THE word ‘hand-me-down’ has not featured in the royal wedding fashion rule book before, but it does now thanks to Princess Beatrice who up-cycled one of her grandmother’s dresses for her down-sized wedding at Windsor.
In raiding Granny’s royal closet – or her archives to be exact – Beatrice achieved a romantic, modern bridal look full of sentimentality and an homage to vintage sustainability.
Wearing the reconfigured Norman Hartnell evening gown Queen Elizabeth last wore during the State Opening of Parliament in 1966 was a genius move by the 31-year-old princess who hasn’t always enjoyed praise for her fashion choices.
Who can forget her much maligned “toilet seat” headpiece by Irish hat designer Philip Treacy which the then 22-year-old Beatrice wore to Kate and William’s royal wedding in 2011?
It attracted a slew of criticism but the sassy princess turned the media circus on its head by auctioning it online – and the €90,000 that was raised benefited two children’s charities.
After juggling a cancelled wedding due to Covid-19 and controversy surrounding her father, Prince Andrew, Beatrice walked down the aisle in the diamante-encrusted ivory dress.
The silk taffeta dress was first seen on the queen in December 1962 when she wore it to a performance of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
The subtle drama in Hartnell’s very feminine gown with its accentuated waist was achieved with a geometric checked bodice with the pattern extending on to the full skirt. The dress was part of an exhibition of the queen’s dresses at Buckingham Palace in 2006.
The transformation from archive piece to fairytale gown for a princess to marry the son of an Italian count saw the addition of one small change – short puff sleeves in sheer organza.
The refit was achieved by a palace ‘A team’ – namely designer Stewart Parvin and royal ‘dresser’ Angela Kelly whose outfits the queen wore during her state visit to Ireland in May 2011.
A scouser with Irish roots, Angela’s mother, Teresa Brady, taught her to sew and Kelly has become a key asset on the queen’s team.
With its strong green credentials and family connections, Friday’s vintage wedding look will undoubtedly elevate Princess Beatrice up the rankings of memorable royal wedding dresses.
Kathy Sherry of Dirty Fabulous in Monaghan, which specialises in vintage bridal and occasion wear, said: “We’ve had a few customers who have come to us for bridal headpieces to match their grandmother’s wedding dress and nearly everyone we’ve spoken to has needed to remove the arms as they are so narrow or do some alterations to make them fit better.”
Couturier Helen Cody, who often works with heritage fabrics, loves the “emotional connection” of mixing old and new lace to achieve “ a personal piece of history”.
She praises Princess Beatrice for "ticking all the boxes" and says her wedding dress from 1962 is proof that a couturier's work lasts.
"I have clients coming in who tell me their daughters are now wearing dresses that I made for them. If you get to call yourself vintage, it means that they have lasted the test of time and that's probably the best thing you can ever do in fashion," said Helen.
She cautions against doing DIY repair work and throwing a vintage piece into the wash or trying to spot clean stains that have accumulated over the years.
“The problem is all the component parts and everything will react differently in the wash so if you want to preserve a piece with lace, ideally send it to an expert, someone like me who can physically take it apart and rework it,” said Helen.