When deciding what to wear for her wedding to Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg and Gotha, it was suggested to Queen Victoria that she could wear her state robes but she thought it was not necessary nor did she wish to, instead she chose to wear a plain but beautifully designed white silk dress featuring delicate honition lace.
The dress itself consists of a lightly boned eight piece bodice of satin silk and a box pleated skirt. The bodice features a low, wide neckline and a well pointed waist sitting naturally on the waistline. The sleeves are gathered into double puffs and the skirt is a separate piece (though attached) which is made with forward facing pleats. The lining is of a tabby-woven white silk and the bodice is finished with fine piping. The closure is ten hooks and worked bars on the centre back fastening. The waistband measures 25 inches and the skirt depth is 37-40 inches, the hem circumference is 139 inches.
The dress was most likely constructed by her longest serving dressmaker Mary Bettans. The fabric was woven in Spitalfields, in east London. The dress pattern was destroyed once the dress was completed, most likely so the dress could not be copied or the pattern sold on.
The lace featuring on the bertha, sleeves and flounce consist of Honition lace was crafted in Devon specifically for the Queen. The lace was commissioned in late 1838-1839 and was designed by William Dyce but the construction was overseen by a Miss Jane Bidney. Once the design was completed and the lace was finished, the Queen ordered Miss Bidney to destroy all designs and patterns. Not much is known about Miss Bidney after 1840, various payments were made to her in 1840-1841 until a last payment it £62 in 1842.
On Tuesday 11th February, The Times recorded that the lace was of British manufacture, as also were the dresses of the bride's aunt and mother. 12 Contemporary reports variously estimated the cost of the lace as between £I,000 and £I, 500.
Queen Victoria wore the flounce of lace throughout her reign, she often wore it to memroble occasions such as weddings, all her children's christening and court occasions. She wore the lace in an array of styles, even wearing it as a shawl in 1858 on her 18th wedding anniversary. The Queen allowed her daughter Princess Beatrice to wear the flounce upon her wedding in 1885. Due to its continuous use, the flounce is incredibly fragile and can not be remounted to Victoria's wedding dress. The skirt flounce and veil remain in the royal possession and were temporarily reunited with the wedding dress in the summer of 1981. The fragility of the bertha and sleeve lace led to them being mounted on a silk organza in 1972 and 1981. A rectangle of late nineteenth century machine lace was removed in this restoration, this later lace was attached to the dress for many years to represent the original skirt flounce.
In place of her robes of state, the Queen wore a court train attached to her waist, consisting of satin and trimmed with orange blossoms was reported to be six yards long by one of the bridesmaids, Lady Wilhelmina Stanhope. Encumbered by their court trains at the coronation in 1838, the Queen's trainbearers had not carried out their duties satisfactorily, and it is significant therefore that the trainbearers for the wedding were without court trains themselves, and that their numbers had been increased. But in her anxiety to avoid a repetition of the problems with her coronation train, Queen Victoria requested to have a much shorter train. The train, Lady Wilhelmina reported, was "rather too short for the number of young ladies who carried it. We were all huddled together, and scrambled rather than walked along, kicking each other's heels and treading on each other's gowns" However, Lady Wilhelmina continued, "The Queen was perfectly composed and quiet, but unusually pale. She walked very slowly, giving enough time for all the spectators to gratify their curiosity, and certainly she was never before more earnestly scrutinized"
The dress is now in storage inside Kensington Palace, it was last displayed in 2012.