By Alice Bowring
To those who know me, it will come as no surprise that I was, very unashamedly so, one of many hundreds that pre-booked to see the dress. Having been declared as ‘The People’s Gown’ by the Evening Standard (28/07/2011), the dress needs little more introduction; it can only be the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress.
Since undertaking the very enjoyable task of analysing the speculation of who may design the dress, the possible beauty of it and just why we all care so much about what the then Kate Middleton might where, I admit to becoming a bit of a fanatic surrounding the topic. I like to think I was one of the first mere mortals to have seen the gown, having arisen at a ridiculous hour on the 29th April to stand for many hours outside Buckingham Palace to wave a flag. Up until then it had been a wonderfully kept secret. The amount of excitement and anticipation did not subdue from the time the engagement was announced in November, right up until the camera flash moment when Kate stepped out of the Rolls Royce and waved, beaming, to the crowds. Was anyone disappointed? I certainly didn’t hear or read a bad word said against it, and instead began appreciating its designer who had been a relatively hidden ‘national treasure’. Sarah Burton certainly succeeded in the challenge of modernising a wedding dress that ultimately needed to be rooted in tradition, yet flattered the bride in a way that reflected her renowned classic style. The Duchess of Cambridge earns the praise of being elegant and demure, and the recognition of her use of British designers and high street shops is worthy of praise. It’s a quality off her Royal Highness that makes her just a little bit more accessible to the general public, allowing us to relate to not only her but her new family too.
Perhaps this is another reason why a new wave of visitors are flocking to Buckingham Palace this summer. Not only do people, like me, just want to see a piece of the fairytale, but it is as if we are more welcome than ever to see behind the closed doors of the monarchy. The queues outside the Palace are testimony to the revived eagerness to step inside the world of royalty. However, the draw is now not the State Rooms or the collection of Dutch paintings; everyone wanted to see the wedding dress first hand. The exhibition of the dress had only been open for two days when three generations of my family joined other like-minded visitors on the tour. The age range of visitors astounded me; the dress has this amazing quality of appealing to young and old (predominantly female), perhaps because wedding dresses always have this elusive air of mystery and intrigue surrounding them. However, the spectacle is certainly enhanced by the fact that Kate Middleton is living the fantasy dream where the ordinary woman marries a Prince. The exhibition of her wedding dress certainly has an enchanting appeal to it.
On the tour, we were steadily guided along the many grand corridors and banquet rooms Buckingham Palace has to offer, only taking a slight detour to see the stunning Fabergé egg collection. We were, however, constantly reminded of the principal reason for our visit throughout the tour with photographs of the ‘happy couple’ still in their wedding attire at the points where they were photographed for the official photos. I knew we were getting close to the gown when Sarah Burton’s tones could be heard in the adjacent corridor. I can’t tell you how excited I was that she was in the building giving a presentation. Alas, it was in fact a rather good and very informative video where she breaks down the design and creation of the dress. Behind this was the dress. It was seemingly floating in the middle of the expansive grand room, capturing the gaze of all its onlookers. I had heard that the Queen had thought the dress was displayed horridly, so I was a little anxious that I wouldn’t like it. But to those of us who had never seen the dress up close before, we were certainly not disappointed. It appeared regal and was undeniably exquisite, standing proud in its similar surroundings. The use of the black netting surrounding the dress is an unfortunate necessity, but the dress was well lit and it’s detailing was still visible to the naked eye. I do concede to some press reports that it appears a little ghostly, but for me this just enhanced the fairytale and romance of the whole experience. Visitors were also able to see the Duchess’s jewellery, bouquet and court shoes too, which was very gratifying having been described their every detail in media reports- there is always something special seeing something that has gained so much press first hand. The Royal couple’s formal wedding cake was also on display, but sadly the digestive biscuit cake was not (it must have been far too tasty for leftovers). For me, it was the lace of the dress that was so wonderful to see up close. The detailing is so extraordinary and perfectly crafted (by the Royal School of Needlework at Hampton Court) giving resonance to England’s Tudor rose, Scotland’s thistle, Ireland’s shamrock and the daffodil of Wales. I could hear many nationals surrounding the dress exclaiming their gratitude for the recognition…and the rest were probably momentarily distracted by the tiny-ness of the Duchess’s waist.
The entire wedding outfit really was outstanding and I do believe can only be appreciated at this close distance, where details and its construction are explained. But it is not just the budding designers and keen fashionistas that will want to go, and will undoubtedly be inspired. The dress stands proud as a statement of British glory for its craftsmanship, its romance and the 21st century monarchy. I am, as are hundreds more visitors, happy to dwell in the fairytale for just a little longer.
See royalcollection.org.uk for further information of ticket prices and visiting hours.