The Crown: The Queen’s Wedding Dress

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I’ve been catching up on The Crown (2016) and enjoying what I’ve binged so far. Overall, the production appears to have taken great pains to maintain historical accuracy, and with so much primary source material in the form of photos and video, it’s a good thing, too. Allegedly costing $130 million, I gotta hand it to them for putting that money too excellent use on the costumes, which were designed by Michele Clapton of Game of Thrones fame.

Matt Smith plays the surprisingly dreamy Philip — I say “surprisingly” not because the young Duke of Edinburgh wasn’t hot (because he definitely was), but because Matt Smith is one of those actors whose heartthrob status always seemed questionable to me. That said Smith is a fabulous choice in casting; hell, I’d say 99% of the casting choices in The Crown were spot-the-fuck-on (John Lithgow scene chewing away as the master of all scene chewers, Winston Churchill, was especially brilliant). The only one I’m not totally convinced of is Claire Foy, who is absolutely capable in the role of Elizabeth, but as I was looking at images of Elizabeth on her wedding day, I realized that she looked far happier and far more relaxed than Foy portrays her with her enormous blue eyes darting everywhere.

Get used to seeing this expression. She wears it a lot.

Anyway, this post isn’t about casting, but about costuming (rather than reinvent the wheel, I recommend checking out Movie Pilot’s side-by-side comparison of the actors with the real people). I’ve said before that you’d have to be monumentally lazy to screw up historical fashion from within the last 50 years — so with that in mind, I set out to answer the burning question: How accurate is the wedding of Princess Elizabeth in this episode?

The answer: Pretty darn accurate.

The Crown costume team of 35 to 40 dyers, pattern-cutters, and sewers rose at peak times to more than 100 helpers, including students to embroider the Queen’s wedding dress. The un-fazeable Clapton remarked that it was achieved within a five-month lead time. ‘Nine weeks before, it was an empty room.’

— Sarah Mower, Vogue.

The Crown opens on November 20, 1947 with Elizabeth’s wedding to the recently created Duke of Edinburgh, a certain Philip Mountbatten. One thing to bear in mind that isn’t really touched on in the episode (or if it was, I missed it), was that this was only two years after the official ending of World War II and Britain was still in dire economic circumstances with mandatory austerity measures enacted at all levels of society from the King on down. So, planning a grand wedding for Princess Elizabeth had to be balanced by the fact that the Royal Family was trying to set an example for their subjects by being the public face of rationing. This meant that everything had to be scaled back as far as humanly possible, without sacrificing all that pomp and ceremony that was expected of a royal wedding. To that end, Elizabeth used her ration coupons to purchase the materials for her wedding dress; the government kindly extended her a further 200 ration coupons to afford the dress, of course. But still, the purchase of the materials for the dress by Norman Hartnell resulted in a design that was considerably more restrained than the rank of Princess may have called for in less straitened circumstances.

So, let’s compare the original wedding gown to the film version, shall we?

Michele Clapton is well known for her use of embroidery and beading from her work on Game of Thrones, so this stuff is right up her alley.

Let’s all just take a moment to appreciate the stunning embroidery and beading on QEII’s wedding gown. Via Instagram.

In all the images I’ve seen online of the original wedding dress, it appears that it really is more of a warm, buttery white, but the film dress reads more of a true white. I can only imagine that this decision had something to do with lighting on the set, since it’s pretty clear that the costume crew studied the original very closely. Another evident difference is that the film version is less shiny than the original, again probably due to lighting issues on set. I’m not sure if the difference in the necklines is due to the still being shot from slightly below, so the depth of the V doesn’t appear to come down as far on Foy’s chest as the original would have.

Next are the bridesmaid dresses. I think they did a pretty decent job, though I’m having a hard time telling if the bodices are ruched the same way they are in the originals. Again, the white is much brighter on the film dresses than the original.

Two of the original bridesmaid gowns on display.

 

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Website

Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. Her undergraduate degree is in Clothing & Textile Design, and she has a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, Sarah enjoys reading true crime books, writing fiction, and sewing historical clothing from the Middle Ages through the 20th-century. One of these days, she might even start updating her old costuming blog again.

18 Responses

  1. Tinny

    I wonder if the originals, especially the bridesmaid’s dresses (because tulle is often starched) have also yellowed over time? If that is the case, then it would be more accurate to have brighter shades on the show, as the clothing should be “new” in the wedding scene.

