We artists who create for our valued clients, often have a joke: when the client says, “It’s very simple,” we always gulp. There are several reasons for this but the most important is that simple cannot hide any mistakes. IOW, if you make one wrong move on that simple creation, it shows like a bright neon sign saying “MISTAKE“!!! That’s my main issue with simple. The other is that most folks have no idea what simple is – simple is few pieces, no fit, and almost always a 100% natural fiber. The problem with that is that pretty much describes a gunny sack – no fit, one piece and made from jute or hemp which is a natural fiber, however not very processed so doesn’t feel good, doesn’t look good, but dang it- it’s simple!!!!
Meghan Markle’s dress was simple, and saying that means a lot – not simple-minded at all – completely the opposite. There was no room for error. And of course, working with these cute young figures and especially one honed by Hollywood (which means no fat and in perfect proportions that very few of us really have) means a designer has a gift of a client to work with. The only problem I noticed with the dress is that there were these tell-tale wrinkles around the hips. This is obviously caused because she has to be sitting to be transported to the church. This is tradition and truly can’t be helped.
Princess Diana had much the same problem and I remember being horrified that the Brits even thought of putting her in this sardine can of a carriage for that huge gown she wore and when she erupted from the carriage, they had to spend a goodly amount of time untangling the whole gown, veil, trains and all. Then as she walked down the aisle at Westminster Abbey, I could have sworn they had an army of steamists in the narthex to unsteamed out all those wrinkles – maybe not, but she looked a lot fresher going down the aisle!
It was classic, and because it was so simple it was probably much more difficult than Kate’s to assemble. It looks like it has about 9 pieces – and that’s it. If one stitch is out of place, incorrectly fitted, has a tuck or too much fabric eased in, it’s toast for the dress. Yes, pressing can solve some of those problems, but because the dress is so classically clean, if the stitching and cut of the gown aren’t right on, then the dress fails.
Here’s a layout for all you sewing techs out there. Based on the photos out there now, (please understand I did not fly over to Givenchy and examine the gown in person, nor attend the wedding, so this could be wrong, but it’s a good guess), here’s how this gown lays out.
When you do bridal photograph, particularly bridal dress photography you have to be careful. White in a digital photo is no information digitally – that means you can’t darken in, redden it, lighten in (duh!), or anything to it because there is no information to digitally change. So the best you can do is darken what information is there is in the photo, hence these very dark photos to reveal the seam lines.
So in both of these photos, you can see that there is
So then we get to the layout, and although this looks simple, it’s anything but.
See, this looks really simple and basic, but at the same time, the line and cut of the garment are essential. Now, this design has some caveats – the primary caveat is that this dress hits below the “bra strap drop line.” That’s the spot where your bra strap hits and it drops off the shoulder. This dress hits below that line, that means that there’s no support for the gown or the upper part of the gown from the shoulders. That’s important because there are three main anchor points on the bodice (upper part of a garment). Those are two shoulders and waist. That means that if one or two of those is missing, you must find another means of support. Usually, this means that there is boning at the least and should include a support waistband, which is very rarely found in RTW today. Now, this garment is NOT RTW so it most likely does include a support inner waistband, and there wasn’t even a hint of a wardrobe malfunction happening yesterday. Not only that, but Ms. Meghan (now the Duchess of Sussex), is an actress used to wearing uncomfortable garments and those prone to wardrobe malfunctions. IOW, those criss-cross tops that do not cover the subject properly; those too-high skirts that when sitting and cameras at hip level can expose too much (case in point: Sharon Stone crossed-leg scene in Basic Instinct); and strapless looks that don’t really stand up, and all of these are solved by pins, clips, and other artificial supports while the actress is acting like nothing is going on with their costume. This is normal for them. As a result, Ms. Meghan is used to wearing things like this, so if there’s anyone who would look natural in a garment that is lacking 2/3 of its support, it’s Ms. Meghan, an actress.
There may have been an uneasiness about wearing this dress, but being an actress, Ms. Meghan handled it all without a problem. For we mere mortals this is not a comfortable dress to wear, and that’s the main caveat about this dress. I know there are lots of brides-to-be and prom gals and the like looking at this gown wanting to copy it, but my advice is that unless you are used to wearing something like this, don’t do it. It’s not a comfortable dress to wear. In addition to not being comfortable, the arm movement is very limited. That means that if you want to raise your arms (like to dance or hug someone taller than you), your arms won’t be able to be raised up that high. There are technical reasons for this, and if you like I’ll explain them in the comments if anyone asks.
But I’m making the gown sound as though it’s all negative. There is one really great positive to this dress and that it that because of the lines and seams in the dress, this dress can be designed and made to fit about any figure out there. Princess Kate’s dress was beautiful, however, because of its design can only fit a number of different figures and that’s it. Well, it can be fitted to other figures, but wouldn’t look good at all. Whereas, Duchess Meghan’s gown can be fit and altered to fit a lot of different figures. The one change I would make would be to raise the neckline a little so that the shoulder would hit above the bra-strap drop line. That could be accomplished by simply finishing off the cap or header of the sleeve, to look more like the drawing from the designer below.
Here’s the sketch of the dress from the designer Clare Waight Keller at Givenchy, showing the lines of the dress, but more importantly the detail in the veil, and if there’s anything to really grab at the heart of every artist, it’s that veil with floral details representing 53 countries of the Commonwealth. What’s so spectacular to me is that it’s balanced, but not symmetrical. That takes real artistry.
This gown is described as being double-bonded silk cady cushioned by an underskirt in triple silk organza. So what the heck is cady? Looking it up there are a myriad of descriptions as exemplified by this graphic from a great Threads article.
So looking at this makes the fabric even more confusing….it’s drapey and fluid, yet heavy and dense? What? Those are two entirely different fabrics. And then there’s the stretch aspect. For the Duchess’s dress, I’m suspecting that it’s more of the dense, heavy variety and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that it had some stretch to it. That last part would explain a lot; the lack of seams and yet great fit, the lack of support of the off-the-shoulder neckline, and yet be comfortable. This means that if you have a bit of stretch on that neckline, that you can not only keep the dress up and have a little more support, but also raise your arms to dance with your Prince (or in this case Duke) Charming.
What cady is definitely described as is almost always for expensive, very tony garments which means that it’s a new expensive (it’s already being listed at $200/yd and it’s not even white)!
Both of these look in the drapey category, and it was difficult to find anything that had the structure and body that the Duchess’s gown had. I suspect that the title of this fabric is not really defined, and is, therefore, a little nebulous right now. So that means if you’re asking for a gown in cady or cady silk, you might not end up with what you think you’re going to get. If I were doing this for a client, I would be more likely to ask for zibeline or something similar to that and even check out there for something of zibeline weight, structure, body, and texture with stretch to see what might be available. It would be interesting to see what this line of query would produce.
With so much garbage out there, and there is a lot of garbage that is being worn as examples – and that includes the runways, red carpets and on the street, it’s hard to find something that most of us can grab onto and grasp as not only practical but relatable. Ms. Meghan’s dress hit all those points (except the off-the-shoulder neckline), and for that, I have to say this dress gets a big thumbs up. If people come to me wanting this gown, the first thing I’ll say is that it’s uncomfy, but the second thing I would do it work to get this thicker, more bodied silk with a little bit of stretch because I suspect that stuff would be a dream to sew with and would make up beautifully! It might also cost a mint as it looks to be available only in Europe and really I’ve only found 2 sources both in Italy, which means it will be expensive, especially now that the Duchess of Sussex has worn this, that means there will be a “Meghan effect” similar to the “Kate effect”!
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