On November 20, 1947, just two short years after World War II, Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten said “I do.” Decades before all eyes were on Princess Diana, Duchess Catherine, and Duchess Meghan’s wedding gowns, the public was desperately curious to see what the future queen would wear down the aisle.
According to a report from the Telegraph on the 60th anniversary of Elizabeth and Philip’s vows, the design wasn’t selected until three months before the big day. Dressmaker Norman Hartnell, who had previously worked for the Queen Mother, was chosen for his Botticelli-inspired submission. It then took 350 seamstresses working carefully to sew the silk together with crystals and 10,000 seed pearl accents. At one point, seamstress Betty Foster remembered Elizabeth, her mother, her grandmother Queen Mary, and sister Princess Margaret all stopping by to see how the process was going. Apparently, Hartnell took that opportunity to explain why their windows were covered in whitewash and muslin: “Americans had rented the flat opposite to see if they could get a glimpse of the dress.” That’s a pretty extreme length to go for just a peek of the gown everyone would see soon!
Before they could sew a single stitch, though, Elizabeth had to collect enough World War II ration coupons for the material — just like every other bride in the country after the war. Rations were used both during and after the war for food, clothing, and fuels when importing certain items became more difficult and led to extreme shortages. Antonia Fraser, who was 15 at the time and found herself among the crowds around Westminster Abbey, recalled how the “Scrooge-like government” awarded Elizabeth 200 extra rations for the event while speaking with the Telegraph. She also explained how other brides-to-be across the country tried sending in their own rations to the princess in order to help, but they were immediately sent back. It would have been illegal for Elizabeth to accept their kind offer, no matter how much she appreciated their generosity.
Elizabeth was no stranger to the wartime efforts, of course; she traded her princess dresses for an Auxiliary Territorial Service uniform as a mechanic and military truck driver in London. And her wedding gown, which included a 15-foot silk tulle full court train, was obviously still stunning regardless of any post-war setbacks. In fact, the union helped reinvigorate the country, uniting everyone around a happy event after such a long time of darkness. That sense of happiness and optimism was clearly also passed down from Elizabeth and Philip to their children and grandchildren.