Princess Diana’s Wedding Dress

We all have our opinions on Diana’s gown and while it may not have stood the test of time style-wise it deserves a place in history as an iconic royal wedding dress, am I right?

Diana's first true royal wave (via Stylite)

A couple of Christmases ago, I unwrapped the delightful book A Dress for Diana by David Emanuel and Elizabeth Emanuel, the young and  fresh-out-of-school designers chosen to create Diana’s wedding dress. It’s a fun read with page after page of gorgeous photos and some interesting little known facts as well. So let’s take  strip doing memory line, starting at the beginning.

Diana wasn’t the first royal that the Emanuels dressed. Princess Michael of Kent was an early client, and she brought in some other royal ladies as well, though the Emanuels don’t specify who.

Diana was first introduced to the Emanuels through a photo shoot that she did with British Vogue. Without revealing who the clothes were for, the magazine asked the Emanuels to send in some pieces that might be suitable. Much to their delight, Diana fell in love with this soft pink chiffon one and wanted to learn more about the designers. Voila, the road was set…


Lady Diana Spencer for Vogue (via National Portrait Gallery)

Lady Diana Spencer for Vogue (via National Portrait Gallery)

By the way, the photographer for the  Vogue shoot was Princess Margaret’s photographer husband, Antony Armstrong-Jones and  according to the Emmanuels it was done BEFORE the engagement was announced!  Amazing that that didn’t get out in the press. So let’s figure this out: Charles proposed on the evening of February 6th after which Diana left the country, so when did she fit in this Vogue shoot and how did it not leak out into the press? Something does not measure up. Anyone have any thoughts?

Andrew Morton’s book Diana in Her Own Words explains that took off on a pre-arranged trip to Australia  sometime around February 8th, 1981.   She went with her mom and step dad went to their sheep station in Yass in New South Wales and later to a friend’s beach house for ten days of peace and seclusion.  The book also has this quote from Diana:

I then went away two days later to Australia for three weeks to sort of settle down and to organize lists and things with my mother. That was a complete disaster because I pined for him but he never rang me up. I thought that was very strange and whenever I rang him he was out and he never rang me back. I thought ‘Ok’. I was just being generous – ‘He is being very busy, this, that and the other.” I come back from Australia, someone knocks on my door. Someone from his office with a bunch of flowers and I knew they hadn’t come from Charles because there was no note. It was just someone being very tactful in the office.

The book also says that there was a solitary phone call after she called him, which Charles alludes to in this video from when the engagement was announced on February 24th. Man, Diana must have been jet lagged, right?!

Anyway, that pink blouse from the Vogue shoot led to this black dress, which Diana wore with great fanfare to her first official engagement with Charles.  Diana returned the dress after she started shedding a lot of weight, and the alterations were so extensive that the Emanuels just made her a new dress and kept the old one.  Incidentally, that dress sold at auction in 2010 for $276,000.

Diana's first royal 'do (via styleite)

Diana’s first royal ‘do (via styleist)

The earrings Diana wore that night were her mom’s and she also borrowed them on her wedding day. Diana’s sister Lady Sarah seems to own them now, and she wore them to her daughter’s wedding in the summer of 2012. It was quite thrilling to see them out and about again – more about that in our post here.

So that dress led to Vogue asking the Emanuels to be one of 6 designers asked to submit designs for an article on how they would design Diana’s wedding dress if given the commission. This is what they submitted:

The Emanuel's 1981 submission for Vogue (vis Diana Remembered)

The Emanuel’s 1981 submission for Vogue (via Diana Remembered)


Not far off from what they actually designed, right?! It’s shockingly similar!

So Diana liked it and rang up the Emanuels to ask them to do the honours, and then Buckingham Palace called on March 10, 1981 to say they were being revealed as the designers in a press release being sent out that day. After that, the Emanuels did everything they could to keep the design a secret- they had a safe installed, and threw random bits of fabric into the rubbage bin outside to trick the press- even though the actual design was pretty much right there in Vogue!

