Princess Diana’s wedding dress explained

Three months before Princess Diana, then 20, walked down the aisle to marry King Charles III, then a 32-year-old Prince of Wales, she called Elizabeth Emanuel’s small studio to ask if she would do her the honor do for her wedding dress. It was then that the young designer was commissioned to create a dress as unique as the People’s Princess. She exceeded Diana’s and the world’s expectations and created the most recognized wedding dress of the last century.

Although utterly remarkable and inimitable, the gown inspired hundreds of copycat dresses and continues to capture the imagination of brides to this day. From the moment Di stepped into St. Paul’s Cathedral on July 29, 1981 – for a engagement witnessed by hundreds of thousands of people – the dress became ubiquitous, but it wasn’t always that way. To increase the centerpiece’s appeal, the audience had no idea who was behind the dress or what it would look like, making it the “best kept secret in fashion history.” And this dress is full of secrets.

Ahead, we unravel all the details and mysteries behind Diana’s wedding dress, some of which Emanuel himself revealed to InStyle. We spoke to the designer during the ‘Styling Princess Diana’ exhibition at Fotografiska on May 21, 2024, held as part of People 50th anniversary celebration.

All the details

Getty Images


Di’s iconic wedding dress is a silk taffeta creation dyed ivory, as opposed to traditional bright white. It features a ruffled neckline, ruffled cuffs, puff sleeves, a fitted bodice, a voluminous ball gown skirt, delicate lace detailing, intricate embroidery, 10,000 mother-of-pearl sequins and of course a striking 25-foot train. The centerpiece was a family project, as designed by Emanuel and her former husband, David Emanuel; Elizabeth Emanuel’s mother, Brahna Betty Weiner, also worked on the embroidery.

The dress broke records

Getty Images


The 7.5 meter long train is the longest in the history of royal wedding dresses, a record the designers wanted to surpass. “I always wanted to add a train. We talked to Diana about it and laughed a bit. We said, ‘Let’s make it longer than anyone else’s train,'” Emanuel recalls. “And we looked it up, and by making it 23 feet, it was longer than anyone else’s. We had a lot of fun. It was fun to do.”

The larger-than-life addition came with some hurdles, including the fact that it had to be “folded like a sheet” to fit in the carriage. Furthermore, once the princess arrived at the cathedral, it took Di’s designer duo and some of Di’s bridesmaids to straighten it out.

Even bigger than the train was the bride’s glittering veil, which was a whopping 150 yards long. The headpiece was hand-stitched by Peggy Umpleby of S. Lock Embroidery (now called Hand & Lock) and decorated with 10,000 micro-pearls. Emanuel fondly remembers that it added a “magical look” to her fairytale dress.

The Emanuels took every precaution to keep the dress safe

Getty Images


Emanuel remembers her phone call with Di as if it were yesterday. In addition to Diana’s request that the Emanuels make her dress, she also asked that it be kept a secret. The Emanuels treated Di’s plea with the utmost seriousness. They had two security guards, Jim and Burt, who watched over the dress every night, locked it in a metal closet, kept the shutters on the windows closed, and even put bits of cloth in the trash to distract journalists from their smell. what the dress looked like.

The Emanuels received no instructions from the palace

Getty Images


Emanuel recalled that he had complete “freedom” in designing the dress – no guardrails or requests from Buckingham Palace whatsoever. From the start, they knew they “needed a big dress” to fill the large space of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and they “wanted it to stand out and look very different.” But most of all, they wanted it to be something that Diana “really loved.”

“It was a fantastic time, the ’80s. It was all about romance and frills. The style we had at the time was really big skirts, ruffles and things like that,” Emanuel said. ‘When Diana came to us, she really liked it. The goal was to create a fairytale princess dress.”

The duo referred to books and historical photographs, such as Queen Victoria’s wedding dress, and made countless sketches. Their starting point, however, was a dress that Diana tried on from their sample range, with a fitted waist and puffed sleeves. Both the princess and the designers saw that style as the winning formula. From there they looked for a version that couldn’t be copied.

Elizabeth Emanuel almost fainted when she saw Diana

Getty Images


And not in the way you think. Emanuel was “shocked” by the amount of wrinkles in the dress. She expected some, as is normal with taffeta, but not the amount that resulted from folding the train.

