The Modesty Debate Over Kate Middleton's Wedding Dress

Comparison of modesty of wedding dresses of Kate Middleton, Grace Kelly and modest bridal suppliers

(Photo credits, clockwise from left: Official Royal Wedding 2011 website linking to the British Monarchy Photostream on Flickr, Aliza's Bridal Boutique, two designs from Betsy Couture, Wikipedia, Wedding dress of Grace Kelly, 1956) On the one-year anniversary of Kate Middleton's wedding to Prince William of England on April 29, 2011, I continue to be surprised by comments posted on modest fashion blogs about the level of modesty of the bridal gown of the new Duchess of Cambridge. I have seen more comments from girls who thought her choice was modest than from those who thought that it lacked in modesty.

In the days leading up to the wedding, I was fascinated by reports speculating that Kate would choose a modest design, including a high neckline and shoulder coverage, in keeping with protocol for the British monarchy. Watching on television in the early morning hours an ocean away, I must admit being disappointed at my first glimpse of the gown during live reporting of the ceremony. To me, modesty has always meant not just coverage of skin but also avoidance of teasing elements, such as tight fitting, transparent fabrics or trompe l'oeil that simulates a revealing cut. Not only did Kate's dress feature an open, plunging neckline, it also invited the imagination of onlookers with see-through lace above the level of her strapless shell. Most female television commentators who first witnessed the dress declared it to be "in no way inappropriate." However, I had hoped for more modesty and appreciated the honesty of fashion consultant Tim Gunn, who was also covering the event, who openly disagreed with the female reporters, calling Kate's wedding dress design "daring."

Of course, the bridal dress was more modest than apparel Kate had been accustomed to choosing for other special occasions, which points to the fact that perception of modesty varies based on individual values. To her, the wedding dress probably was a concession to modesty in contrast to the dress she might have chosen had she married non-royalty. Many observers compared the similarities of Kate's dress to Grace Kelly's (pictured on the lower left). Few reports comparing the two dresses note that Princess Grace leaned more toward modesty with a higher neckline and lace with greater opacity than that of Kate's. For the two billion people worldwide who are estimated to have watched the royal wedding of William and Kate, the ceremony would have held even more inspiration had the couple demonstrated exemplary moral values in life as well as dress. It is a well-publicized fact that they had lived together off and on during the eight years prior to their marriage.

During the Royal Wedding, listeners were reminded of the God-given order of marriage, designed to come prior to life together and childbearing, during the introduction to the vows given by the Dean of Westminster Abbey, The Very Reverend John R. Hall, ". . . Matrimony was ordained . . . for the increase of mankind, according to the will of God, and that children might be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord and to the praise of His holy name. Secondly, it was ordained that the natural instincts and affections implanted by God should be hallowed and directed aright, that those who are called of God to this holy estate should continue therein in pureness of living . . . ."

As a fashion inspiration, Kate's bridal dress and her sister Pippa's bridesmaid dress will be emulated for years to come. We encourage brides to consider that modest versions of the dresses may be even more beautiful than the originals, especially to the groom, family and friends who value "pureness of living." For example, sleeves could be lined with a contrasting pastel color to allow the lace detail to still be visible. Or as pictured in the example above on the right, from Aliza's Bridal Boutique, lace may be lined white-on-white. The two examples pictured on the lower right are from Betsy Couture and feature the high waist and button detail elements seen on Grace Kelly's wedding gown. A high neckline and lined lace presents a totally different feeling from a plunging neckline and see-through lace, and that is why the comments of girls who view Kate Middleton's wedding gown design as modest are surprising.