THE Dress! (aka Meghan’s Wedding gown)

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!

Could be close to 50 yards of dress fabric and an equal number of yards of veil fabric crammed into that carriage on the way to getting married!

The Dress

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

  1. No center front seam – center front is cut on the fold – standard
  2. side princess seam – great for fitting and other benefits (later)
  3. Probably Side seam – again great for fitting and considering the low number of pieces, I highly suspect a side seam, however, I can’t see one in any of the photos.  This also enables a more graceful hemline and fuller train.
  4. Side back seam – this would be a standard design seam because there is a front princess seam.  To not do one in back would be a folly because you have to fit the shoulder blades, waist and fanny, and you would have to have a dart, seam or fit like a gunny sack (see the first of this blog)!
  5. Sleeves – duh!  But they are a very tasteful 3/4, not 2/3 length….that means they are a little longer than below elbow, and yet not down to the wrist.

 

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.

The Fabric

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”!

  1. This is a wonderful post. Thanks for “deconstructing” the wedding dress. It is quite beautiful and that veil will be iconic.

  2. I’ve never been able to figure out exactly what cady is either. I see it on sites like net a porter in very expensive garments but not even on sites like B&j or even more expensive store, Mendel Goldberg. B&J has a 6 ply silk crepe that might work, but I still think that it has more drape than this dress. This dress is also shinier than silk crepe. Whatever it is it was expensive as was the dress. How much do you think this simple dress cost? $25000? More? Whatever it cost, it’s a modern dress that was perfect for her. She looked gorgeous. You are right that simple is very hard to do well and it needs the kind of perfect body that the Duchess has You will notice the second dress was very dance able.

    • Nancy – I read that protocol will not allow the Duchess of Sussex to spend more than the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton). Kate’s dress came in at $150K, and Meghan’s came in at $100K.

  3. Enjoyed your observation of The Dress. I learned some things. My question is about the number of pieces (9) you mentioned the dress probably had. I can only come up with 7 pieces two front, two back sleeve and front and back neck facings. Can you elaborate?

    • Faye – originally I had thought 1. Center Front, 2 & 3. Side Front, 4 & 5, Side Back, 6 & 7, Center back (with zip in back), and 8 & 9 Sleeves. However, after examining the designers drawing, it shows that the front is cut in one piece with two very long darts, which means that fabric had to be really really wide to make this work. It makes the dress all that more difficult to assemble.

  4. Thank you for the analysis–I always learn from your observations. I loved the dress–elegant in its (deceptive) simplcity. I read a press release (from Givenchy?) that said that there were 6 seams–I don’t know if this quote includes sleeves. I saw this article that includes some (blurry) pictures of the sketches, and it looks like there are long darts on the front that realease to allow space for her bust.. It’s a fun exercise to figure out the pattern drafting on this gown and it sounds like this cady has properties that allow for this type of construction.

    THank you again!

    https://www.buzzfeed.com/laurasilver/meghan-markles-wedding-dressmaker-has-released-gorgeous?utm_source=dynamic&utm_campaign=buzzfeed&ref=buzzfeed&utm_term=.qqly5zm0E4#.xp8W8G6Mm9

    • Yes, Rose, you’re right. I had a problem thinking that they could make the dress this wide with only one front piece cut, however, as you described is exactly how it was cut: 2 side seams, 2 sleeve seams – it looks like there’s a center back seam, as I truly can not imagine having to cut that whole back in one piece because the train was so wide. Fabric doesn’t come that wide…..unless it was woven specifically for this dress, which is a possibility. I’m not sure where the 6th seam would be. When you have a center back seam, you will always have an odd number of seams.

      • Thank you, Claire! Who knows what was hidden under that long elegant veil? I have no doubt that there is a zipper (handpicked! 🙂 ). Once I rad the press release about the 6 seams, I kept getting distracted by trying to count them. Maybe she the gown goes on display, the curator will share a line drawing of the back.

        I really appreciate your analysis. Thank you,again!

  5. I think you drew the front seams to the arm but they actually stop at the bust in all the pics i have seen. Also, I do think it has side seams. the 6 seams did not count the sleeves if this is true.

    • You’re right – couldn’t imagine that the whole front was one piece, but it was, which restricts the width of the front of the dress at the hem.

  6. I thought the train looked blunt and not rounded.

    • It looks more rounded in the drawings AND here’s the interesting thing here. When you cut one piece for the front (usually the widest you can make it is 60″ at the hem, although could have been fabric specifically woven for this gown which would be wider, but probably not), but when you have limits like this on a gown (limiting how wide you can make the hem), the more likely the hem will fold upon itself as opposed to being more rounded, and will look more squared (because it has folded underneath) even though it is cut rounded. To avoid this or to make the train appear more rounded, more fabric has to be added at the hem. To do this you have to insert godets or make the piece larger at the base. In this case, Meghan/Clare decided that it was more pleasing to have it more tailored and close to the body.

      Here’s a diagram that shows this.
      Blue line is the “rounder train”
      Pink line is the fabric width required to cut the rounder train piece.
      Green line is the fabric width for the “one” piece back
      You can see how short that green line is, where as the pink line requires a LOT of fabric width.
      What If Rounder Train

  7. Wow – who knew how utterly complicated this is! Thanks for giving us a glimpse inside your brain!

  8. Wonderful analysis, Claire, that we’ve all been waiting for. Thanks for the effort. I thought she was stunning. Her veil was the showpiece with that tiara and all those hand embroidered flowers. I think that would have been lost with a dress even the slightest more complicated.

  9. I was fascinated by the way the sleeves fitted into the armscye. It looked seamless and ‘moulded’. As to the underpinnings, wouldn’t there be a corselette built in? I remember reading an article about couture ball gowns and the inner structure. The dresses seemed to be built onto a corselette type garment.

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