Princess Diana's Wedding Dress: Everything to Know

Princess Diana married Prince Charles in 1981 wearing a stunning wedding gown designed by Elizabeth and David Emanuel

Diana, Princess of Wales and Prince Charles pose for the official photograph by Lord Lichfield in Buckingham Palace at their wedding on July 29, 1981 in St. Pauls Cathedral, London
Photo: David Levenson/Getty

Princess Diana's 1981 wedding gown is arguably one of the most iconic bridal looks of all time. When she married Prince Charles, Diana was only 20 years old and quickly became one of the world's most publicized figures. In anticipation of the July 29 ceremony, fans and media outlets alike were wild with curiosity about what Diana would wear down the aisle.

Designers Elizabeth and David Emanuel were tasked with creating the royal wedding gown and took several precautions to keep the dress a secret prior to the nuptials. According to Royal Style in the Making exhibit curator Matthew Storey, the team put scraps of fabric that were not used on the actual dress in the garbage in case any members of the press went looking for clues. When July 29, 1981, finally arrived, Princess Diana arrived at St. Paul's Cathedral wearing a voluminous ivory ball gown with a sparkling veil and record breaking 25-foot train.

A sketch of the dress designed by Elizabeth Emanuel for the wedding of Diana Spencer and Prince Charles. The wedding took place on 29th July 1981
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty

In 2018, Elizabeth Emanuel, who now runs her own fashion line, told PEOPLE, "[Diana] was just lovely, really kind of easy going. We never had any special instructions about how to make the wedding dress. That added a bit to the fun of it all, made it bit of an adventure."

From the gown to the accessories and a secret second look, here is a complete guide to Princess Diana's wedding dress.

Princess Diana's Wedding Dress

The wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at St Paul's Cathedral in London, 29th July 1981. The couple leave the cathedral after the ceremony
Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty

Designed by Elizabeth and David Emanuel, Diana's gown was truly fit for a princess — and embodied plenty of bridal trends from the early 1980s. The silk taffeta dress was specially woven and dyed ivory and featured a ruffled collar, puffed sleeves, voluminous skirt and, perhaps most notable, a dramatic 25-foot train and 153-yard tulle veil.

The grand train broke records as the longest in royal wedding history. The length was suggested by David in response to the then-reigning length of 20 feet. "Halfway through, we realized, 'We're not going to finish this,' " he recalled to E! News. "Behind the scenes we're thinking, 'Maybe we've bitten off too much ... keep sewing!' "

However, the train was so long that it had to be "folded like a bedsheet" to fit inside the horse-drawn carriage that transported the bride to St. Paul's Cathedral, resulting in wrinkles.

Royal Wedding. Photo Of Diana Princess of Wales taken by Ron Bull July 29, 1981
Ron Bull/Toronto Star

It was also rather cumbersome to carry: Prince Charles' goddaughter India Hicks, who was in charge of guiding it down the aisle with the Queen's niece Sarah Armstrong-Jones, recalled to Harper's Bazaar that as Diana entered the cathedral, she told the girls, "Do your best."

"We knew what that meant: If we pulled too much, straightening the material, her tiara and veil would slip," Hicks said. "But if we didn't pull enough, the effect of the train would be lost."

The girls even practiced with a long dust cloth that they tied to Diana's waist. "​​She stood patiently as we were shown how to fold and unfold the fabric so it would glide effortlessly behind her," Hicks wrote.

In addition to including antique lace from Queen Mary as Princess Diana's "something old," the wedding dress also included a blue bow inside the bodice as the bride's "something blue." Diana put a hidden good luck charm on her dress, too: an 18-carat gold horseshoe trinket studded with white diamonds.

Princess Diana's Wedding Accessories

The Prince and Princess of Wales return to Buckingham Palace by carriage after their wedding, 29th July 1981.
Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Princess Diana Archive/Getty

Princess Diana wore the Spencer Tiara on her wedding day, a Spencer family heirloom. The garland-style crown features diamonds shaped into tulips and stars interspersed with continuous running scrolls and was originally gifted to Diana's grandmother, Lady Cynthia Hamilton, on her wedding day in 1919.