    Reply
    • robintmp

      That’s what I was thinking as well–I know my own mother’s wedding gown and veil definitely yellowed with age, as most whites will do to some extent, unless they’re stored very carefully. (IIRC, don’t they sometimes suggest storing white fabrics in blue tissue paper? I could swear I remember reading that in an old book of housekeeping hints from the 1920s.)

      Reply
      • Sarah Lorraine

        It’s possible that the silk has discolored, though the original descriptions describe it as an “ivory silk”, which in my mind is definitely warmer than the white used in the episode.

        There’s been a few sources that mention that the original gown was made from inferior silk and that the dress is in “appalling condition”, as the silk has stretched and shattered under the strain of the tin weights in the skirt. You can see in the close-up of the embroidery that the ground fabric is in pretty bad shape.

        Reply
  2. Charity

    Wait until Episode 9. It stomped all over my poor little heart. Great series, but that one episode, in its exploration of age, decay, loss, and psychological understanding hit me right between the eyes.

    The costumes are… gorgeous, but also frustrating in a sense; I can’t help but think they don’t ‘fit’ Vanessa Curby that well in her scenes as Margaret (especially the off-shoulder gowns). But overall the series is extravagantly gorgeous.

    Reply
  3. Catherine Nielsen

    I’ve never seen this dress up close before. Only black and white pics from a distance. The embroidery is absolutely beautiful! My only complaint IS John Lithgow as Churchill. I’m a Churchill buff, I read and watch everything about him. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve seen so many actors do a superior job or what, but he wasn’t Churchill for me.

    Reply
  4. JessB

    Oh my gosh, I’m LOVING The Crown! I watched all the episodes over a day, and entranced! I’d love to see more about the costumes, which I thought were incredible.

    Reply
  5. Saraquill

    Now I want to know more about how her rationed wedding materials were chosen.

    Incidentally, in my book on 1940s fashion has a picture of a British wedding dress with an ankle length skirt and a blurb stating that the bride was able to use so much material by saving lots of money and buying off-ration lace. The luxury tax for lace and other off-ration things like hats was pretty high if I remember correctly.

    Reply
  6. SarahV

    I love the line of the original dress, and the way the skirts fall. Very elegant. Also, assuming that the mannequin upon which it hangs is based on the queen’s actual measurements, young Queen Elizabeth had an amazing figure!

    Reply
    • Katie

      She did have an amazing figure. Its often overlooked, because her personal style is so restrained, practical and correct, but “in her day” Elizabeth was quite a hottie.

      Reply
  7. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    Just a little FYI about the Queen’s original gown here. Not only did Queen Elizabeth have to use her own rations but the people across the UK also contributed their personal fabric rations to the gown so that she could have as must cloth as needed but she was not allowed to use the additional rations and sent each of the people who contributed a personal thank you letter. The cloth is as inferior as it is because the silk and satin industries were taken over by the government to produce surgical silks, parachutes, and other industrial silks. As such silkworms were imported from China and weaved in England instead of acquiring the cloth from Japan or Italy.
    What I adore is that you see that the royals are wearing a standard uniform of sensible suits and dresses instead of more flamboyant clothing even after the rationing ended to set a good example for the populous. Queen Elizabeth especially would only wearing British designers and British made goods in contrast to Princess Margret who after rationing ended embraced her love of French fashion especially Dior’s new look.

    Reply
  8. Susan Pola

    Guess what, I found the episodes on YouTube and have been watching. I’ve seen the first three episodes and I’m hooked.
    I agree with everyone that the costumes are great. The wedding gown looks and feels correct. I seem to remember reading that rationing was suspended for the wedding in order for the Princess to have a wedding cake which would permit every guest to have a piece.
    Cannot wait to see the coronation gown.

    Reply
  9. Linda Merrill

    You’re correct – they didn’t make mention of the rationing coupons related to the wedding dress, which I think was a missed opportunity to put the time period (post WW2 austerity) into perspective while also highlighting that the royal family didn’t consider themselves above. Another reason Wallis was never going to fit in. There was a fashion exhibit a while back at the MFA in Boston and I don’t recall if the actual wedding dress was there, but there was a section on the royal wedding and it went into how Elizabeth used her ration coupons and donations to gather the materials. It was quite a memorable thing.

    Reply

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