All the Details About Princess Diana’s Wedding Dress
Princess Diana's wedding dress looks stunning in photos, but you'll appreciate it even more once you learn all the thought and details that went into creating this iconic gown.
When a young Princess Diana first stepped into public view on July 29, 1981, her wedding day to Prince Charles, the entire world collectively gasped. The royal had turned 20 years old earlier that month and looked absolutely breathtaking in an ivory taffeta gown designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel. Now royal fans and fashion aficionados alike will have the opportunity to see the iconic Princess Diana wedding dress, albeit for a limited time, thanks to a temporary exhibition titled Royal Style in the Making. The display will live in The Orangery, located right next to London’s Kensington Palace through January 2, 2022. It’s safe to say that even pictures of Princess Diana in the dress don’t do the gown justice, as it’s truly a sight to behold in person.
Can you imagine getting a call from one Lady Diana Spencer asking if you’d be game to design a wedding dress for her upcoming nuptials to the world’s most dashing prince? The very wedding dress that the world started talking about as soon as the news broke that Prince Charles was engaged to the fair-haired young woman. That’s exactly what happened to Elizabeth Emanuel, who designed the dress with her then-husband David Emanuel. Keep in mind, they were fresh-faced themselves, having only recently finished fashion school. According to the Emanuels, their overall brand was new-romanticism. And that’s exactly what they brought to this exciting project.
Remember, it was the early 1980s, and wedding style was very different back then. It really went hand-in-hand with street style—meaning more was always more. With that in mind, a simple A-line, mermaid, or column silhouette simply wasn’t going to do, not for the wedding of the decade (possibly the century). According to British Vogue, the Emanuels presented Princess Diana with multiple sketches, finally deciding on the gown we all know and love—one that accentuated her waist, had oversized puffy sleeves, and an enormous skirt to balance it all out. It was truly a design fit for a princess.
Diana’s gown was a stunner from a mile away, but up close you can see all of the immaculate details that went into crafting the bespoke wedding dress. Perhaps the most obvious accents are the lace flounces at both the wide neckline of the gown and at the cuffs of each sleeve. (A flounce is simply a frill added to create a little dramatic flair to a piece.) According to the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Fashion History Timeline, the Princess Diana gown had, literally, thousands of sequins and pearls embroidered into it. On the bodice, some of these intricacies were patterned as a heart. You can only imagine a gown of this caliber would require a team of seamstresses, and it did, but because of the exclusivity of the project, Elizabeth and David had to be very careful who had access to it. Elizabeth told British Vogue that all of the work was done by their in-house seamstresses and their mothers, as well as their assistant and her mom. This way no secrets about the gown could be leaked. Additionally, there was an 18-carat gold, horseshoe-shaped bauble sewn into Diana’s petticoat for good luck.
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You really can’t talk about Princess Diana’s wedding gown without going into detail about that illustrious train. It was 25 feet long, reportedly the longest train in royal wedding history, and, boy, did it make a statement. What it almost didn’t do was make its way properly into the carriage that transported Diana to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where the wedding ceremony took place. The dress had to be folded repeatedly in order for the blushing bride to fit into the carriage. Upon stepping out of her royal transport, the gown and train were quite crumpled. “When she came out of that carriage, it was the most wonderful vision I’d ever seen,” Elizabeth told the Daily Mail in an interview. “She looked like a butterfly emerging from her chrysalis, unfurling her wings and about to fly. It was so romantic. Oddly, the imperfections seemed to make her even more beautiful.” Elizabeth and David immediately went about smoothing out the dress and train for Princess Diana.
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With Diana’s main concern being appearing taller than Prince Charles (both 5’10”), celebrity cobbler Clive Shilton did everything in his power to create the perfect pair of shoes with a small heel for the soon-to-be princess. After six months of hard work, the handmade shoes were finally done. Besides being covered in 542 sequins and 132 pearls, Diana’s heels had a hidden message painted on the suede soles: the initials “C” and “D” with a heart in between.
Princess Diana’s gown cost approximately £151,000 back in 1981 when she wed Charles. With inflation, its estimated value is around £200,000 (about $283,000), though of course to her adoring fans and royal watchers, the dress is priceless. Designers Elizabeth and David didn’t charge the princess nearly as much as the materials and work cost for them to make it. In fact, they told British Vogue that they would have been happy to give it to her for free. However, they charged her only 1,000 guineas, which is the equivalent of one pound and one shilling. The guinea is no longer used in Great Britain today.
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It’s hard to imagine after all of the work the Emanuels put into Princess Diana’s wedding gown that they could have possibly had time to make a “just-in-case” backup dress, but they did! In an interview, the couple says Diana never tried on the alternate dress nor did they ever finish it, mostly because there simply wasn’t any time. It was already hard enough to schedule fittings with the bride’s very hectic schedule. The back-up dress is described as being made of the same fabric as the Princess Diana wedding gown we all know, and had a boned bodice that took more of a V-shape, with shorter sleeves that were still quite poofy.
The veil and tiara
Princess Diana’s wedding veil was as gorgeous as the gown itself, and so long that it matched the length of her dress (for the record, it was 459 feet of tulle). It was crafted by a woman named Peggy Umpleby, who was employed by a company formerly called S. Lock. According to the magazine, Umpleby largely worked on the details at home, toiling at all hours to make sure it was completed and sent over to the Emanuels in time for Diana and Charles’s wedding day. The veil was held in place with the Spencer Tiara, an heirloom of Diana’s family that dates back to 1919. Her sisters both wore the same tiara on their wedding days.