Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Grace Kelly - The Bride

Following on from the post I did a few weeks ago on the Grace Kelly: Style Icon exhibition, I'm going to look at Grace Kelly's wedding, in particular the stunning Helen Rose wedding dress.

Grace Kelly - The Bride

Grace Kelly and her future husband, Prince Rainier III of Monaco, met in May 1955 when Kelly attended the Cannes Film Festival. The French magazine Paris Match arranged for a photo shoot in nearby Monaco with the actress and the prince. The day didn't start well, as a power cut in the hotel meant she couldn't iron anything, and had to wear her only unwrinkled dress, this floral printed one.

 The dress (which was at the exhibition) was made of a heavy, rather crisp silk taffeta with quite a shine to it.  It has a square neckline, long tight sleeves and a dropped waist with a sash.

Looks familiar?  The dress was actually an "easy to sew" McCalls pattern!  Made of 5 yards of 35-inch-wide fabric, Kelly had worn it on the cover of McCall's spring 1955 pattern book, and obviously kept the dress.

The meeting between the Kelly and Rainier obviously made a deep impression on both of them, for although they didn't meet again until the end of the year, in January 1956 the couple announced their engagement.  For the public announcement, Kelly chose a shirtwaist dress from New York fashion house Branell.  You can't tell so well in the photo, but it has gold metallic spots woven through the fabric.  It was one of my favourite outfits in the exhibition, it was so chic and classic.

The question of who would have the honour of designing Kelly's wedding dress was a hot topic in the media (as was anything connected to the "fairy-tale" wedding in 1956).  By the end of January it had been announced that MGM's head designer, Helen Rose, would design the dress.  The dress was to be a present to the bride from the studio, a common practice at the time, which ensured publicity for the studio.

Helen Rose had designed costumes for three of Kelly's previous films, and they were currently working together on High Society, the last film Kelly would make.  They had several conferences about the wedding dress, and Kelly explained she wanted something with a long silk skirt and a lace blouse.  Rose said that they used one of the High Society ball gowns as a starting point for the design, possibly the one shown above.  Rose said of Grace Kelly: "She is a dream to work with...I showed her two sketches of the final design and she chose the one she wanted.  That was all there was to it."

This sketch of the gown was drawn by Helen Rose herself.  The design of the dress was carefully guarded in the two months leading up to the wedding. The sketch never left the fitting room,  the workspace was enclosed in partitions so no-one could catch a glimpse, and the dress was locked away every night.  The press were desperate to find out details, and the mystery added to the hype surrounding the wedding.

photo from Philadelphia Museum of Art

The dress was extremely lavish.   It took thirty-five milliners, beaders, seamstresses, embroiderers and dyers nearly two months to complete.  According to historian Stephen Englund, who had access to MGM's archives, the dress cost about $7,200 ($57,000 today) in materials and manufacture, not including Helen Rose's salary.  MGM stated that 25 yards of heavy taffeta, 25 yards of silk taffeta, 100 yards of silk net and 300 yards of lace were used, but the finished dress used only about a quarter of these amounts.

The bodice of the dress is made of reassembled rose point lace over silk net which had been re-embroidered (so as to hide the joins in the lace) by two seamstresses who worked on it for a month. Thousands of seed pearls were added to accentuate the patterns in the lace.  The long, tight sleeves extend over the backs of the hands, and the wrists are each fastened with twelve lace-covered buttons, while the fitted bodice buttons up with 24 buttons to the high neck.

As the lace was still a little sheer, the bodice had a built-in strapless underbodice of silk crepe, (you can just see it in the photo above) boned with spiral steel boning.  The interior waistband measures just under 21 inches (!) as the stress of the wedding preparations had caused Kelly to lose over two inches from her usually 23 inch waist.  Attached to the waist of the bodice is a slim silk slip edged in lace and weighted at the centre back seam.  Over the slip is a mini crinoline 14 inches long, held out by a hoop and with four stiff lace-edged ruffles.

photo from Philadelphia Museum of  Art

The magnificent full skirt achieves this silhouette with three built-in petticoats: first a foundation petticoat of silk taffeta, over which is second petticoat of six synthetic net ruffles, and finally a smoothing petticoat of silk taffeta.  Then comes the skirt, which is made of seven sections of silk faille with a 73 inch train which is split down the middle and joined with three bows.

