As Lady Diana Spencer stepped out of Clarence House on July 29, 1981, reporters everywhere ripped open sealed envelopes revealing the “most closely guarded secret in fashion history.” Details about the design of the future Princess of Wales’ wedding dress managed to remain under lock and key until hours before the ceremony, and the dramatic unveiling did not disappoint.
The ivory taffeta gown later sparked copycats around the world, cementing the over-the-top, all-about-frills aesthetic ’80s bridal was best known for. With elaborate embroidery, 10,000 pearls, and a 25-foot-long train, Diana’s custom wedding dress that she wore during her nuptials to Prince Charles has undoubtedly become the most iconic in modern history. Here, everything you need to know about Princess Diana’s wedding gown—from the intricacies of the design to the secrets that have emerged over time.
1 It Was Designed by David & Elizabeth Emanuel
Diana tapped British designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel to design her wedding gown. According to Tatler, Lady Diana Spencer called up the Emanuels like any other potential client, asking simply if they’d do her the honor of making her wedding dress. Unlike today’s royal wedding design process, which entails countless design houses vying for the chance to design for a royal via submitted sketches, vetting processes, and guidance from her majesty The Queen, this selection process seemed infinitely more simple, and far more standard.
The relationship with the designers started prior to Diana’s engagement to Charles. She’d turned to the Emanuels for three to four evening gowns for key occasions, which had turned heads and established her as a style icon, according to the designer. “‘The first time the public saw her in one of my gowns they were quite shocked. As a kindergarten teacher, people were used to seeing her in pretty blouses and pleated skirts. Then she got out of the limousine in a taffeta Emanuel gown and that’s when everybody said ‘oh my goodness, she looks like a movie star.” That level of trust lead Diana to entrust the label with the design of her wedding dress, which David Emanuel has dubbed as “the greatest job of his career” in interviews since.
2 There Was a Stain On Diana’s Dress
On the day of her wedding, Princess Diana reportedly spilled some Quelques Fleurs perfume on her dress, which left her with a small stain. Her makeup artist Barbara Daly recounted the incident in her book Diana: The Portrait. As a solve, Diana tucked the front of her dress in, though, hiding the stain.
3 Diana Stuck With Bridal Traditions
According to Hello!, Diana’s bridal fittings were private, save for her and the design team. When deciding on the sketch and silhouette, she asked to bring one single guest—her mother—contrary to the large entourages typically expected of aristocrats and royals.
And when it came to classic bridal traditions, Diana abided by them all. She had a something old, a square of Carrickmacross lace that once belonged to Queen Mary. Per Town & Country, the square of fabric was either found in a bag of scraps or was a donation from the Royal School of Needlework. The rest of the lace appliqués on the gown were cut from antique lace specially spun at a British silk farm. Another something old (and her something borrowed) was the Spencer family tiara, an 18th century-era heirloom on loan from her own family. This was both a traditional and a daring decision, given that Diana most likely could have loaned a tiara from the Crown Jewels instead. While Brits tend to include a “sixpence in their shoe” for good luck, Diana took the inclusion of a good luck trinket to the next level. The Emanuels attached an 18-carat gold, horseshoe-shaped trinket studded with white diamonds to the gown’s label as a token of good fortune.
While much of Diana’s bridal look was new, including her shoes, there was a petite blue bow sewn into the interior of the gown’s waistband as her “something blue.”
4 There Was a Back-Up Dress Made
In 2005, an auction house claimed to have a duplicate copy of Diana’s original gown, according to CBS News. Upon speculation, the Emanuels insisted they never created a second version of the dress, but did reveal that they had designed an alternate dress for Lady Diana Spencer, one with a more pronounced V-neckline and no lace.
The media was itching to get a sneak peek of the gown’s design, and the Emanuels went to every length to keep the sketch, silhouette, and the details of the design a secret until the wedding day. According to MetDaan, they even installed a safe in their studio to keep designs and fabric swatches. “It sounds a bit over-the-top, but it really did seem like people would go to any lengths to find out what the dress looked like,” Elizabeth explained.
