To say the royal family has an effect on bridal fashion trends would be a vast understatement. The wide-reaching, global impact of what monarchs and similar royal figures choose to adorn themselves with on their wedding day has long been cause for conversation. With a backdrop as iconic as Westminster Abbey and a tradition as historic as the royal wedding, it’s unsurprising that something as seemingly simple as picking a dress with sleeves or wearing a colorful engagement ring can impart such long-lasting changes on the industry.
“For a generation raised on Disney princesses, royal weddings are a fairytale come to life— there’s even a horse-drawn carriage!” Elizabeth Holmes, author of HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style says. "They are major global events, so the choices of the brides are bound to have an outsize impact on bridal trends.” Furthermore, Holmes suggests that their influence is also due to sparseness. “They don’t happen all that often. Other major fashion moments stick to a calendar, like the red carpet at the Oscars every year. But royal weddings only come along when romance strikes,” she says. “We’ve had two major weddings from the House of Windsor in the last decade with Kate and Meghan. I think the next big one will be Prince George, and that’s not for many, many years to come.”
Meet the Expert
- Elizabeth Holmes is a New York Times best-selling author and seasoned journalist. She is a contributing editor at Town & Country and her work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Vanity Fair. She’s also the creator of the Webby-recognized Instagram Stories series serving up fashion commentary on the royal family called “So Many Thoughts”—a collection of observations she expanded into a book titled HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style.
- Roberta Fiorito is the co-host of Royally Obsessed, a podcast that discusses the inner workings of the royal family. She’s also the author of Royal Trivia: Your Guide to the Modern British Royal Family.
Another explanation behind the viral effect of royal bridal fashion is that it introduces common ground between a queen or princess—and the rest of us. “Causes for celebration—royal births, christenings, and weddings—serve as an entry point for many royal watchers, but they are also a connecting point for generations of fans who have followed along for decades,” Royally Obsessed co-host Roberta Fiorito says. “Think of them as the Super Bowl for anyone royally-obsessed. That’s why royal weddings are massive global events: These momentous occasions of joy unite a world across countries and generations like no normal celebrity could—and they, therefore, set the stage for a host of bridal trends able to be emulated and replicated from time immemorial.”
Ahead, discover our experts’ picks for nine significant bridal fashion trends we learned from the royals.
White Wedding Dresses
In 1840, Queen Victoria drastically altered the path of history for bridal fashion trends—she wore white. “She popularized the white wedding gown for the masses,” Fiorito says. “Although wealthy brides—who were able to afford a dress that would most definitely need a good cleaning after wear—were choosing white before this time, it took off when a then-20-year-old Victoria donned her Honiton lace and cream-satin gown for the world to see.” Fast forward 180 years and white wedding dresses are still regarded as the norm for walking down the aisle.
Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding dress was created by British fashion designer Elizabeth Emanuel and featured a 25-foot train, voluminous sleeves, and a bold ruffled neckline. “I think the most obvious element of her dress was the volume, how extra it was,” Holmes says. “Her wedding to Prince Charles was the biggest royal wedding in decades, and inspired a new generation of brides to go full princess with their looks.”
Sparkly Wedding Dresses
Among the more celebrated wedding gown design details are those that lend sparkle—appliqué, beading, sequins—and Fiorito says you can thank her majesty the queen for the inspiration. “Back in 1947, when then-Princess Elizabeth married the love of her life, Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, the attention on Elizabeth’s choice of a wedding dress—an ivory silk Norman Hartnell design that was inspired by Botticelli’s famous Renaissance painting Primavera, symbolizing the coming of spring and so apropos for the end of WWII—was at a fever pitch,” she explains. “Fit for a literal queen, the dress was covered in pearl and diamanté starflowers, roses, jasmine blooms and ears of wheat on the gown's bodice, skirt and silk tulle train, with some 10,000 seed pearls adorning it.”
Long Lace Sleeves
Holmes observes that it’s often the obvious style elements, particularly when they are a departure from current trends, that have a tendency of transforming into a major bridal fashion moment. “Kate Middleton single-handedly brought back sleeves with her Alexander McQueen gown,” she says. "I got married that same year and wondered if I should rethink the strapless dress I had already ordered (Kate later changed into a strapless gown, so I was safe).” In the decade following, countless brides opted for a similar gown silhouette featuring lace sleeves, including celebrities like Karlie Kloss and Kim Kardashian.
The monarchy’s influence on matrimony is unrivaled.
White Bridesmaid Dresses
“I always appreciate when brides take a more subtle aspect of a royal wedding and use it to inspire their own day,” Holmes says. "There are so many well-publicized details shared after a royal wedding that there is a lot to choose from! After Kate and Will’s wedding, I remember seeing more bridesmaids wear white the way that Pippa did.” Adding to the sentiment, Fiorito shares that the trend is only increasing with time. “ White bridesmaid dresses searches have increased 50 percent in the last 12 months according to Google Trends,” she says. “The monarchy’s influence on matrimony is unrivaled.”
Colorful Engagement Rings
Princess Diana’s sapphire blue ring is among the more iconic pieces of jewelry, paving the way for future brides to skip the diamond as the center stone and opt for something with more of a pop. “Colorful engagement rings are an example of quantifiable ways in which the royals affect how we dress and shop,” Fiorito says. “Diana, and now Kate, but also Fergie, Princess Eugenie, Princess Anne, and Princess Margaret.”
Vintage Wedding Dresses
A more recent bridal trend that Fiorito says we owe to the royals (Beatrice, specifically) is opting for vintage gowns. “She tailored and re-wore a Norman Hartnell embellished design from Queen Elizabeth’s own closet: a Peau De Soie taffeta and organza gown the Queen wore to the premiere of Lawrence of Arabia, trimmed with Duchess satin, and encrusted with diamanté with a geometric-checked bodice,” she says.
Hint of Shoulder
While Meghan Markle opted for a gown from Givenchy for her 2018 ceremony alongside Prince Harry, she slipped into a sleek Stella McCartney dress for the reception that made (arguably) an even bigger splash. “I’d say Meghan’s second dress was perhaps more influential than her first,” Holmes says. “Her halter top gown by Stella McCartney, with the hint of shoulder, was simultaneously chic and sexy—the latter is not something we often think of when we think of royal wedding dresses. The brief moment we saw her and Harry head off to their reception gave off such James Bond vibes.”
While gown silhouettes and embellishments typically steal the spotlight, on a smaller scale, accessories such as bouquets can steer bridal trends in a specific direction. “I love that Meghan and Kate carried smaller bouquets,” Holmes says. "It’s so unexpected, you’d think royals would do everything in a big way. It gave such an approachable vibe to their bridal looks.” Floral designer Amy Osaba recently shared with Brides that over the past year, her clients have been drawn to smaller, more demure bouquets and reflects “an old-world quiet humility that has been missing in the last few years of floral design.”