Princess Diana's Wedding Dress: All About Her Epic Taffeta Gown
Princess Diana's wedding gown was the stuff of fairy tales. Her July 29, 1981 wedding to Prince Charles was held at St. Paul's Cathedral, and was televised for all the world to see. At the time, Diana Spencer, or "Shy Di" as she was fondly known, made headlines with her incredible wedding gown: an over-the-top, ivory taffeta creation with a 25-foot train and puffed sleeves.
Its legacy has lasted the four decades since her big wedding day: Lady Diana's royal wedding dress has inspired countless copycat designs, including Meghan Markle's own Givenchy gown. Here, we break down all the details about Princess Diana's wedding dress and why it is still revered as one of the most iconic wedding gowns to ever grace British Royal History.
Who Designed Princess Diana's Wedding Dress?
When it came time to decide on a designer for her wedding gown, Princess Diana opted to stick with a British pair she was already familiar with: young husband-and-wife design team David and Elizabeth Emanuel. The couple received a casual phone call from Princess Diana, then still known as Diana Spencer, with a life-changing request: to "do the honor of making her wedding gown," David Emanuel told Tatler in 2017. "[It was] the biggest job of my career," he said. Prior to that, the Emanuels had created three or four gowns for Diana for other special occasions, but a royal wedding gown was a project of epic proportions.
It was imperative that the details of the gown be kept a secret, making the dress the "most closely guarded secret in fashion history," according to Tatler. The Emanuels kept the iconic dress locked in a safe when they weren't working on it in their studio, with security guards to keep nosy paparazzi at bay. "The press would go through our [waste] bins looking for any scrap of fabric," David Emanuel told Today. "So we were naughty—we put some pale pink in, pale lemon. Of course, the next day, the press (says), 'The Emanuels are doing a pale pink wedding dress.' It's kind of fun, but they took it terribly seriously."
How Much Did Princess Diana's Wedding Dress Cost?
When the Emanuels sat down to collaborate with Diana on her vision for her wedding day, they came to the conclusion that the royal wedding dress would have to be lavish and over-the-top. "If you have ever visited St. Paul's Cathedral, it is a vast and beautiful building, and if you did a quiet, little, low-key, unassuming gown, it wouldn't have worked," David Emanuel told Today. "It had to be triumphant. It had to be spectacular." As such, the couple incorporated thousands of mother-of-pearl sequins, antique Carrickmacross lace originally belonging to Queen Mary, and 10,000 pearls into the ivory silk taffeta gown, giving the final gown an estimated value of $115,000.
The aforementioned safe where the Emanuels kept the gown was so large that they initially couldn't even fit it through the front door of their London studio, and had to hire a crane to bring it in. "They had to take out the window, sail it into the building," David Emanuel said. "So every night when we worked on the gown, we had this huge safe, and then we locked it up, because we kept on thinking that if anybody should break in—even though we had security guards—they couldn't break into the safe. It was quite a procedure."
The Style, Shape, and More
Princess Diana's wedding gown was royal style in the making. The dress featured a fitted bodice overlaid with panels of antique Carrickmacross lace (previously belonging to Prince Charles' great-grandmother, Queen Mary) and puffed sleeves trimmed with taffeta bows and ruffles. The skirt itself was a full-bodied affair, making for a feminine, classic silhouette. The curved neckline showed off the bride's long, elegant neck without revealing too much else. Made of fabric specially spun at a British silk farm, the gown was largely composed of antique lace and silk taffeta, with intricate sequins and pearls hand-sewn onto the gown itself. Of note: Diana opted to have her dress dyed a royal ivory rather than leave it pure white. But perhaps the most memorable part of the wedding gown was the long 25-foot train, which still to this day remains the longest train ever for a British royal bride.
"Elizabeth and I did our research," David Emanuel said. "We found out the longest royal train was 20 foot. I remember giggling to Diana and saying, 'Oh gosh, we've got to beat that!' And she said, 'Oh, OK, shall we make it 23 foot? Shall we make it 25?' We arrived at 25 [feet]!"
Everything seemed set for the lavish reveal, but on the royal wedding day, the Emanuels had to scramble to make a very important last-minute adjustment: taking the waist of the gown significantly as Princess Diana had lost a lot of weight prior to the ceremony. "She ended up with a 23-inch waist from a 26 to 27-inch," Elizabeth Emanuel told People. The slender royal ultimately had to be stitched into the dress.
