How Princess Diana's wedding dress has left a lasting impact on bridal fashion, 40 years on

By Heather Cichowski

Those who saw Princess Diana step out in her mesmerizing wedding gown at St Paul's Cathedral in London to marry Prince Charles on July 29, 1981 will likely never forget it, whether they were part of the royal wedding festivities or they were one of the 750 million people who watched the spectacular event. It was an iconic moment in royal history as well as a defining moment in bridal fashion.

Four decades later, the wedding gown worn by the People's Princess remains in the cultural psyche, and it is something that has younger generations as captivated as those who remember the 1981 wedding ceremony.

Prince Charles and then-Lady Diana on the altar during their wedding ceremony at St Paul's Cathedral. She has her tulle veil covering her face and the Spencer tiara is on her head. Photo: © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Diana wore a statement-making dress designed by David Emanuel and Elizabeth Emanuel, who were recent graduates at the time and would go on to dress the princess for a number of royal engagements.

Diana's wedding gown was crafted from ivory silk taffeta woven by Stephen Walters & Sons and the dress was decorated with pearls, sequins and antique lace.

The 20-year-old bride's look was in line with bridal and fashion trends of the 1980's, but it also had a sense of timelessness. Her dress boasted dramatic puff sleeves, a fitted waist and a full skirt.

A formal wedding portrait of Princess Diana in her wedding dress designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel. Photo: © Fox Photos/Getty Images

Her something old was a square of Carrickmacross lace that dated back to Queen Mary and the young bride's something blue was a bow sewn into the waistband of the dramatic wedding gown.

Princess Diana's wedding day look was completed by a tulle veil featuring a 25-foot train – which is the longest in royal history – and the Spencer tiara, which is from Diana's family. The glowing bride also sported diamond earrings borrowed from her mother, Frances Shand Kydd.

"Lady Diana’s dress was a glorious exquisite confection – light as a feather – every detail perfectly exaggerated to create the fairytale dress little girls dream of. St. Paul’s Cathedral finally met its match in beauty and grandeur," Canadian designer Brian Bailey told HELLO! Canada.

What an iconic moment! Diana looked radiant as she walked up the steps of St Paul's Cathedral with the long train flowing behind her. Photo: © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

"The train of the gown nearly the length of the grand isle. Amazingly this masterful achievement seemed effortless to wear during the entire performance and then it simply floated into the gold gilded carriage, tucking Charles in amongst its lavish folds of feather weight silk.

"Also truly remarkable was the fact Diana wore the dress. She understood the gown right to its very core – a rare and beautiful sight indeed."

MORE: How Duchess Kate's classic wedding dress completely changed bridal trends

"Princess Diana's wedding look is the perfect example of trendy meets timeless," remarked the Sash + Bustle team. "The large puff sleeves and silk taffeta material were very fitting for a wedding in the 80s, while the 25ft sequinned train and vintage lace make it feel so grand and classic."

That train! The flowing train of Princess Diana's bridal look was as iconic as the dress itself. She is seen at St Paul's Cathedral during her marriage ceremony. Photo: © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Some would say that it is Princess Diana's wedding gown that is the most memorable feature of the ceremony.

"Diana’s dress remains the focal point of the wedding because of how it so perfectly epitomized the fairy-tale in which she played the starring role," explained Irene Kim, Stylist for Yorkdale Shopping Centre’s Personal Styling Experience. "The sheer volume of the dress was straight out of a movie, while dramatic enough to match the grandeur of St. Paul’s."

Irene elaborated, "Diana’s dress influenced a decade of big and bold wedding attire of puffy sleeves, full skirts and even headpieces. Forty years later, Princess Diana’s dress continues to be relevant, but for different reasons from it first debuted.

"Today and going forward, the legacy of her dress will always be tied to the life and works of the People’s Princess, one of the world’s most beloved figures in recent history."

She explained that the dress is something that everyone can appreciate the incredible amount of craftsmanship and it is a prime example of a piece that supported local artisans, designers and industries, given that the majority of the materials used in Diana’s wedding dress were made in Britain.

"Even Diana’s shoes had 542 mother of pearl sequins decorating them (and two identical pairs were made for the big day) and her veil had 10,000 sequins, all of which were sewn into place by just one lady who worked in greatest secrecy in her sitting room, using a tambour to keep her place," pointed out Irene.

PHOTOS: A look back at Prince Charles and Princess Diana's iconic wedding, 40 years later

The interest in Princess Diana's wedding look remains as strong today. In recent months this has been increased further thanks to the release of the fourth season of The Crown, which delved into the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

A new generation were able to be swept up in the fairy tale dress thanks to the exquisite wedding gown Emmy Award-winning costume designer Amy Roberts designed for Emma Corrin to wear in her role as Princess Diana.

Emma Corrin as Princess Diana on The Crown in a beautiful tribute wedding gown to the original. Photo: © Des Willie/Netflix

The bridal gown in the Netflix series is intentionally not an exact replication, but it successfully captured the spirit of Diana's original dress and it had audiences entranced. Even Elizabeth Emanuel was stirred when she saw the piece on the small screen.

"It was very moving to see even after all these years," the fashion designer told Tatler.

A breath-taking close-up photo of Diana's original wedding dress from the "Royal Style in the Making" exhibition photocall at Kensington Palace on June 2, 2021, before it opened to the public. Photo: © Samir Hussein/WireImage

"The costume managed to successfully define the spirit of the iconic wedding gown by focusing on its instantly recognizable silhouette, which reinforced the drama of the moment," she added.

Princess Diana's wedding dress and train at the "Royal Style in the Making" exhibition at Kensington Palace in June 2021. Photo: © Samir Hussein/WireImage

Even more proof about the lasting impact of Princess Diana's bridal look – as well as the enduring appeal of her style – is the "Royal Style in the Making" event at Kensington Palace that opened in June 2021. The exhibition marked the first time Diana's wedding gown went on display to the public at the palace in 25 years, along with other special pieces of her wardrobe that highlight the relationship between royal client and designer. These also included Diana's pink wedding day suit designed by Bellville Sassoon.

The exhibition runs until January 2022 and tickets are able to be pre-booked.

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