Peeking through the split is the triangle-shaped train insert made of two layers of silk tulle, edged in lace and appliqued with lace motifs.  The train insert has a silk taffeta underskirt with four ruffles of synthetic net attached, which gives it fullness.  

The join between skirt and bodice is hidden by a cummerbund of silk faille, with four soft horizontal pleats.  It fastens with seven silk covered buttons, and is boned inside with eight metal bones. You can see in this photo how incredibly tiny Kelly's waist was.

photo from Philadelphia Museum of Art

The wedding headdress is made of the same pearl-embroidered lace as the bodice, stretched over a wire frame.  It is a tiny cap (often called a Juliet cap) which perches on the back of the wearer's head with three points at the hairline, one larger in the middle and one to either side, and a circular shape at the back.  A wreath-effect is created by tiny wax orange blossoms, openwork leaves of seed pearls and small wired lace motifs.  

The circular wedding veil is waist-length at the front, and gradually gets longer towards the back.  It is edged with lace motifs, but the majority was left sheer, so that the Princess's face would be visible through it. Doesn't it look romantic from the back!

photo from Philadelphia Museum of Art

The wedding shoes were made by David Evins, a top American shoe maker who had made shoes for Kelly in the past.  Evins was given some of the precious antique lace from the dress to cover the shoes in, but it tore when stretched over the shoe last, and his wife had to search New York frantically and pay an outrageous sum to find some that matched!  At Kelly's request, the right shoe had a copper penny built into the arch, a traditional Irish good luck charm for a bride, who used to slip a coin into their shoe on their wedding day.

Kelly had six bridesmaids and a matron of honour, as well as four flower girls and two ringbearers.  The bridesmaids and flower girl's dresses were designed by  Joseph Allen Hong, a 25-year old artist who designed for department store Neiman-Marcus.

All the bridesmaids wore pale yellow organdy dresses - the shade was called "Sunlight" - with built-in strapless tafetta underdresses.  The outfit was topped with a shallow-crowned hat and white wrist-length kid gloves.

The flower girls' outfits were a sheer white organdy dress sprinkled with embroidered sprigs of daisies, worn over a sheer yellow organdy underdress with three very full skirts.

The dress for the civil ceremony, which was held the day before the cathedral wedding, was also designed by Helen Rose.  The lace suit with a fitted bodice and flared skirt was reembroidered around the outlines of the floral pattered lace in a dusty pink, and was complimented with a small hat and white gloves.

Kelly donated her wedding dress to the Philadelphia Museum of Art although I believe it's not on display due to its fragile state.  The wedding dress I saw at the exhibition was a replica. This book Grace Kelly: Icon of Style to Royal Bride by H. Kristina Haugland was published by the museum.  It's a fascinating and incredibly detailed look at Grace Kelly's style and at the garments created for her wedding, including sketches of exactly how the wedding dress is constructed, and has heaps of photos.  If you want to know more about one of the most iconic wedding dresses of the 20th century, this book is worth a look.


  1. What a beautiful post. Grace Kelly was so beautiful!

  2. Do you know if her veil was silk tulle with lace applique or nylon tulle with embroidery? I am trying to get some info so that my veil maker can make me a similar veil for my wedding.

    Thank you

    A Grace Kelly wedding dress admirer

  3. The veil was made of silk tulle and I believe the lace was appliqued onto the veil. The lace used is called Rose Point lace, which is also known as Brussels lace or point de gaze. The mofits were accented with seed pearls.

  4. Do you know if anyone has been crazy enough to try and create a replica dressmaker's pattern for this dress? Vogue have one which is a poor attempt.

  5. If you are planning your wedding you'll require to choose the footwear accordingly. I think a pair of kate spade wedding shoes can see you through your wedding and reception as they are very comfortable and elegant looking.

  6. Happy to know about your wedding. Last year, arranged my cousin’s wedding at one of exotic DC wedding venues. It was a themed wedding and decorated the venue with beautiful flowers. Everyone appreciated all arrangements.