If ever a royal wedding dress summed up its wearer, it was the gown chosen by Sophie Rhys-Jones for her marriage to Prince Edward on 19 June 1999 at St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Subtle, elegant and classic, this was the final Windsor bridal dress of the 20th century and it saw in a new era with style.
Sophie and Edward’s big day might have been a modern marriage but it had an air of the medieval about it, too. It nodded to the chivalric and heraldic past that still comes alive at St. George’s, home to the ancient Order of the Garter, and the bride’s outfit took on several elements that set the tone for this unusual but striking theme.
The main element of this bridal look was a coat dress made of ivory silk organza with crepe and tulle, all of it hand dyed. The bodice featured a V neck with full-length sleeves ending in fluted cuffs that hinted at the style of the later Middle Ages. The bodice with fitted waist gave way to a slightly flared skirt that flowed into a long train. The bride also wore a tulle veil, an inch longer than her train, which was noticeably caught by the breeze as she walked up the steps to St. George’s Chapel.
One of the most striking features of Sophie’s bridal look was the amount and manner of embellishment on the dress. While both Lady Diana Spencer and Sarah Ferguson had opted to have motifs on their wedding gowns, Sophie used her sparkle more subtly. There were over 325,000 pearls and crystal beads on the coat dress, train and veil, added in discreet patterns to give an overall lustre to the wedding outfit. They are perhaps most noticeable on the front of the coat dress, where they sit in neat lines along the bodice and opening of the skirt.
The dress was designed by Samantha Shaw who had herself got married just weeks before Sophie and Edward. Already a popular couturier, she had opened her first studio in Chelsea in 1995 after studying costume design, and her commission for the royal wedding dress was announced in April 1999.
Sophie’s wedding look was completed with some rather special royal jewellery. The tiara that secured her veil was a special creation, all in diamonds, featuring pieces from the Queen’s collection remodelled by David Thomas of Asprey and Garrard. The bride also wore a striking necklace and earrings, presented to her by her groom and featuring cream and black pearls.
That colour scheme was reflected in her bridal party’s outfits with her two pageboys and two bridesmaids in black and white creations inspired by the Order of the Garter.
Sophie’s flowers also had a monochrome effect with deep green foliage set against pale cream flowers. As the bride entered and left the church there was also a chance to get a glimpse of her wedding shoes, by Gina, which featured three inch heels.
Sophie’s gown is perhaps not the most talked about of the Windsor wedding dresses but it remains a classic, almost twenty years after it was first seen. The discreet elegance of the Countess of Wessex put a final fashion flourish to the Windsor wedding dresses of the 20th century and nodded to a new wave of style to come.