Everything you need to know about Princess Diana’s wedding gown

On July 29, 1981, 40 years ago this month, Lady Diana Spencer stepped out of a carriage at St Paul’s Cathedral to marry Prince Charles in what would soon be known as the dress of the century. 

Diana’s dress featured a substantial skirt complete with a record breaking 25ft train and frothy folds of silk taffeta fit for a fairytale. ‘That dress!’ BBC presenter Tom Fleming exclaimed as the soon-to-be princess smoothed the dress around her. ‘What a dream she looks,’ commentator Angela Rippon added while noting Diana’s tiny waist which had shrunk from 29in to 23½in during the couple’s five-month engagement. 

Decades later, we’re re-examining everything that went into Princess Diana’s legendary wedding dress, from the frock’s creation and overall cost to Di’s copious dress fittings and a secret back-up gown that went missing. 

This is the stunning story behind the dress of the century. 

Elizabeth and David Emanuel designed Princess Diana’s wedding gown when they were both in their late 20s. With little instruction from Buckingham Palace or Diana, the Emanuels had Diana try on sample gowns before designing the famous wedding dress.

Who designed Princess Diana’s wedding dress? 

Elizabeth and David Emanuel, a husband and wife duo in their late 20s who had recently graduated from fashion school, designed Princess Diana’s wedding gown. Buckingham Palace shocked the world when they announced the couple had been commissioned to create the royal wedding dress, but Lady Diana Spencer had worked with the Emanuels on several prior occasions and was a fan of their work.  

How long was Diana’s wedding train? 

Princess Diana’s wedding train was a record breaking 25ft long. To make sure it would fit down the aisle, wedding dress designers Elizabeth and David Emanuel secretly measured St Paul’s cathedral with a tape measure.

Princess Diana's waist shrank from 29in to a tiny 23.5in in the months leading up to her wedding. Designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel sewed the princess into her dress on the big day.

Princess Diana’s waist shrank from 29in to a tiny 23.5in in the months leading up to her wedding. Designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel sewed the princess into her dress on the big day.

How much did Princess Diana’s wedding dress cost?

Princess Diana’s ivory wedding gown cost approximately £9,000 ($12,000) in 1981 which is equivalent to about £36,800 ($50,000) today. David and Elizabeth Emanuel and their head seamstress Nina Missetzis primarily worked on the dress in addition to several additional seamstresses. In keeping with tradition, the trio sourced the fabric from within Britain before hand-embroidering 10,000 pearls and tiny sequins onto the bodice of the silk taffeta bodice and skirt. 

Diana’s dress also required five different bodices thanks to the bride-to-be’s swift weight loss. When Lady Diana Spencer arrived at her first dress fitting her waist measured 29in. By her wedding day, however, it was a tiny 23.5in. The Emanuels sewed Diana into the dress ahead of her wedding ceremony so it wouldn’t come loose. 

How much did Diana’s dress cost compared to Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle?

In comparison to her future daughter-in-laws, Princess Diana’s dress was a steal. Kate Middleton wore a £250,000 ($342,827) wedding gown designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen when she walked down the aisle in 2011 — making it the fifth most expensive dress of all time. In 2018, Meghan Markle married Prince Harry in a £200,000 ($274,240) white silk Givenchy gown. Both royal brides also donned a second dress for their evening receptions.

Princess Diana's wedding tiara, the Spencer Tiara, is a family heirloom adorned with flowers and diamonds in a silver setting. It's now owned by Diana's brother Earl Spencer.

Princess Diana’s wedding tiara, the Spencer Tiara, is a family heirloom adorned with flowers and diamonds in a silver setting. It’s now owned by Diana’s brother Earl Spencer.

What tiara did Princess Diana wear on her wedding day? 

Princess Diana wore the Spencer Tiara when she married Prince Charles, a family heirloom that has been in the Spencer family for over 90 years. The elaborately adorned tiara which features flowers and diamonds in a silver setting was also worn by Diana’s sisters on their wedding days and, in keeping with tradition, served as Diana’s ‘something borrowed’. 

Now owned by Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, the diadem’s value is unknown although another Spencer headpiece featuring over 800 diamonds sold for £185,000 ($253,764) at auction in 2018.  

What happened to Diana’s dress on the day of the wedding?

In addition to being sewn into the gown after losing more weight ahead of her wedding, Princess Diana accidentally spilled perfume on her dress just hours before walking down the aisle. The nervous bride-to-be dripped the scent onto her dress while applying it to her neck and wrists, but Elizabeth and David Emanuel reportedly never found out as Diana let the spoiled section of the dress air dry before ‘tucking the front’ to hide any residue. Her perfume of choice? Diana usually wore strong perfumes like Diorissimo by Dior but opted for Parisian perfume house Houbigant’s Quelques Fleurs — a lighter fragrance with a blend of jasmine, rose and tuberose — for her wedding day. 

What shoes did Princess Diana wear on her wedding day?

