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Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew

Kate Middleton‘s wedding dress is sure to be the topic of discussion on April 29 — whatever she chooses to wear will be endlessly imitated, discussed, debated, and critiqued. Her choice will instantly become a global fashion statement, seen by what could be two billion television viewers worldwide. Kate Middleton must balance the expectations of the public with tradition and protocol — every royal bride is entitled to her own personal style, but above the knee is definitely not on.

The Queen‘s Norman Hartnell creation was typically elegant — the then-Princess Elizabeth wore a classic silk gown, encrusted with seed pearls and crystals, with a star-patterned train. Her bridal veil of tulle was held in place by a tiara of diamonds. The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, also wore Norman Hartnell for her wedding, but it was a very different look. Margaret’s silk organza dress was a masterpiece of elegant understatement, not a stitch of embroidery in sight.

Princess Anne wore an embroidered Tudor-style wedding dress with a high collar and medieval sleeves for her 1973 wedding to Mark Phillips. Then came the era of the fairytale dresses, began so memorably by Lady Diana Spencer. Her 1981 gown with its full sleeves and even fuller skirt was most memorable for the 25-foot train, which dominated the aisle of St Paul’s Cathedral. Sarah Ferguson continued the fairytale princess look with her Linda Cierach dress, complete with dropped waist and billowing skirt. Dress designers expect Kate to give the 1980’s romantic look a wide berth — and opt for a more slim fitting silhouette. Could Grace Kelly‘s lace and pearl dress be an inspiration?

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By Laura Trevelyan