The Royal wedding: Less Diana, more Grace Kelly - the dress of the decade

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It HAD been one of the most eagerly anticipated dresses of the decade, and when it was finally unveiled on the steps of Westminster Abbey, Kate Middleton's wedding gown did not disappoint.

Her pale ivory satin dress with a nipped-in bodice, lace sleeves and a full skirt was created by Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen, who said that designing the dress was the "experience of a lifetime".

Speculation as to which designer would be given the commission, and indeed what style the bride would opt for, had reached fever-pitch, but the design was kept under wraps until the very last minute, when the bride began to make her way up the steps of Westminster Abbey at 11am yesterday.

The classic silhouette, simple veil and lace sleeves were reminiscent of the timeless dress Grace Kelly wore on her wedding day in 1956, and were in keeping with the bride's own pared-back personal style.

Ahead of the big day she had said that she wanted to ensure that her groom recognised her when she walked up the aisle, and it was apparent that she felt at home in the stunning dress.

• 360 photo: Royal couple on the balcony at Buckingham Palace

"It was clear that this was about how Kate wanted to look," says Tessa Hartmann, the founder of the Scottish Fashion Awards.

"It was a step away from the avant-garde Parisian catwalk look that Sarah Burton is known for towards a traditional, elegant yet contemporary bridal look. I loved her almost girlish wave as she was in the car on the Mall; it was all very Kate.

"The train wasn't too long and the headdress was just perfect, simple with her magnificent drop earrings and her hair teased with loose curls shaping the back of her neck. This is the real Catherine; regal, elegant and stylish."

The house of Alexander McQueen is known for its high-fashion, cutting-edge creations, and is one of the most celebrated fashion labels in the UK.

It may be famous for bucking trends, pushing the sartorial envelope and challenging convention, but it was the timeless simplicity of the dress, hair and make-up which had the fashion crowd cooing.

"As a political fashion choice it was brilliantly judged," says fashion commentator John Davidson.

"This wasn't a moment to make a catwalk statement, and it was suitably stately and grand without going over the top, serene and elegant but also a real crowd-pleaser.

"And importantly, it was very 'her'. She looked dignified, but not at all stuffy and she'd clearly chosen something she would feel comfortable in. She got the sense of occasion just right and didn't try to make an edgy statement."

In the months since the engagement was announced, a number of designers - including Sarah Burton herself - were forced to deny their involvement in what will no doubt go down as the dress of the decade, but Burton has been one of the bookies' favourites for the past few weeks.

Yesterday the designer, who took the top job at Alexander McQueen after his death last year, spoke of how "honoured" she was to have been asked to create such a historic garment.

"I have enjoyed every moment of it," she said, adding that it had been "the experience of a lifetime" to create the dress.

"I am delighted that the dress represents the best of British craftsmanship. Alexander McQueen's designs are all about bringing contrasts together to create startling and beautiful clothes and I hope that by marrying traditional fabrics and lacework, with a modern structure and design, we have created a beautiful dress for Catherine on her wedding day."

In keeping with the timeless simplicity of the gown itself, the bride opted to wear her signature long, dark hair in a half-up, half-down style, and insisted on doing her own make-up.

Accessories were kept to an absolute minimum - she wore only a pair of subtle earrings, a gift from her parents - and a modest veil and small posy completed the look.

The comparisons to Princess Diana are inevitable. Designer Elizabeth Emmanuel, who created the wedding dress for the 20-year-old princess in 1981, has said that William's bride is more sure of her personal style than his mother was on her big day.

"With Diana she was very young when we were introduced to her, and fashion was not one of her big interests so she didn't really have her own sense of style," she said.

"But Kate Middleton does. She's worked in fashion. She knows what suits her."

It seems unlikely too that this dress will date as quickly as Diana's very identifiably Eighties creation did.

"Kate's dress was very old Hollywood meets modern royalty," said fashion stylist Lindsay Campbell.

"Even the most fashion-conscious woman doesn't want her wedding dress to date, and Kate knows that the images from her wedding day will be around for decades to come.

"Her choice was beautifully subtle, and I loved the way the light picked out the detailing as she moved. It was spot on. From head to toe she was the classic English rose."

THE EARRINGS A gift from her parents for her wedding day, and her "something new", Catherine's earrings were her only jewellery. Created by jewellers Robinson Pelham, they were diamond-set stylised oak leaves featuring a a pear-shaped diamond set drop and a pav set diamond acorn. Both the oak leaf and the acorn appear on the Middleton family's new coat of arms.

THE TIARA There was much debate as to which of the royal tiaras the bride would opt for, or indeed if she would wear one at all. In the end she plumped for the 1936 Cartier "Halo" which was loaned to her by the Queen and was her "something borrowed". Bought by the Queen's father for the Queen Mother, it was given to the Queen by her mother on her 18th birthday.

THE TRAIN At 2.7 metres, Kate's train was decidedly modest (Diana's was nearly eight metres long.) It was decorated with subtle lace appliqu flowers which were handcrafted using the Carrickmacross lace-making technique, which originated in Ireland in the 1820s.

THE BOUQUET Simple, modest and rather small in comparison to the waterfall of blooms Diana carried on her wedding day. The shield-shaped wired posy included myrtle, lily-of-the-valley, hyacinth and, of course, sweet William.

THE SLEEVES The only thing that seemed certain when it came to the dress was that it would feature sleeves. When marrying the future head of the Church of England in Westminster Abbey, a sleeveless dress would be unthinkable. As predicted, the dress featured lace sleeves and a high lace collar, with a modest V-shaped neckline.

THE SHOES The 5'10" bride opted for flat slippers for her walk down the aisle to minimise any chance of tripping. Hand-crafted by the Alexander McQueen team and made of ivory duchesse satin, with lace embroidery, they were the first of four pairs of shoes she comissioned for the day.

THE HAIR It being her crowning glory, there was much speculation as to how the bride would wear her hair, which she usually leaves down. She opted for a simple demi-chignon instead, wearing most of it down and loose and sweeping the top section up behind her tiara. The style, by her regular hairdresser, James Pryce of Richard Ward's salon in London, was dictated by the tiara itself, which was worn just off the hairline.

THE BODICE The ivory and white satin gazar gown featured a simple bodice, nipped in at the waist with padding at the hips, a style signature of Alexander McQueen and a nod to traditional Victorian corsetry.

THE SKIRT The pleated skirt, designed to resemble an opening flower, featured white satin gazar arches and pleats. It billowed out over a silk tulle underskirt finished with Cluny lace, while running down the back of the dress were 58 tiny covered buttons. Lace appliqu detailing was hand-made by the Royal School of Needlework, and incorporated the rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock to represent the nations of the UK.

THE MAKE-UP As for her engagement photographs, Catherine opted to do her own make-up on her wedding day, keeping it natural with a smoky eye, nude lip and rosy cheeks.

THE VEIL Falling just below the waist, the veil was made from layers of ivory silk tulle, finished with a decorative trim of hand-embroidered flowers.