there a cost?

Determining the total cost of the wedding with any sense of accuracy is next to impossible. The Royal Family is paying for the church service, flowers, music and reception, and they won't announce a final tally on their expenses. Costs for policing will be covered by the British taxpayer. The Telegraph has suggested costs for William and Kate's wedding exceeded £10 million, including security and policing.

Have a question you want us to decode? Email us at

How to watch

Many of you have asked. The CBC will be broadcasting the royal wedding on May 19. It will be an early morning: The wedding starts at noon local time (which is 4 a.m. if you're in B.C. and 8 a.m. if you're in Halifax). More details on when you can tune in are coming soon. 

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Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.