The Princess of Wales was a fashion icon in her day … but wait … I’m not talking about Princess Diana but Princess Alexandra. Princess Alexandra of Denmark married Prince Albert Edward, the son of Queen Victoria, at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle on March 1863. Princess Alexandra was barely 18 years old at the time of the wedding and she was very beautiful and tall in stature with a slim figure which was in sharp contrast to the women of the time who had much fuller figures. (Queen Victoria was barely five feet tall and rather plump!)
Princess Alexandra’s wedding dress was created by Charles Worth, an English fashion designer working in France, who dominated Parisian fashion at the end of nineteenth century. Following the tradition started by Queen Victoria, Princess Alexandra selected an ivory gown, with a separate bodice top and full skirt made of English silk with a Honiton lace overlay featuring elaborate embroidered symbols of an English rose, an Irish shamrock and a Scottish thistle. The gown was further embellished with orange blossoms and myrtle garlands and the silver moiré train was 21 feet in length and she wore a veil of Honiton lace with a wreath of even more orange blossoms and myrtle. Her bridal bouquet was made of white rosebuds, lilies of the valley, rare orchids, orange blossoms and of course the traditional sprigs of myrtle said to have been grown from a planting taken from Queen Victoria’s wedding bouquet 23 years earlier. Prince Albert Edward gave her a wedding present of a pearl necklace, earrings and brooch which she wore along with an opal and diamond bracelet that was a gift from Queen Victoria. (For more information about the wedding of Prince Albert Edward and Princess Alexandra and A British Royal Bride – Princess Alexandra, please click on the link )
Prince Albert and Princess Alexandra at the time of their engagement Prince Albert and Princess Alexandra on their wedding day
At the time that Alexandra came to England to marry the heir to the throne it had been a few years since the death of the Queen Victoria’s husband, her beloved Prince Albert, and the Queen had withdrawn from society stifled by her grief and a self-imposed period of prolonged mourning. Prince Albert Edward was heir to the throne and as the Prince of Wales he was put into service as the Queen’s representative for official functions and together the royal couple proved to be extremely popular with the public. Prince Albert Edward soon became obsessed with royal protocol and dressing in proper clothes for every occasion and it was not unusual for him to completely change his clothing a dozen times a day. Taking on her new role as Princess of Wales, Alexandra was always acutely aware of her royal duty to dress appropriately for official functions and whenever she was seen in public she was always elegantly dressed in fashions made with the finest fabrics that flattered her.
Princess Alexandra was also very creative in adapting her style of clothing to mask several physical impediments. It was said that she had a scar on her neck, possibly from surgery when she was a child, and she would wear day dresses with high collars and in the evening she wore multiple layers of pearls or diamond necklaces that would cover her neck, these were known as collier de chein meaning collar necklace. This style of jewelry became very popular with society ladies and a fashion trend was soon started.
Princess Alexandra also developed a curvature of the spine which was a complication from rheumatic fever that she contracted in 1867. As a result, she walked with a distinct limp for several years and she very cleverly adapted her clothing to distract from the physical disability thereby minimizing attention to the problem, or so she thought! The public noticed anyway, calling it the “Alexandra Limp”, and in a strange way it caused another fashion trend. Ladies so admired everything about Princess Alexandra that they were soon emulating the limp by wearing special pairs of shoes in different heel heights or walked with canes. The strange trend did not last long because women fashions were soon changing from dresses with full skirts to more tapered ones causing women to walk with smaller steps and thus eliminating the “need” to limp.
In 1901, Queen Victoria died and Prince Albert Edward became King Edward VII. As Queen Alexandra prepared for the coronation she knew she wanted a very special gown and she called upon her friend, Lady Curzon, to help her. The Coronation Day was set for June when the weather in London would be hot and since the Queen would already be wearing a heavy velvet robe as part of her coronation regalia the material for the dress was made of lightweight net with metallic embroidery. Lady Curzon oversaw the making of the beautiful material which was created in India and the fabric was embroidered with the symbols of England (rose), Ireland (shamrock) and Scotland (thistle) which would represent the countries that King Edward would rule.
Part of Queen Alexandra’s coronation regalia included a Queen Consort crown that was especially made for her to wear. In 1849, the East India Company had acquired the large 186 carat diamond, known as the Kohinoor Diamond, which was given to Queen Victoria. The Kohinoor diamond was said to be cursed and if any male wore it he would surely lose the throne. Queen Victoria, being female, did not fear the curse and the Kohinoor diamond was cut into a smaller 105 carat diamond which Queen Victoria wore set in a brooch. After the death of Queen Victoria, the Kohinoor Diamond was set into the Queen Consort’s crown instead of King’s crown to avoid the possibility of the validity of the curse. Queen Alexandra’s crown had a platinum frame designed as circlet accented with four large crosses (the center cross was set with the Kohinoor Diamond and the other crosses and four large fluerde-lis were set with “smaller” diamonds) and formed the base of the crown. Four arches were set with three rows of diamonds each and gently curved to join together and then topped with a diamond encrusted orb and cross at the center, approximately 3688 diamonds were used. An inner lining of purple velvet was used under the arches and ermine lined the base so that it would set comfortably on the Queen’s head.
(Special Royal Note: The custom continued afterwards with the Kohinoor Diamond always worn in the Queen Consort’s crown, this was done for Queen Mary at the coronation of George V and Queen Elizabeth at the coronation of George VI but for their daughter’s coronation, Queen Elizabeth II wore the St. Edward’s Crown that has been used to crown every sovereign since 1661.
To complete her coronation ensemble, Queen Alexandra wore Queen Victoria’s diamond bracelet and earrings. Then she layered even more jewels across the front her coronation gown and they were stitched onto the fabric. At her waist she wore the Dagmar necklace (a reminder of her Danish heritage) as a stomacher and several diamond earrings were added to the necklace as pendants. She also wore a set of Queen Victoria’s diamond bow brooches pinned down the front of the gown with additional emerald earrings suspended from the bows as pendants. Around her neck Queen Alexandra wore Queen Victoria’s large diamond necklace and her customary strands of several pearl necklaces. Needless to say, the bodice of her coronation dress sparkled beautifully!
During the reign of King Edward and Queen Alexandra, which became known as the Edwardian Age (1901-1910), women fashions changed from dresses with full skirts worn with several layers of undergarments to dresses with tapered skirts, tight laced corsets and bustled trains accented with layers of lace and beaded appliques. Queen Alexandra continued to influence fashion and King Edward spent lavishly on a large wardrobe of dresses and countless pieces of jewelry including necklaces, bracelets, brooches and tiaras. The King was very interested in what the Queen wore and he was always aware of royal protocol and correct dress, in fact the King once reprimanded the Queen for wearing her Garter sash incorrectly and had her change it immediately before leaving the palace!
After the death of King Edward VII in 1910, Queen Alexandra took on a smaller role as Queen Mother and she quietly retired to her country home Sandringham to allow her son, King George V to begin his reign. The youthful appearance that had remained with her throughout the years had begun to fade and she took to wearing heavy make-up and veils to shield her aging face. She slowly removed herself from public as her hearing and eyesight began to fail and she spent an increasing amount of time with her children, grandchildren and her beloved dogs.
Over the following years, Alexandra health slowly declined and she developed severe rheumatism in her legs and she lost her eyesight as well as her hearing due to a hereditary condition inherited from her mother, she was almost completely deaf. On November 20, 1925 the Dowager Queen Alexandra died at Sandringham after suffering a heart attack. She is buried next to her husband in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.