On this day 71 years ago, Princess Elizabeth walked down the lengthy aisle of Westminster Abbey to marry Prince Philip in a wedding dress fit for a (future) queen. The garment became one of the most famous wedding dresses to date, and is one that's still lauded to this day. Need proof? The gown, which featured a sweetheart neckline and diamond-encrusted, embroidered bodice, is now the subject of The Gown, a new novel by Jennifer Robson. In researching the legendary wedding dress, the author discovered so much about its creators, she told TIME—a discovery that only enriches the gown's history.
Robson found and interviewed Betty Foster, a seamstress who worked on the Queen Elizabeth's wedding dress nearly six decades ago. Foster was employed by Norman Hartnell, a fashion designer known for his relationship with the royal family. There, she worked under the supervision of Miss Halliday, a senior seamstress overseeing the wedding dress' construction. As for Foster's personal contribution to the gown? She was tasked with sewing 22 buttonholes onto the dress, which was something she had never done before.
The task, however, wasn't daunting, explained Foster. "Would you believe I wasn't [nervous]?" she said, of working on this critical part of the dress. "Miss Halliday told everyone to be quiet while I worked, and I did some practice buttonholes on a scrap of material, and then I just made them. Just like that."
After completing the iconic garment, Foster had the privilege of meeting the royal bride-to-be. She recalled not knowing how to curtsey properly and Elizabeth's "sparkling blue eyes and musical laughs." An introduction to the future monarch wasn't the only reward for her toils. Foster's supervisor allowed each and every woman who worked on the dress to place one small stitch into the gown, "so they all could say they had worked on the princess's finery," Robson recounted. Foster took away a keepsake from the experience, as well. According to Robson, some of Foster’s most prized possessions are the scraps she managed to save from the historic dress she will forever be a part of.