On the 10th of February 1840, Queen Victoria wore a dress of white silk satin and Honiton lace to marry Prince Albert. Her choice transformed the growing popularity for a bride to wear a dress of white, a symbol of purity and virginity, into a tradition that continues to this day. She also popularized the wearing of orange blossoms, a symbol of fruitfulness and good luck, that originated in China. A period account of the wedding dress gives the particulars:
“Queen Victoria’s dress was of rich white satin, trimmed with orange flower blossoms. The headdress was a wreath of orange flower blossoms, and over this a beautiful veil of Honiton lace, worn down. The bridesmaids or train-bearers were also attired in white. The cost of the lace alone on the dress was £1,000. The satin, which was of a pure white, was manufactured in Spitalfields. Queen Victoria wore an armlet having the motto of the Order of the Garter: “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” inscribed. She also wore the star of the Order.
The lace of Queen Victoria’s bridal dress, though popularly called Honiton lace, was really worked at the village of Beer, which is situated near the sea coast, about ten miles from Honiton. It was executed under the direction of Miss Bidney, a native of the village, who went from London, at the command of her Majesty, for the express purpose of superintending the work. More than two hundred persons were employed upon it from March to November, during the past year.
The lace which formed the flounce of the dress, measured four yards, and was three quarters of a yard in depth. The pattern was a rich and exquisitely tasteful design, drawn expressly for the purpose, and surpasses anything that has ever been executed either in England or in Brussels. So anxious was the manufacturer that Queen Victoria should have a dress perfectly unique, that she has since the completion of the lace destroyed all the designs. The veil, which was of the same material, and was made to correspond, afforded employment to the poor lace workers for more than six weeks. It was a yard and a half square.”
Following the wedding, the dress was worn for several portraits, altered or accessorized differently for each. The honiton lace flounce was removed from the dress soon after the wedding but was worn again for an official photograph taken late in life.
The dress and the flounce are now held in the Museum of London collection. The dress is currently undergoing restoration for an exhibition at Kensington Palace on Queen Victoria, to open in March 2012.