The wedding dress worn by Princess Alexandra of Denmark, later Princess of Wales and Queen Alexandra is displayed as part of the current exhibition Royal Women, in Bath’s Fashion Museum.
Kept in the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection at Kensington Palace, the dress is on loan from the Royal Collection by gracious permission of Her Majesty The Queen. It is an appropriate highlight exhibit given the fact that the first of this year’s royal weddings will take place in May at St George’s Chapel, where Princess Alexandra of Denmark wore this dress, on her marriage to the Prince of Wales on 10 March 1863.
It is a rare opportunity to view a historic British royal wedding dress at first hand as for conservation reasons, they are not usually on public display; Princess Alexandra’s dress forms a group of historic dresses kept in the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, including those worn by Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), Queen Victoria, Princess Mary of Teck – the future Queen Mary – Princess Margaret and Princess Alexandra of Kent.
Princess Alexandra was photographed both alone and together with the Prince of Wales after the wedding in the dress, images of which feature in the ‘Album of Important Occasions, 1837-1885’ in the Royal Photograph Collection.
Princess Alexandra’s dress is well depicted in the painting made by William Powell Frith, ‘The Marriage of the Prince of Wales’; a lappet of her Brussels lace is preserved today in the Royal Collection, a wedding present to Alexandra from Leopold I, King of the Belgians. The dress itself was made by the London dressmaker Mrs James, richly trimmed with net and Honiton lace patterned with traditional emblems as would befit the wedding dress of a princess of Great Britain, with designs of roses, shamrocks and thistles.
The dress was altered shortly after the wedding by a London dressmaker Mme Elise, with the full skirt which today is made – at least partly, from what was once the silver moire train. It may have been altered in order to increase the size of the Danish princess’s trousseau; Elly Summers, who curated Royal Women at the Fashion Museum, explained that perhaps “she may have needed more evening dresses to wear… so remodelling her wedding dress into an evening dress seems likely”.
Following the wedding luncheon at Windsor Castle, Princess Alexandra changed into a dress of white silk and a bonnet trimmed with orange blossom, the latter not unlike the ribbed silk ‘Going Away Bonnet’ ornamented with orange blossoms which Queen Victoria had worn to Windsor for her own honeymoon in 1840, which still survives. Despite the fact that the wedding dress was altered, the waxen orange blossom sprigs have survived, as has the lace. Princess Alexandra’s white court wedding dress had puff sleeves, was of English cream silk and described as “a petticoat of white satin trimmed with chatelaines of orange blossom, myrtle and bouffantes of tulle, Honiton lace, and bouquets of orange blossom and myrtle”. According to the Royal Collection, Princess Alexandra’s wedding dress was lined with brown silk and stiff muslin.
The wedding dress features as part of the new exhibition, which traces four generations of royal female representation through the patronage of designers such as Norman Hartnell and Christian Dior. It begins with the dress of Princess Alexandra and continuing through to the dresses worn in turn by Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. With the first of the royal weddings at St. George’s Chapel in May, there is a historic link with the first marriage ever to be celebrated at St. George’s – through this one wedding dress.
©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2018.
Royal Women: Alexandra, Mary, Elizabeth and Margaret. Public life, personal style runs at the Fashion Museum in Bath from 3 February 2018 – 28 April 2019.