The creation of a royal wedding dress is akin to a military operation. There's the secrecy, hours of planning, painstaking labour and all-nighters to finish on time. What is it that so fascinates us? Perhaps it's because in that one dress coalesce artistry, heritage, the hopes of a people and the happiness of a lovely young bride. And then there's also the hidden meanings behind each gown…
WATCH: Take a look back at the most stunning royal wedding dresses
The Duchess of Sussex's floral veil and 'something blue'
As Meghan Markle stood on the steps of St George's Chapel, Windsor two years ago on 19 May, it was the culmination of a modern fairytale that had captured the world's imagination. In a masterly touch, Meghan commissioned Clare Waight Keller of Givenchy, the Parisian maison known for dressing her fashion heroine Audrey Hepburn – a choice only revealed on the day, because the British designer didn't even confide to her family that she'd landed the prestigious assignment.
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With the focus on the bateau-style neckline and the train kept short, a touch of drama came from the bride's 16.5ft silk tulle veil. In what Meghan called a "fun surprise" that made Harry "over the moon", it was hand embroidered with flowers representing the 53 countries of the Commonwealth, plus the California poppy in a nod to her home state and wintersweet, which grew in the garden of the couple's first marital home, Nottingham Cottage. The Duchess's romantic 'something blue' was a snippet of fabric from the first date with her Prince.
Princess Eugenie's body positive image
When Princess Eugenie's turn came a few months later she dazzled in a wide V-necked gown designed by London-based duo Peter Pilotto and Christopher De Vos, known for their dramatic sculptural designs. With a fitted bodice and full, pleated skirt, the dress plunged to a low back to gracefully frame the scar running down Eugenie's spine - the result of surgery at the age of 12 to correct scoliosis. The bride made the bold decision to combine fashion-forward design with a body positive image. The embroidery included a thistle for Scotland acknowledging the couple's fondness for Balmoral, a shamrock as a nod to the Irish roots of her mother's Ferguson family, the York rose for her father, the Duke of York, and ivy representing Ivy Cottage, the home Eugenie shared with Jack Brooksbank. With no veil, the Greville Emerald Kokoshnik tiara was her "something borrowed" from the Queen.
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The Duchess of Cambridge's floral motifs
Kate recognised that the wedding of a future Queen is not just the start to married life but in many cases to public duty. She chose Sarah Burton, chief designer at Alexander McQueen, for her exquisite gown. The full-skirted ivory and white satin creation was pure fairytale, with a long-sleeved lace bodice and hand-embroidered silk tulle veil. Narrow at the waist, padded at the hips and inspired by Victorian corsetry, the bodice was textbook McQueen. The floral motifs of the embroidery were echoed in magnificent sculptural arches and pleats that opened to resemble a flower and made the design look perfect from any angle. Flowers on the bodice included roses, thistles and shamrocks, which traditionally represent England, Scotland and Ireland.
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Princess Diana's initials
Princess Diana's showstopper made of silk taffeta, decorated with antique lace, hand embroidery, sequins, and 10,000 pearls filled the cavernous space of St Paul's Cathedral with no problem. The creation by the husband and wife team, David and Elizabeth Emanuel, was teamed with the Spencer tiara and silk slippers featuring 542 sequins and 132 pearls in a heart-shaped design. The hand-painted soles bore the initials C and D on the arch and low heels so that at 5ft 10in, Diana didn't appear taller than her groom, Prince Charles.
Sarah, Duchess of York's naval touches
When her friend Sarah Ferguson exchanged vows with Prince Andrew in 1981 at Westminster Abbey, designer Lindka Cierach took note of how Diana's dress had creased when crammed into the Queen's Glass Coach. In her memoir Sarah wrote: "Lindka was a genius; I knew she could make the most flattering gown ever, and she had. It was amazingly boned, like a corset. We'd chosen duchesse satin because it is the creamiest material in the world. It never creases. It is smooth as glass and hangs beautifully, without a single bulge; it made my reduced figure look even better." Heavily beaded, the bodice included hearts for love, anchors and waves representing Andrew's naval career, and their initials on the 17ft-train.
The Queen's symbol of rebirth
When our Queen wed in 1947 wartime rationing was still in force but the government gave her an extra 200 coupons. Created by Norman Hartnell with a 13ft train, the then Princess Elizabeth's duchesse satin gown featured motifs of star lilies and orange blossom, inspired by Botticelli's Primavera to symbolise rebirth after the devastation of conflict.
Crown Princess Mary of Denmark's mother's wedding ring
Mary, an Australian advertising executive, was a vision of bridal beauty, combining a Scandinavian aesthetic with nods to her Antipodean roots. Confected by Danish designer Uffe Frank, her dress featured a scooped neckline with sleeves that wrapped around her arms like a lily and a unique skirt that opened to reveal lace that had formed part of the wedding trousseau of the groom's great-grandmother. Stitched into the waist was the wedding ring of her mother, who'd passed away seven years previously. The finishing touches were a veil that has been worn by Danish royal brides since 1905 and a bouquet containing Australian eucalyptus.
Queen Letizia's fleur de lys emblem
Former news anchor Letizia wisely followed the advice of her mother-in-law, Queen Sofia, turning to couturier Manuel Pertegaz, then already in his 80s. His concept of elegance was a woman who was at once delicate and majestic, which summed up the bride perfectly. His design was slim-fitting, to show off Letizia's slender figure, before fanning out into a round 15ft train that filled the vast proportions of Madrid's Almudena Cathedral. Embroidered in silver thread with Felipe's fleur de lys emblem around the high collar, sleeves and the base of the bodice, the ensemble was a tour de force.
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