David and Elizabeth going over designs with Diana in Kensington Palace (via reality tv)

David and Elizabeth going over designs with Diana in Kensington Palace (via reality tv)

As the work was underway, David and Elizabeth were delighted that they and three of their employees were invited to the wedding as guests. One of them was Rose Hoey, and her memory of a visit to Buckinham Palace for a fitting is just the best:

“Diana…she was such a wonderful lady – so down to earth. I remember once at Buckingham Palace saying to her that it was amazing to think I was on the inside, having stood outside as a tourist so many times. She laughed and said we should go out on the balcony and wave at all the people outside – and we did!”

OMG, OMG. Did any of the tourists outside that day get a picture of that and was it somehow captured in the press and escaped my notice all these years?? Here’s to hoping – that picture would be priceless!

a view of Diana and Charles on the Buckingham Palace balcony (via Pinterest)

A rarely scene image of Diana and Charles on the Buckingham Palace balcony (via Pinterest)

The bridesmaids of course had lots of fittings as well, and on one occasion wore roller skates during the proceedings. Sadly, there’s no picture of that.

Love this (via Daily Mail)

Love this (via Daily Mail)


The Emanuels thought of a lot of other details as well. They went to St. Paul’s and lined up with tourists so that they could measure the length of the aisle to make sure they didn’t make the train too wide (yes, they were recognized). They also coordinated the design of the shoes, worked with the florists to make sure that Diana’s bouquet wouldn’t look puny with the big dress, and even created a matching water-proof parasol in case of rain.

Diana's Dress (via Daily Mail)

Diana’s Dress (via Daily Mail)

They got the dress safely to Clarence House for the wedding day, and helped Diana get dressed. Evidently she was quite relaxed and was happily singing along to the “Just One Cornetto” jingle that had been playing on the TV as she watched wedding coverage.

Then it was off to St. Paul’s. his video has the dramatic moment when Diana arrived at St. Paul’s t the 2:38 mark… the enormous train kept coming out of the carriage and – eek!- it was all creased.

The book covers a lot more, and we recommend it for any Diana fans. What do you think of this dress – love it, hate it, or appreciate it for all of it’s cream puff glory?

We know that Mariah Carey loved it – she copied it for her 1993 wedding!




Categories: British Royal Family, Diana, Princess of Wales, Royal Weddings


9 replies

  1. sorry…it just overwhelmed her…..a very young dress for a very young bride…..

  2. as pathetic as this arranged marriage was…… She was just a star-eyed mere-porteuse for the future of the British crown………so sorry

  3. I agree with Cathy. Ok, it was the 1981 but I think that the dress was too much also for the ’80s

  4. While this is a dress that has not dated well, it is incredibly iconic. Along with the likes of Princess Grace of Monaco’s dress, this gown is instantly recognisable and forever associated with the young Diana and her ‘fairytale’ life and marriage. I am sure if I was 19 and presented with this design in 1981 I would have made exactly the same decision. Indeed thousands of brides after her in the 80’s followed suit tried to emulate this dress in some way for their own weddings. It is a giant cream puff, but when I was a little girl (born in 1981!), it was the stuff of dreams 🙂

  5. Did not like this dress at all,I still look at the photos forcing myself for a redeeming quality but sadly there is none.I also think this was was her only faux pas in the fashion stakes.Still miss her greatly.

  6. she was all of nineteen. she was so hopeful, full of life and love. an innocent. I love the dress, and the young, beautiful woman in it. she was used, abused, and thrown away. for a brief time we had this beautiful woman in the world. I saw the dress in exhibit, thought it lovely. she made it lovely.

  7. I too couldn’t get enough of this book! Although some facts I knew, many I did not and it was fun reading about all the ‘behind the scenes stuff’… I was 13 when Diana married and she soon became my ‘idol’. I was so impressed that she always acted like and dressed like a true LADY. Style and class were hers in spades. When I married in the last 1990’s, the next royal wedding had not yet happened and I was THRILLED to find my very own ‘princess’ dress complete with a fitted bottice (sorry) and full skirt. I even used music and readings from the 1981 Royal Wedding at my own. I too miss her greatly but thank goodness that because of her, changes have been made within the Royal Family. Although I’d love to see more of Kate, I think it the right thing that the 3 of them are allowed the time to be a family first. In this past royal tour there were ‘private’ days which appeared on the schedule. I’m guessing that Diana never had anything like that. It was just go, go, go back then… Thank goodness that someone in that palace learnt something from the mistakes of the past… Diana was a beautiful woman who lit the world with her caring and compassion.