Diana was sewn into the dress

Getty Images


During the ninety days the Emanuels had to make the dress, Emanuel said Diana went from a 26/27 inch waist to a 23 inch waist. “We kept putting off cutting the fabric because it was getting heavier and heavier, and eventually we just had to cut it away. But we had to keep recording it and recording it,” she said during the Fotografiska panel. Ultimately, they had to sew Diana into the dress the morning of the wedding to ensure a perfect fit.

Emanuel said they didn’t get a “proper look” at the dress until the wedding day at Buckingham Palace because their studio was too small to fully expand the train.

There was a secret backup dress

Leandro Justen


The design duo prepared for any wedding disaster, even if the dress was stolen, set on fire, generously stained or some other tragic accident. They even designed a secret spare dress, which differed from the one Diana wore down the aisle in that it had a bright white shade, fitted sleeves and no train. However, it remained consistent with the original ruffled collar, ruffled cuffs, large skirt, fitted bodice, lace accents and hand-stitched embroidery. Emanuel said they only finished it three-quarters of the way through because it felt “unlucky” to finish it; they just wanted something for their peace of mind. She also said that Diana had no idea it existed because they “didn’t want to freak her out” with the knowledge of a contingency plan.

After all the vows and kisses were exchanged, the Emanuels forgot the spare dress, and somehow it disappeared. However, Emanuel brought it back to life in 2024 and created a replica based on the “approximately 500 photos” they took at the time.

In 1981, the duo also made a spare skirt for the original dress and brought everything they could possibly need for the big day. “I took things like glucose tablets, safety pins and tissues,” Emanuel remembers. “You name it, I had it in my bag in case there was an emergency.”

As if their task wasn’t ambitious enough, the designers also made the bridesmaid dresses.

Diana stained the wedding dress

Getty Images


Diana’s bridal makeup artist Barbara Daly recounted the incident in her book Diana: The portrait. She said that while applying her favorite fragrance, Quelques Fleurs by Houbigant, Diana spilled the perfume on the skirt of her dress. Daly advised her to hold the stain as she walked so that it looked like she was not trying to step on it, but actually trying to cover the stain.

It’s a good thing Emanuel planned such accidents, except she had no idea it happened. “I didn’t know anything about (the perfume stain),” she said In style. “They didn’t tell me…I read about it.”

There was something borrowed and something blue

Getty Images


Diana followed all Victorian traditions on the day of her engagement. Her something old came in the form of a square of Carrickmacross lace that once belonged to Queen Mary; the rest of the lace was specially made in Nottingham to look like Queen Mary’s lace. Meanwhile, there was something new for her: the dress itself. Di’s something borrowed was the Spencer Tiara, a family heirloom with diamonds in the shapes of tulips and stars and originally owned by her grandmother, Lady Cynthia Hamilton.

Finally, her something blue was a small blue ribbon that the Emanuels added to the waist of the dress, along with a small 18-karat gold horseshoe trinket sewn into the dress for good luck. Emanuel said the white diamond-studded charm was created by master jeweler Douglas Buchanan, who approached them with the idea.

“Every element was taken into account,” Emanuel said. “We also tried to make everything British. Even the silk for the veil… they managed to squeeze a little bit of British silk into it. There weren’t enough butterflies to do the whole thing, but we got a few in the silk veil.”

Diana’s accessories were just as fabulous

Getty Images


The princess was of course adorned with her beautiful sapphire engagement ring. To add to her appeal, she wore diamond earrings with a pearl-shaped diamond in the center and fifty smaller ones around it, which came from her mother, Frances Shand Kydd. Her magical Cinderella slippers were made by shoemaker Clive Shilton; like her dress they were also ivory and had a heart design on the toe, 542 sequins, 132 pearls, a painted c And D with a heart just below the heel (because you guessed it, “Charles” and “Diana”), lace floral appliqués and a low heel (so she doesn’t tower over the groom). As a final touch, she carried a bouquet of gardenia, stephanotis, odontoglossum orchid, lily of the valley, Earl Mountbatten rose, freesia, veronica, ivy, myrtle and tradescantia flowers.

Once again, the ever-prepared Emanuels have thought of everything: Emanuel said they made a matching parasol in case it rained.

Diana left her wedding dress to her sons

Getty Images


After the royal couple took their vows, the dress went on a global tour, appearing in museums and exhibitions around the world. According to Diana’s will, it was passed to Prince William and Prince Harry in 2014, after Harry’s thirtieth birthday. People.