Royal Wedding fever: Gowns, the monarchy and British wedding traditions

16 May 2018
With Prince Harry and Meghan Markle due to walk down the aisle this weekend, University of Sydney academics weigh in on the significance of the event for Australia and the history underpinning the day.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. Image: Mark Jones

The dress

"Queen Victoria may have set the stage for royals wearing white wedding dresses but pale pink wedding gowns have been popular in recent bridal collections," says Associate Professor Robyn Gibson, specialist in history of clothing and textiles at the Sydney School of Education and Social Work.

"Meghan Markle has indicated that her dream wedding gown would be whimsical or subtly romantic; something that incorporates lace, and we know that she likes sleeves. She won’t try to upstage Kate Middleton by wearing Alexander McQueen so perhaps the best bet is a diplomatic choice. Erdem, the British-Canadian designer who has dressed Michelle Obama, Cate Blanchett and numerous British royals, seems to tick all the wedding boxes.

"We’ve got to ask how many fashion risks can the up-and-coming princess take when marrying the future King of England’s brother. Coupled with the fact the Queen gets the final say on the suitability of the dress, we can only assume it will be somewhat traditional."

The marriage of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle is likely to contribute to the trend of slow improvements in public support for the monarchy in Australia.
Luke Mansillo, PhD Candidate

Will the wedding strengthen Australia's love of the monarchy?

"After Prince William’s marriage, there was a five per cent increase in the proportion of Australians who wished to retain the monarchy, equivalent to 650,000 voters," says Luke Mansillo, PhD Candidate from the Department of Government and International Relations and specialist in Australian public opinion.

"In the same period, there was a seven per cent surge in the proportion of the electorate that viewed royalty as important to Australia, equivalent to almost one million voters.

"The marriage of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle is likely to contribute to the trend of slow improvements in public support for the monarchy in Australia, as royal weddings are rare events that help to self-legitimise the existence of the monarchy.

"The memories formed from previous royal weddings saw Australians become both keener to retain the monarchy and more likely to agree the Queen is important to Australia than in previous years. However, the support modern royals receive is far weaker than in previous decades.

"Furthermore, Australians have been exposed to fewer negative news stories since a change in media strategy following Princess Diana’s death. This has meant Australian political elites seeking to problematise the monarchy have found it increasingly difficult to draw attention to their cause and that there is an entire generation of Australians who have little memory of royal misdemeanours."

Royal wedding traditions

"Royal weddings in the United Kingdom involve a range of traditional activities that will affect the marriage experience of Harry and Meghan," says Professor Carole Cusack from the Department of Studies in Religion.

"For example, myrtle has been carried in the bride’s bouquet since the wedding of Queen Victoria, aged eighteen, to the German Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg on 10 February 1840.

"Royal wedding rings always contain Welsh gold and traditional wedding cakes are always fruitcake - Queen Victoria’s weighed 300 pounds.

"Royal wedding dresses are traditionally white, romantic and have long trains, and Prince Harry, a military man, will be in uniform. After the ceremony, approximately two and a half thousand residents of Windsor will assemble within the castle to watch the procession of the couple in a carriage drawn by Windsor Greys through the town, accompanied by the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment."

Charlotte Moore

Assistant Media and PR Adviser (Humanities)

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