  8. I love her wedding dress and Vale. Hope to find one just like hers.

  9. I was also a young married woman myself, at 24 and having been married just 5 years earlier, with a 21 month old daughter, and having just given birth to our second child, a son, the end of April, 1981, when Diana and Charles were married. Living in the midwestern US, being up that early in the morning to watch the wedding wasn’t really anything new for me with a new baby who liked to nurse every two or three hours around the clock!

    As for the dress, it, like the whole marriage, overwhelmed Diana. She seemed swallowed up by the whole silhouette of the gown, the sleeves and the monstrous train. The method of conveyance used to transport her to the wedding was ill equipped to keep the whole thing from coming out looking like a rumpled and crushed duvet cover. I was sad to see that happen because I had such high expectations of the wedding gown for the future Queen of England, as we were all surely thinking she would become. Unfortunately, the styles coming into prevalence for the early 1980s weren’t going to allow something really elegant and royally appropriate, in my opinion.

    The Spencer Tiara was gorgeous, and the veil lovely, but likewise seemed to overwhelm its wearer. Having been a Cinderella-loving little girl, I had always had a personal expectation of Princesses’ tiaras regarding their design, and while the heart-shaped roundness of this tiara was certainly lovely to behold, it was a little bit of a disappointment to me, as I had been expecting (or perhaps just hoping for) something more along the lines of the Poltimore tiara that Princess Margaret wore on her own wedding day, or even “The Girls of Great Britain and Ireland” tiara belonging to the Queen herself! Something appropriately spikey and sparkly of course! But, this being well before the days of the Internet being readily useful and accessible from home, by a couple of decades anyway, and access to such information was limited to Life Magazine photos, library books, and the occasional newspaper article. Such information has only fairly recently become common knowledge or even easily located on all shores!

    As for the rest, she was entirely too young, unprepared and naive, thanks to their grievous lack of preparation of her for the life she would be required to lead, and she was, heartbreakingly destined for a loveless disaster of a marriage from the outset. Being chosen only for her “social acceptability” as a young woman with some background family-wise, and NO “background” in the bedroom, surely turned her life into a whirlwind of confusion and pain that she was ill-equipped with which to deal. It’s incredibly sad that she ended up being sacrificed on the Royal Altar of Respectability by people who had not a clue in the world how to be respected or respectable, especially considering Charles’ long term continual philandering regarding Camilla. British royalty in general, especially regarding the behavior of kings and those destined to become kings, had a long and well known history of philandering, and Charles is no exception. (I have high hopes that he will be the last of that womanizing that generations have followed almost religiously.)

    Diana learned early on that “there are three of us in this marriage” and was forced by her circumstances and lack of anyone in that family she could turn to for any help, to deal with it as best she could, under the hot lights, prying lenses and scheming of paparazzi who were relentlessly in search of any picadillos on her part, but very little of Charles’. Common unfortunately that the old double standard applies world wide and in every language. Charles himself spoke volumes when he answered a question put to him about whether he was “in love – whatever that is.” Anyone who really listened to that early interview could have easily predicted their future together ~ or lack of it, rather that it should have been one far apart from each other.

    However, I have a sneaking suspicion that if Charles had been allowed by Royal Convention to marry Camilla first, and early on, the royal family would have remained the same stuffy, stodgy, uber-conservative, self-involved, conventionally indulgent and out of touch “Firm” they had become up to then, with no breath of fresh air or any kind of refreshing unconventional development that did come about because of Diana’s presence and insistence on making changes in the way she be allowed to dress and present herself, the activities she pursue in the realm of charitable work, or especially how to raise and educate their children.Those changes she demanded gave us the beautiful, mature, self-confident, fashionable woman she became in later years, especially those spent out of Charles’ “orbit” or the wonderful young men with a responsible and compassionate world view that her sons became. Without those two young men, and especially without Prince William, we would not have Princess Catherine and the next newest heir to the throne, Prince George. Yes, we might have had someone without Diana’s influence and presence, but I seriously doubt they would be of this quality or possess such a thoroughly clear view of the world as those we have now.

    Others may surely argue their own opinions against those I have expressed, and they would surely be welcome of express them. But as they are certainly welcome to do so, so am I certainly allowed my own.

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