The Stories Behind The Most Iconic Wedding Dresses In History

iconic wedding dresses in history

I can’t say how many hours of my life I’ve wasted watching those TV shows about wedding dresses instead of doing something more productive. The truth is that I like them not because I’m looking for ideas for my future wedding, it’s just that I love looking at those majestic dresses we don’t get to wear anymore on a daily basis. Now, it’s become commonplace to credit Queen Victoria for being the first one to wear a white dress for her wedding. That’s basically a half-truth. While it’s true that she was the one that popularized the white dress to the reaches it’s gotten even today, she wasn’t really the first one. 


For many, wedding dresses represent the one day in which we all can become princesses and evoke the lavishness and elegance of royalty, and that’s why as you’re going to see, most of the dresses considered to be iconic belong to actual royals. 

It’s commonly thought that white represents the purity of the bride. In reality, that’s actually not accurate at all. In fact, throughout history almost all cultures understand wedding attires as representing the wealth of the couple. This is the reason why most people marry in suits and extravagant dresses, to show their wealth or aspiration to it. Thus, wedding dresses are cultural symbols we love looking at and praising and for that reason, those worn by famous personalities have become ingrained in our collective memory as actual symbols of what we want to aspire to.



Queen Victoria


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We have to talk a bit more about Queen Victoria’s dress since it was basically the one that set the fashion for brides. What’s important about her dress choice is that she used it as a political statement rather than a fashion purpose. By the time of her wedding to Prince Albert, the textile industry was experiencing huge changes to the point that many handmade businesses went bankrupt due to the implementation of mechanical machines. To show her people she was concerned and worried about these changes, she decided to cover her dress with a huge handmade lace made by poor artisans. She went for white simply because it was the best color to show the lace so that people would notice it. From that moment on, the white dress became a trend among the aristocracy who wanted to imitate the royal fashion, and royals themselves.

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Queen Elizabeth II (Norman Hartnell)


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The next in our list of iconic dresses is Queen Elizabeth II’s attire for her wedding to Prince Philip in 1947. This was basically the first wedding broadcasted on the radio in history with millions of listeners worldwide. The dress, which she had to use ration coupons (still in use after the war) to buy the fabrics, was a satin gown decorated with about 10,000 imported pearls, silver thread, and intricate embroidery (I wonder how many coupons she had).

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Jacqueline Kennedy (Ann Lowe)


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Going to the other side of the Atlantic, and some years after that, we have Jacqueline Kennedy a woman who became a fashion icon during the fifties and sixties when she became First Lady of the United States. For her lavish wedding to John F. Kennedy in 1953, she chose a princess gown created by Ann Lowe, an African American designer who wasn’t properly credited until years later (it’s actually said that when the bride was asked for the designer she just said it had been a “colored woman”). The dress was praised all over the world, but she actually despised it basically because it had been made at her mother’s taste when she only wanted a simple dress.

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Audrey Hepburn (Balmain)


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Let’s go now to Hollywood royalty. There’s no doubt that Audrey Hepburn is still a symbol of class, style, and femininity, and naturally, her dress had to portray these attributes. Although she’s generally remembered for the wedding dress she wore on her movie Funny Face (gorgeous and fashion-forward dress), we’re going to talk about the one she wore at her real wedding to Mel Ferrer in 1954. Also quite innovative for the time she chose a tea-length dress with a long neck, puff sleeves, white gloves, and an accentuated waist.

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Grace Kelly (Helen Rose)


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Grace Kelly’s wedding to Prince Rainier III of Monaco was under the global spotlight in 1956 mainly because it represented the real Cinderella story of the commoner marrying the Prince, and the wedding dress basically fit that fairy tale the media created (though it turned out to be quite a tormented marriage). Considered to be one of the most elegant and spectacular dresses of all times, it was a wedding gift from MGM studios to their film goddess. Literally, the best choice to start her opulent life as a royal.

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Priscilla Presley


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At the end of the day these iconic dresses represent the royalty even when it’s not literal and in this case, we’re talking about the day Priscilla married “The King of Rock.” Everything about the couple was over the top (even their hairstyles) and their wedding was naturally something that represented them fully. Priscilla wore a long and loose silk chiffon gown she designed herself, and unlike the common custom of brides looking as natural and pure as possible, she decided to wear a dramatic eye makeup with long lashes and pink lipstick, not to mention the long and puffy hairstyle.


Bianca Jagger (Yves Saint Laurent)


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We’re entering the seventies. Fashion had changed abruptly in the past decade and Bianca Jagger’s dress choice is proof of that. Instead of the long and puffy tulle and satin dress, she went for something rather unconventional. A Yves Saint Laurent white long skirt with a sleek white blazer without any top. This is something that would be so fashionable today if you ask me. Combined with the psychedelic shirt and green suit Jagger wore the newlyweds were definitely the epitome of the iconic seventies fashion.

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Princess Diana (David and Elizabeth Emmanuel)


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I’ve always thought that this is one of the worst wedding dress disasters in history. It isn’t only the fact that she looked so uncomfortable and unhappy, it’s that huge mass of fabric that makes no sense to me. Having said that, it’s considered one of the most iconic and fabulous wedding dresses out there to the point that brides in the eighties went for dramatic puff sleeves and huge skirts. Being one of the biggest weddings of the past years, everything around it was kept secret from the people who were eager to know every single detail. It’s said that they actually worked on two dresses just in case the design was revealed before the wedding. Probably the other one would’ve been the best choice.

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Kate Middleton (Alexander McQueen)


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When Prince William announced his engagement to long-term girlfriend Kate Middleton, all eyes were set on the couple and speculation about every detail of the big event was a subject of conversation everywhere. Mainly, since he decided to give her his mother’s ring, parallels with the brides started coming out and even some assured that Middleton was going to honor her mother-in-law by choosing a similar wedding dress (thank God she didn’t!). She went actually for something quite different and that many still aspire to for their wedding gowns.

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More than fashion statements, celebrities’ weddings, including their gowns, end up tools used to evoke an image or in the case of royals and State members, a political tool to convey a message. Still, there’s no doubt that these are really glorious and alluring fashion pieces we’d all love to wear at least once in our lives.


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María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards

María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards


Articulista Bilingüe CC+
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