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When Diana Married Her Prince: Requiem for a Dress

October 23, 2009

AngloFiles proudly announces the debut today of a new column on, chronicling great — and not so great — English parties you may have missed. AngloFiles TGIF will appear twice-monthly (you can guess which days). Today’s installment attends the first post-engagement gala attended by Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer as a couple. No need to dress up, though Diana will be wearing an eye-popping ensemble that “knocked the Budget off the front pages.”

Here’s the back story on an even more famous dress she wore later that year:

Ten thousand pearls, sequins, a puffy “meringue” skirt, and a train longer than any royal gown before or since distinguished the wedding dress that Elizabeth and David Emanuel designed for the July 1981 wedding of virginal Diana Spencer to Charles, Prince of Wales.

STEPHANOTIS: Good luck for brides?

STEPHANOTIS: Good luck for brides?

“The dress had to be royal, but it had to be young — the bride was only 20,” David Emanuel later told the Daily Mail magazine. “Heavy embroidery would have looked too old. St Paul’s is huge, so it had to be a big dress. The steps up to the cathedral are monumental, so we could go for a really big train. Can you imagine if we’d sent her up the aisle in a simple little jersey job?”

Diana’s bridal bouquet was also monumental. Along with orchids, freesias, roses, and myrtle grown from a sprig in Queen Victoria’s wedding bouquet, it contained stephanotis, traditionally a good-luck bloom for royal brides, according to People.

Her designers, though, weren’t willing to trust to luck. Arriving early on the wedding morning, the Emanuels carried more than the usual needles, thread, pins and steam iron. They also brought a complete copy of the dress itself,  People reported. Not to be outdone, hairdresser Kevin Shanley arrived with three hair dryers, also “just in case.”

The spare dress wasn’t needed, but still, everyone’s a critic, as website Fashion-Era recalls. Among the 2,500 guests and millions more TV-watchers who “attended” via satellite, more than a few noticed that the dress emerged somewhat disheveled from the diminutive glass carriage that carried the bride and her father to St. Paul’s:

The dress had a twenty five foot train and when the princess emerged from the carriage at the cathedral the world saw how creased the dress appeared. The creases soon dropped out, but the fabric and construction method used was criticized worldwide. David Emanuel complained in a TV interview that the carriage was far too small for both Diana and her robustly built father along with her full skirted dress, hence the inevitable creases.

But minor flaws in the gown could not diminish the wedding’s fairy tale aura for millions around the world. The Emanuels even published a biography of the dress this year, based on notes, photos and swatches they saved.

Other “wrinkles” in the story, less visible than those in the taffeta, became all too apparent as the Wales’s marriage wore on and its bloom wore off. Diana and her royal prince lived neither happily nor ever after. Still, the dress somehow retains its magic, embodying all the wonder and romance its wearer found so elusive.

[flower photo by L. Marie on Flickr]
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