It is August bank holiday next weekend in the United Kindgom, one of the most popular weekends of the year to get married. Most brides will wear a beautiful white wedding gown made specially for that day which will be lovingly packed away after the wedding, to be brought out and sighed over from time to time but never worn by her again.
Initially wedding dresses were designed to be worn again by the bride maybe on special occasions or Sundays when the family went together to church dressed in their best. In the early decades of the twentieth century wedding dresses began to be modelled on evening gowns with shimmering sequins, faux pearls, festoons of gauze and, later, shimmering bias cut satin. Wedding dresses began to move away from the current fashion and instead started to follow their own style.
Perhaps the most stunning wedding dress of this period was that worn by high society beauty Margaret Whigham, later Duchess of Argyll, for her wedding to Charles Sweeney on the 21st of February 1933.
This dreamy confection by the then young and up and coming designer Norman Hartnell, has a Medieval air with its flowing bell sleeves, bias cut and high neckline.
The wedding dress took a team of 30 seamstresses six weeks to make, and the bride thought it shockingly expensive at £52.
The silk satin gown and train are studded with pearl-embroidered, transparent and appliqued stars.
The ‘angel’ sleeves are trimmed with tulle, the frothy nature of which provides a dramatic contrast to the slinky sheen of the satin.
The train embroidered with the traditional orange flowers and trimmed with tulle is a masterpiece that was designed by Hartnell to make the maximum impact in the aisle of Brompton Oratory, a Roman Catholic Church in South Kensington, just next to the Victoria &Albert Museum. Such had been the publicity surrounding her Norman Hartnell wedding dress, that the traffic in Knightsbridge was blocked for three hours. For the rest of her life, she was associated with glamour and elegance, being a firm client of both Hartnell and Victor Stiebel in London before and after the war.
Hartnell became one of the Royal family’s favourite designers. He designed Princess Elizabeth’s wedding and coronation gowns. Such commissions confirmed his position as London’s leading couturier
Margaret Whigham was the only child of Helen Mann Hannay and George Hay Whigham, a Scottish millionaire who was chairman of the Celanese Corporation of England, North America, and Canada. After being educated privately in New York City, where she moved one week after her birth and lived until the age of 14, and making her debut in London in 1930, she announced her engagement to Charles Guy Fulke Greville, 7th Earl of Warwick.
This wedding did not take place as she had fallen for Charles Sweeny, an American amateur golfer, and decided she was not sufficiently in love with Lord Warwick. Margaret and Charles Sweeny divorced in 1947, and in 1951, she became the notorious Duchess of Argyll, third wife of the 11th Duke of Argyll.
Within a few years, the marriage was falling apart. The Duke suspected his wife of infidelity; and, while she was in New York, he employed a locksmith to break open a cupboard. The evidence discovered resulted in the infamous 1963 divorce case, in which the Duke of Argyll accused his wife of infidelity. There was a set of Polaroid photographs of the Duchess nude, save for her signature three-strand pearl necklace and a headless man. The Duchess never revealed the identity of the “headless man”.
In the following decades her fortune diminished due to her extravagant lifestyle and ill-considered investments. In 1978, debts forced Margaret to move from her Belgravia house and relocate with her maid to a suite at the Grosvenor Hotel. In 1990, unable to pay her hotel bills, she was evicted, and with the support of friends and her first husband moved to an apartment. Margaret died in penury in 1993 and was buried alongside her first husband, Charles Sweeny.
Photographs of the wedding gowns are copyright Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
If you have enjoyed today’s blog post you might like to sign up for our newsletter and receive future posts via email.
Subscribing is easy just fill in your email address in the box at the top right hand side of this page. Don’t forget to add us to your contact list so the newsletters go into your inbox rather than spam.
We will never share your details.
- See more at: https://hands-across-the-sea-samplers.com/?page_id=53#sthash.znB6kRFB.dpuf