In addition to the tiara and her sapphire engagement ring from Prince Charles, Diana also wore a pair of diamond earrings with a pear-shaped diamond at the center and 50 smaller ones surrounding it that belonged to her mother, Frances Shand Kydd, according to Express.

The wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at St Paul's Cathedral in London, 29th July 1981
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty

Her custom tulle veil was hand-stitched by Peggy Umpleby of embroidery S. Lock (now Hand & Lock). Umpleby was tasked with creating a special visual effect on Diana's veil using 10,000 micro pearls. "I asked that the tiny mother of pearl sequins looked as if they were scattered on the tulle. As the sequins were almost transparent, only the sparkles of light would be visible, creating a fairy dust effect," Elizabeth Emanuel told Vogue U.K. in 2021. "We used the same sequins on the gown itself, so that it would also sparkle as Diana walked down the aisle."

Umpleby worked on the tulle piece from her own home. "In truth, she sat at her kitchen table embroidering for two solid weeks," Hand & Lock in-house fashion historian Robert McCaffrey told the outlet. "The veil was completed, sent to the Emanuels and she returned to work, only to have her colleagues remark on how pale she was despite her two-week 'holiday.' "

Diana's wedding shoes, which had a heart design on top and were covered in 542 sequins and 132 pearls, were created by cobbler Clive Shilton. "Her main concern was that she wouldn't appear taller than Prince Charles, and because she was very tall — 5'10" — the shoes would have to have a low heel," Shilton told the Daily Mail. The letters "C" and "D" with a heart positioned between them were also painted just below the heel.

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a wedding dress designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel and the Spencer family Tiara, leave St. Paul's Cathedral following their wedding on July 29, 1981 in London, England
Anwar Hussein/Getty

Finally, the bride carried a cascading bouquet of gardenias, stephanotis, odontoglossum orchid, lily of the valley, Earl Mountbatten roses, freesia, veronica, ivy, myrtle and tradescantia down the aisle.

Princess Diana's Wedding Dress Secrets

The Prince and Princess of Wales leave St Paul's Cathedral on their wedding day, 29th July 1981
Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty

Diana lost so much weight in the lead-up to her wedding that five different bodices reportedly had to be made for her gown. "Most brides do lose weight," Elizabeth told PEOPLE. "So we weren't that worried when she did. She ended up with a 23-inch waist from a 26- to 27- inch."

According to Diana herself, who spoke about her rapid weight loss in Andrew Morton's book Diana: Her True Story — in Her Own Words, it came on the heels of a comment about her figure by the groom. "The bulimia started the week after we got engaged (and would take nearly a decade to overcome)," she shared. "My husband [Prince Charles] put his hand on my waistline and said: 'Oh, a bit chubby here, aren't we?' and that triggered off something in me." Additionally, Diana said that she was contending with feelings about her husband's ex, Camila Parker Bowles. "And the Camilla thing," she added.

On the day of the wedding, Princess Diana also spilled perfume on her dress while applying her favorite scent, Quelques Fleurs by classic Parisian perfume house Houbigant, creating a stain. Her bridal makeup artist, Barbara Daly, told PEOPLE in 2018 that she instructed Diana to hold that spot on her dress as she was walking, making it look like she was merely holding up her skirt so as not to trip over it.

Princess Diana's Alternate Wedding Dress

The wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer in St Paul's Cathedral, London, 29th July 1981
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty

Emanuel shared that the team had constructed an alternate wedding dress for Princess Diana in case the dress design was leaked prior to the wedding. "At the time we wanted to make absolutely sure that the dress was a surprise," the designer told PEOPLE. "Had the secret of the real dress got out it's possible that Diana would actually have worn this one."

The alternate dress, which was revealed for the first time in 2011, was also an ivory silk taffeta gown with the same ruffles around the neck as the original but without the signature lace. Luckily, the dress was never needed — and it was also never finished.

"We didn't try it on Diana. We never even discussed it," said Emanuel. "We wanted to make sure that we had something there; it was for our own peace of mind, really."

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