At 5’10”, the lanky Diana wore handmade shoes with a low heel designed by celebrity cobbler Clive Shilton to avoid appearing taller than her soon-to-be husband Prince Charles on her wedding day. Shilton used silk satin, a sturdier fabric than Diana’s dress for the wedding footwear, adorned with 542 sequins and 132 pearls. Additionally, the shoe’s arches were painted with a secret romantic message: the letters ‘C’ and ‘D’ for Charles and Diana.  

Princess Diana¿s wedding train was a record breaking 25ft long. To make sure it would fit down the aisle, the wedding dress designers Elizabeth and David Emanuel secretly measured St Paul¿s cathedral with a tape measure.

Princess Diana’s wedding train was a record breaking 25ft long. To make sure it would fit down the aisle, the wedding dress designers Elizabeth and David Emanuel secretly measured St Paul’s cathedral with a tape measure.

Did Diana have a second wedding dress? 

Princess Diana had three wedding dresses: The one she wore, a backup replica dress that would later go on display at Madame Tussauds and a secret gown based on Diana’s second choice design in case the actual dress was found or discovered before the official wedding day unveiling. The secret back-up dress was similar to the dress Diana wore — from its frilly sleeves to defined waist — although much plainer. The dress somehow went missing after the wedding and hasn’t turned up to this day.

How did Prince Charles honor his family on his wedding day?

Charles asked Diana if the florist could include a Mountbatten rose in her bouquet in honor of his late great-uncle and mentor Lord Mountbatten whom was killed by the IRA in 1979. According to florist David Longman, who created all of the 1981 floral arrangements, Diana obliged. Following the wedding, Prince Charles and Princess Diana spent the first few days of their honeymoon at Mountbatten’s estate. 

Prince Charles spent much of his youth looking up to his great-uncle ‘Dickie’ who originally advised Charles to enjoy his 20s and play the field. Eventually, however, it was Mountbatten who urged the future king to find a ‘suitable and sweet-charactered’ bride. Love was not a necessity and with pressure mounting from both his uncle and his father, Charles proposed to Diana.  

What was the cultural impact of the royal wedding dress?

Princess Diana’s wedding dress quickly became one of the most famous garments in the world — with replica copies of the gown appearing in shop windows in London just hours after details of the gown were announced. Elsewhere, brides enamored with Diana’s wedding look began requesting full skirts, frilly sleeves and defined bodices for their own weddings.   

Princess Diana's gown, designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, is on display at Kensington Palace's current exhibition Royal Style In The Making. It's the first time the dress has been shown in public in over 25 years.

Princess Diana’s gown, designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, is on display at Kensington Palace’s current exhibition Royal Style In The Making. It’s the first time the dress has been shown in public in over 25 years.

Where are David and Elizabeth Emanuel now?

David and Elizabeth Emanuel, now divorced, are currently in a legal battle over the sketches they created for Princess Diana while designing her wedding dress. Elizabeth is being sued by her ex-husband for auctioning several Diana sketches. David is suing for damages and copyright infringement issues. Elizabeth made several thousand pounds at auction for the Diana sketches. 

Since the royal wedding, Elizabeth has worked in costume design in addition to launching her own label. David, on the other hand, took a more public route and transitioned his career from design to TV. He has appeared in the British reality show I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! in addition to hosting Say Yes to the Dress: UK and Say Yes to the VEGAS Dress. Most recently, David was hired by Netflix to consult on the creation of Diana’s wedding dress in season two of The Crown. Elizabeth, however, has complained that her ex-husband played no role in the actual design of the famous dress, that he has taken credit for her work for decades and that she would have gotten the Netflix gig if the world knew the truth about who actually designed Princess Diana’s wedding dress.

Where is Princess Diana’s wedding dress now?

Princes William and Harry are in possession of their mother’s wedding dress — and after several requests from the Emanuel’s to display the historic gown, the brother’s have agreed to lend the famous dress to a Kensington Palace exhibition entitled Royal Style In The Making. It’s the first time the dress has been shown in public in over 25 years. Following her death, Diana’s brother Earl Spencer stored the dress for safe keeping. Harry and William inherited the gown and Diana’s other possessions when they were both in their 30s.  

Diana, 5'10" wore handmade shoes with a low heel designed by celebrity cobbler Clive Shilton to avoid appearing taller than her soon-to-be husband Prince Charles on her wedding day.

Diana, 5’10” wore handmade shoes with a low heel designed by celebrity cobbler Clive Shilton to avoid appearing taller than her soon-to-be husband Prince Charles on her wedding day.

The history of royal wedding dresses

From the Britain to the rest of the world, royal families are known for their spectacular celebrations and wedding gowns. In addition to Princess Diana’s legendary dress, Grace Kelly wore two dresses on her wedding day — one pink and one white. Queen Elizabeth II’s frock was not only embroidered, but also embellished with seed pearls. 

More recently, German Claire Lademacher wed into the royal Luxembourg family in a Elie Saab gown made from Chantilly lace. And of course, both Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton stunned in their wedding dresses with Meghan wearing a £200,000 ($275,000) pure white silk Givenchy gown and Kate in a Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen lace masterpiece which cost a whopping £250,000 ($342,827).