Married eight times to seven different men, Elizabeth Taylor wore plenty of wedding dresses in her lifetime. However, she adorned wedding gowns before this, most notably in the film Father of the Bride.
While Taylor was to become familiar with wedding gowns, her first were rather demure. In fact, she wore her first wedding dress onscreen in Julia Misbehaves at just sixteen years old. She also had her first onscreen kiss in this role.
Two years later, she started filming Father of the Bride just three weeks after becoming engaged to boyfriend Conrad Hilton Jr. The rest, as they say, is history.
Conrad “Nicky” Hilton was the son of the founder of Hilton Hotels. He met Liz at a nightclub in Los Angeles in 1949 after she had already had two failed engagements. She was just 17 years old, but they were instantly smitten. Finally she graduated high school and they got married on 6th May 1950 with over 600 guests.
Meanwhile, just three weeks after becoming engaged, Elizabeth started to film Father of the Bride. Her life totally revolved around weddings both at home and at work, and her forthcoming real-life marriage was definitely good publicity for the film.
In fact, the film premiered just two weeks after Liz and Nicky tied the knot. Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer capitalised on the star’s nuptials by funding the whole event and using the same dress designer as from the film. They took plenty of publicity shots and thousands of fans lined the streets outside the Beverly Hills church.
Let us take a step back and explore the film of Father of the Bride. Elizabeth had already found great success from her role in National Velvet and film company MGM was keen to make her into a star. Already familiar with putting Liz in roles that much older than her, they were happy to cast her as Kay Banks, a young woman due to be married to Buckley Dunstan.
The film was based on a novel of the same name by Edward Streeter. Married couple Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett worked on the translation to screenplay together. The director was the acclaimed Vincente Minnelli, who had directed Meet Me in St Louis starring future wife Judy Garland six years previously.
The film was a comedy and was really the story of Stanley (played by Spencer Tracy), father of Kay. The film starts after the wedding, Stanley reminiscing about the events that had led to the present moment.
Kay announces her engagement to Buckley, but her parents are upset, confused as to how their daughter could be marrying someone they’ve never met. They think it’s too quick. When they first meet, it’s clear that the couple are deeply in love, but Stanley isn’t having any of it.
However, when they meet the groom’s family, a joint fondness for martinis bring the in-laws together. Stanley decides to host an engagement party to show support for his daughter, but by the time he’s able to escape from duties in the kitchen the party is over.
Although Kay expresses a wish to elope and get married cheaply, her mother insists she has a church wedding. They decide to cut costs by holding the reception at their house. Costs quickly pile up nonetheless and Stanley reaches his last straw when his suit rips.
A distraught Kay announces the wedding is off after a disastrous date with her fiancé. Stanley tries to calm his daughter and eventually plans are announced to be back on.
The night before the wedding, Stanley dreams that he ruins his daughter’s wedding day by trampling down the aisle, drunk, in his ripped suit. His life, also, has been turned upside-down by this wedding. When he wakes up, he talks to Kay about his dream and his concerns.
Finally, on the day of the wedding, the house is in chaos. Nevertheless, the ceremony runs perfectly. Back at the house, Stanley tries to make his speech, but is again interrupted. He learns that the happy couple left without even saying goodbye. Meanwhile, the house is a mess.
Suddenly, the phone rings. It is Kay, at the train station, saying she couldn’t leave without saying goodbye. She says she loves him. Finally, Stanley is happy.
Now that the background, the history and the plot are out of the way, let’s have a look at that iconic dress.
Elizabeth Taylor wore an extravagant gown whilst playing Kay Banks in Father of the Bride. It was designed by Helen Rose, who went on to make the iconic wedding dress for Grace Kelly in 1956. At the time, Rose was climbing the ranks at MGM and had simultaneously just been made the studio’s chief designer.
The dress featured a small nipped-in waist and many layers casting out from here. An intricately decorated lace overlay sits on top of a slip, and fabric on top lies folded open to display this. In addition, the gown has a high neck, made of the same embellished lace as the skirt, and a Peter-Pan collar finishes the look off. Finally, she wore with it a short, flower-lined veil, and a pearl necklace and earrings.
Some have said that the success of the dress’s design perfectly encapsulated the bridal style that women in the 1950s craved. The dress was later made available to the public by the design house Alfred Angelo. The main reason for the gown’s popularity was that it seemed to epitomise everything that was fashionable at the time. Likewise, this includes the girl wearing it, 1950s icon Elizabeth Taylor.
After the film
Designer Helen Rose designed not only the wedding gown in the film, but also her very first wedding dress, to Nicky Hilton. The two dresses were of a similar style, which helped even more with the promotion of the film.
However, Elizabeth discovered her husband’s alcoholism and abuse weeks into her marriage and they divorced less than eight months later. Meanwhile, her other marriage went much smoother, and her Father of the Bride character, Kay, gave birth to son with husband Buckley in the sequel Father’s Little Dividend.
From her fictional wedding dress, her first wedding dress and her very last, Elizabeth always dazzled. Her first dress set the tone for many brides and 1950s’ fashion. Her eclectic mix of dresses over the years has inspired countless brides, but that’s for another article…