Some royal wedding dresses stand the test of time, others are always very much of the era they were worn but some are such instant hits that they take on a fame all of their own. The gown worn by the Queen’s only sister, Princess Margaret, for her wedding to photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones on 6 May 1960 at Westminster Abbey is definitely an outfit with its own place in history. Margaret’s royal wedding dress is an all-time classic.
Every part of this wedding look remains well known, almost six decades on from its first appearance. And with good reason. This gown, by favourite royal couturier Norman Hartnell, might have all the air of a classic about it but it was just as representative of the new lines and fresh ideas that were permeating fashion at the time it was worn.
Famous for its simplicity, this dress was designed to flatter Princess Margaret’s frame and to showcase the famous, and fabulous, Poltimore Tiara that the bride wore on her wedding day. The result was a royal wedding dress like no other and one that most definitely took the House of Windsor into the Swinging Sixties in style.
Made of white silk organza, it includes a tailored top with fitted waist and long sleeves. The bodice has a slightly transparent jacket style to it while the sleeves are finished with little buttons on the inside of the cuffs. The skirt of the gown was full length and voluminous – so large, in fact, that this part of the dress took up thirty metres of fabric all by itself. The skirt ended with a small train, all covered with a tulle veil bordered with satin.
Unlike just about every other royal wedding dress you can think of, this one has very little embellishment. Margaret and her designer eschewed the regal marriage fashion for motifs and patterns made of pearls and crystals to leave the dress to make the statement all by itself. However, there was no stinting on the bride’s jewellery. The Poltimore Tiara had come into Margaret’s collection just ahead of her wedding – quite possibly as a gift to herself.
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That this dress suited the occasion so well was no surprise as Hartnell had been dressing royal women for major events for decades. Hartnell, who had begun his career in the 1920s, won his first regal commission in 1935 when he designed the wedding dress of Alice, Duchess of Gloucester. From then on, he’d been a firm Windsor favourite. The Queen wore one of his designs for her wedding in 1947 and her Coronation in 1953 while the clothes he’d made for the Queen Mother, especially in the early part of her reign, were legendary in the fashion world.
His design for Princess Margaret’s dress would become one of his most iconic pieces. It was feted from the moment it was first seen (Vogue described it as a dress for ‘’a new princess’’) and its reputation has only grown since. It’s also been inspirational. When Margaret and Antony’s son, David, married in 1993, his bride paid tribute to her new mother in law with her own wedding dress. Serena Stanhope wore a Bruce Robbins design that gave a nod, and quite possibly a discreet curtsy, to the Hartnell gown that Margaret wore in 1960.
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Margaret’s dress now belongs to the Royal Collection but it also belongs in royal fashion history. It is still a striking departure from the royal wedding dresses we have come to expect, a style statement made almost sixty years ago that is still setting trends today.