Concerned the original dress design would leak to the press and be rendered useless, the second dress was meant to be worn only in the event that the press got wind of the first. The second dress, however, mysteriously vanished from the studio and many guessed that the gown up for auction was actually the stolen alternate gown, rather than a copy of the gown Diana wore down the aisle.
5 Her Gown (and Veil) Were Some of the Longest in History
While Diana’s 25-foot train was a detail many could not stop talking about after her walk down the aisle, it’s important to note that the veil secured to the Spencer tiara was actually even longer, coming in at 153 yards.
6 Diana’s Bridal Accessories Were Bespoke
In addition to a custom gown and trailing veil, the Emanuels created bespoke shoes and a parasol for Diana’s bridal gown. The shoes, which took six months to make, were covered in 542 sequins and 132 pearls, according to the Daily Mail. The heels were fairly low to the ground to allow for comfort, and to avoid Diana towering over Charles. The bridal pair also included a sentimental, personalized element as well—the arch of each shoe included the initials C and D, for Charles and Diana.
The Emanuels thought of everything, and also designed a bespoke lace parasol for the look in the event of rain, designed with lace and pearls to match her gown. “It was made of such light material that it certainly wasn’t waterproof,” Elizabeth Emanuel later told the Daily Mail. “It wouldn’t have done her much good!”
7 The Bride Was Sewn Into Her Gown
While one typically associates being sewn into one’s wedding dress as a solution to a wardrobe malfunction, for Diana it was purely a fit issue—in that she arrived to her wedding day even smaller than she was in her final fittings. And while most brides tend to lose weight leading up to their wedding days, Diana lost a considerable amount more, inches included. Elizabeth Emanuel later told Peoplethat Diana ended up with a 23-inch waist, from a 26 to 27-inch waist when they first started the design process. As a result, the princess-to-be needed to be sewn into her gown the morning of her wedding day, to ensure the perfect fit.
8 The Dress by the Numbers…
In addition to a 25-foot long train and 153-yard veil, Diana’s wedding gown featured 10,000 mother-of-pearl sequins and pearls, not including the 542 sequins and 132 pearls on her custom set of slippers. The gown, unprecedented in its level of detail and grandeur, would retail for an approximate £90,000 at the time of it’s creation in 1981, which is equivalent to about £347,260.69 today. In U.S. Dollars, that converts to about $448,572.26.
9 Diana Left Her Wedding Gown to Her Sons
Since she wore it down the aisle, Princess Diana’s wedding gown has made appearances all over the world, making tours in museums and exhibitions globally. In 2014, according to People, the dress was passed down to her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, after Harry’s 30th birthday. Diana reportedly outlined the ownership of her wedding gown in her will.
While neither of their wives, The Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex, donned Princess Diana’s wedding gown or a piece of it for their special day, both brides made odes to their late mother in law when dressing for their wedding days. Kate Middleton’s Alexander McQueen wedding gown, designed by Sarah Burton, is arguably just as famous as Diana’s, and William proposed to Kate with a ring of his mother’s. Meghan Markle also paid homage to Diana on her wedding day, wearing an aquamarine cocktail ring of hers to the couple’s reception at Frogmore House.
10 It Barely Fit Into the Carriage
According to reports about the design process, Diana consistently requested that her train be longer and longer throughout the design process. What was sure to make for a stellar entrance resulted in one issue: the gown barely fit into the royal carriage transporting her to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The train needed to be stuffed into the carriage, which required folding the fabric over and over after it had been pressed for the occasion. Given the delicate nature of silk taffeta, that was what caused Diana’s train to be wrinkled when she made her grand entrance up the stairs of the church, and down the aisle, designer Elizabeth Emanuel told the Daily Mail.
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