When Kate Middleton walks down the aisle later this month to marry Prince William, the would-be brides watching out there will almost certainly home in on her dress.
Bridal industry insiders expect her gown to be copied many times over as soon as the public gets its first glimpse.
Some wedding dresses leave a legacy beyond the next-day knockoffs: Princess Diana's grand gown, Grace Kelly's glamorous one, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy's simple tank — and especially Queen Victoria's white ball gown — changed the way brides dressed for years to come.
Middleton's is likely to fall into that category.
"Kate's dress will be an important dress, one that will be talked about for the rest of time," says Millie Martini Bratten, editor-in-chief of Brides magazine.
Diana's dress helped define the grandeur of fashion in the early 1980s, Martini Bratten says, but Middleton's might be even more influential because women relate to her as a 29-year-old with a developed sense of style, compared with the 19-year-old Diana, whose gown likely was chosen by committee.
Also, pictures of Middleton's gown will immediately be posted online for discussion and critique, notes Darcy Miller, editor in chief of Martha Stewart Weddings. "It's amazing how much brides are influenced by what other people wear, especially royals, celebrities, presidents' daughters. Before Chelsea Clinton's wedding was over, every bride saw that Vera Wang dress and wanted some version of it," Miller says.
Celebrity red-carpet looks are adapted for the aisle, says Marchesa co-founder and designer Georgina Chapman, but many women have been thinking about their fantasy gowns for a long time and don't turn on a dime. "Wedding gowns are unlike any other dresses," she says, because brides' decisions "are often less trend-driven, and more personally focused on how they want to look and feel on their wedding day."
Still, a princess holds particular sway because of the fairy-tale aspect of weddings.
"A royal element makes it more dreamlike, and a wedding day is your time to look like a princess," says Kimberly Lee Minor, chief fashion strategist of the bridal label Priscilla of Boston, which made gowns for the daughters of Presidents Johnson and Nixon.
Some famous brides who set fashion trends:
— Queen Victoria. This was the game-changer — quite the feat in 1840. Until then, white hadn't been THE color of wedding dresses, explains Miller. Women wore their best dress, no matter the hue.
White was sometimes seen as a sign of affluence because it meant you could afford to get the dress dirty, but brides didn't run out and get one just for this occasion until Victoria.
— Jacqueline Kennedy. Kennedy "was a major fashion influence her whole life," so Ann Lowe's dramatic portrait-neck gown with an exaggerated hourglass shape, and pleating details fashioned into flowers and a tiered hemline suited her, says Miller. The bit of skin showing at the neckline also fit the image of the socialite marrying a dashing young senator, ushering in a new guard.
But the dress might have been "too couture" and not princess-y enough for the masses, making it less influential at the time, Martini Bratten says, although she sees hints of this dress on the runways now.
— Grace Kelly. Kelly's gown, made by costumer Helen Rose and the wardrobe department of MGM, was "truly designed by Hollywood," says Martini Bratten.
There was a high neckline, a cinched waist and a big ballskirt — all befitting a new royal. But the collar, sleeves and overlay were lace, so there was still a glimpse at the more revealing sweetheart bodice, more in line with what one would expect from a movie star.
"The silhouette was so classic and beautiful," observes Marchesa's Chapman. "It's just as breathtaking today as it was over 50 years ago. "
The illusion lace trick also was featured on Elizabeth Taylor's wedding gown in the 1950 film "Father of the Bride." Rose also designed that.