Accessories from Princess Diana's Wedding Day Look
The accessories that Princess Diana wore on her big day were arguably just as memorable as Diana's iconic wedding dress. In keeping with tradition, she wore the Spencer family tiara, an 18th century-era heirloom that had been gifted to her grandmother Cynthia Spencer, Countess Spencer, by Lady Sarah Spencer in 1919. It was not the first time the tiara was worn, nor was it the last: the Spencer tiara had been worn by generations of women in Diana's family, and most recently, her niece, Celia McCorquodale, wore the sparkling tiara for her own wedding in June 2018.
Diana also wore a pair of custom-designed shoes that held particular significance, even though they were largely hidden under the skirt of her wedding dress. The young princess collaborated with celebrity shoemaker Clive Shilton to create a pair of low-heeled satin and lace slippers intricately decorated with exactly 500 sequins, 100 seed pearls and suede sole arches with a tiny "C" and "D" painted underneath the heel. Diana was particularly careful to select a heel that wasn't too tall so that she wouldn't tower over the Prince of Wales; both she and Prince Charles were 5'10" in height. It took a total of six months to create the shoes.
Surprising Facts About Lady Diana's Wedding Dress
Even though Princess Diana's wedding gown was well-covered at the time of her historic wedding to Prince Charles, many details have been revealed about the iconic design in the years and decades since. David and Elizabeth Emanuel, who designed Diana's jaw-dropping gown, have opened up extensively about the collaborative process of creating the gown for their royal client, and other key players in the big wedding day have talked about previously unreported details from the big day itself. Here, a few surprising facts about Lady Diana Spencer's wedding dress.
Princess Diana's gown barely fit into the royal carriage.
The bride and her 25-foot train literally had to be stuffed into the carriage that would take her to St. Paul's Cathedral, making for a memorably wrinkled gown by the time she made it to the venue. According to designer Elizabeth Emanuel, the train had to be "folded like a bed sheet" in order to fit into the horse-drawn carriage. Still, the gown — and the train — made for a grand entrance that still made fashion history.
A good luck charm was sewn into her wedding dress.
The Emanuels sewed an 18-carat gold horseshoe-shaped trinket studded with white diamonds to the gown's label for good luck. They also incorporated a small blue bow into the waistband of the elaborate gown in keeping with the tradition of "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue." Though paparazzi couldn't capture shots of either of the two little additions, their presence made for a fun reveal after the fact.
Princess Diana had a perfume stain on her wedding gown.
Speaking of details that weren't visible to the public's eye, the then-20-year-old bride had a minor mishap the morning of her wedding, her makeup artist Barbara Daly revealed years later. According to Daly, Diana was trying to put some of her favorite scent—Quelques Fleurs—on her wrists as a final touch before the ceremony when she spilled some perfume down the front of her gown. With little other option than to get on with the day, Diana simply held that spot on her dress in a way that seemed as though she were trying not to step on it, largely keeping the telling stain out of the public eye.
The designers made a second gown just in case.
If Diana had really needed a backup for her wedding gown, however, she was in luck: the Emanuels had created an entire second gown that was ready to be swapped in on the off-chance that something happened to the original wedding dress—or if details of the taffeta and lace gown leaked ahead of the big day. Luckily, the designers didn't need to swap in the extra gown, though the second dress did mysteriously vanish from the studio after the wedding.
Princess Diana left her dress to her sons in her will.
Diana knew the value of her iconic wedding gown, and left it to her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, in her will. Per her request, the piece was passed down to them upon Harry's 30th birthday in September 2014, giving it a fitting pair of new owners after having been displayed around the globe.
Where Is Princess Diana's Wedding Dress Now?
For 17 years following Diana's tragic death in 1997, the wedding gown was held in the possession of her brother, Charles Spencer. After that time, it was brought to Althorp, the Spencer family's estate in Northampton, where it was considered the centerpiece of the museum. Those who wanted to pay their respects to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, flocked to the estate to view the fairy-tale wedding gown that captured the world's imagination. After more than a decade of being display there, the gown was taken down.
Most recently, Prince Harry and Prince William have loaned out the gown for an exhibition in London, at Kensington Palace, where their late mother lived for much of her time within the royal family. It is expected to be on display through the beginning of 2022.