When Princess Diana Stepped Out On Her Wedding Day, The Dress Designer Was Horrified By One Detail

Some 750 million pairs of eyes were fixed on the glass carriage when it pulled up to St. Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of London. As the door opened, out stepped Lady Diana Spencer, who’d soon become a princess upon uttering her vows to Prince Charles. Her wedding gown was, of course, fit for royalty. But among the millions of in-person and television viewers was one of designers of the dress. This was Elizabeth Emanuel – and she was horrified to see an error in the once-in-a-lifetime garment.

In spite of that flaw, Princess Diana’s dress has gone down as one of the most iconic wedding gowns of all time. It didn’t make waves for its understated features, though. For one thing, this dress had a train measuring 25 foot in length. It was so long, in fact, that it required an aerial shot to fully capture its scope and grandeur.

But it wasn’t just the train that turned heads. Diana’s dress had so many over-the-top details that only an ’80s wedding gown could have. The ivory-colored, silk taffeta frock had puff sleeves and a slight v-neck, all of which were accented by a layer of ruffles. More than 10,000 pearls bedecked the fabric’s surface.

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The ball gown had plenty of fabric space to stitch in a few personal details, too. There was a piece of lace that’d previously been owned by Prince Charles’ great-grandmother Queen Mary. Diana also had her wedding dress designers sew a small sky-colored bow into her waistband – something blue for her big day.

Princess Diana’s show-stopping gown cost $115,000 when she bought it in 1981. Adjusted for inflation, that would’ve been roughly $342,800 in 2020. Designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel – who, at that time, were a married couple – had the honor of creating the royal’s iconic look on one of the biggest days of her life.

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Elizabeth explained her and David’s creative process to BBC Designed in 2019. She said, “We just went for drama. It was everyone’s idea of a fairy princess. The time was perfect for that. It was a time for frills and flounces.” But while the extravagant dress certainly fit the occasion and the era, there was one big problem with it.

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David and Elizabeth Emanuel had just graduated from college when their fashion design careers took off in the most incredible way. It all started with a phone call, David told Woman’s Own in 2016. He said, “Diana rang up like anybody else and made an appointment to try my dress designs.”

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At that time, though, Diana wasn’t in the market for a wedding dress. She needed “three or four gowns made for formal occasions,” David said. But those frocks helped change the image of the future princess from a sweet, everyday girl to an A-list royal. The designer explained, “The first time the public saw her in one of my gowns they were quite shocked.”

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David continued, “… People were used to seeing her in pretty blouses and pleated skirts. Then she got out of the limousine in a taffeta Emanuel gown and that’s when everybody said, ‘Oh my goodness, she looks like a movie star.’” But it would be their next collaboration that really caught the world’s attention.

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Diana and her beau Prince Charles officially revealed their engagement to the world on February 24, 1981. With that, designers – including the Emanuels – wondered which of them would get the chance to create her wedding gown. But David and Elizabeth never really expected that it’d be their phone that would ring.

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Elizabeth told the BBC back in 2011, “We had hoped that we would get the commission, but didn’t really think we would because we were against really seasoned designers.” In the same interview, David pointed out, “Don’t forget that every designer in the world wanted to get their hands on Diana.”

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But the future princess knew who she wanted to design her dress. David told Woman’s Own, “Suddenly out of the blue, this phone call came into the studio and asked if we would do the honor of making her wedding dress, then it all happened very quickly.” It wasn’t one of her royal handlers on the phone, though – it was the bride-to-be herself.

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Despite the fanfare surrounding her impending nuptials, Lady Diana proved to be rather laid-back in her planning process. She never came to the Emanuels’ studio with an entourage, as most other brides would do. The only time she had someone with her was when reviewing sketches of her gown’s silhouette – to help her, she brought her mom.

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Even with such a tight-knit group working on the dress, the Emanuels had to keep every detail close to the chest. For one thing, they made a point to refer to Diana as “Debra.” That way, other customers wouldn’t pick up on the fact that a princess-to-be was their client.

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On top of that, the Emanuels didn’t hold onto any of the dress sketches that they showed Diana. Instead, they shredded them up after presenting them to the soon-to-be princess. And they even had a safe placed inside their design studio so they could literally keep fabric swatches under lock and key.

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Apart from the intense secrecy, David said that working with Diana was a breeze. He told Hello! that the final design for her dress came together “very organically.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a stress-free process, though. The Emanuels only had three months to design the extravagant frock – and they were still working on it the night before the wedding.

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In the end, everything came together, and the Emanuels were able to give Diana a dress to match the extravagance of her nuptials. David told Woman’s Own, “It was a magical time, and she was a magical girl. The thing about that dress was, it had to be young, it had to be pretty. She was going in as Lady Diana Spencer, but coming out as the Princess of Wales.”

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The Emanuels were there on Diana’s wedding day to make sure her gown was picture-perfect, too. David told Woman’s Day that he worried that an under-the-dress petticoat hook hadn’t been secured, envisioning a mortifying wardrobe malfunction. But everything was in place and perfect. And so when Diana was ready, he said, “She glided down the stairs. It was a magical moment…”

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The Emanuels and Diana managed to keep the design of the dress totally under wraps until the big day. Indeed, it was even ensconced as she traveled to St. Paul’s Cathedral in a glass carriage. That was partly due to the fact that the gown was so large. The designers had to fold it many times to get it into the coach.

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But it wasn’t just the dress that didn’t fit into the carriage. No, the dress itself was originally the wrong size for Diana. That’s because the princess-to-be had shed some serious pounds before her big day, which forced the Emanuels to sew her into the gown. Elizabeth recalled to People in 2018, “She ended up with a 23-inch waist [down] from a 26- to 27-inch.”

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Perhaps everything went to plan because of a good luck charm – a horseshoe-shaped trinket – that had been sewn into the silk taffeta gown. Diana had a piece of her family with her, too. She wore the Spencer tiara, a headpiece that had been in her family since the 18th century.

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And attached to that tiara was another incredible accessory – a 153-yard veil. This flowed behind her and made her look that much more like a princess. Even her silk shoes had been taken to the next level. These had been covered in 132 pearls and more than 500 sequins to round out the iconic ensemble.

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With all of that considered, it may be shocking to hear that the Emanuels had to have back-up for their over-the-top creation. Imagine if Diana’s dress had become damaged prior to her nuptials. Or if the press had somehow uncovered the design, they could have leaked it to the public.

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David later told People why they designed a secret backup dress. He said, “At the time we wanted to make absolutely sure that the dress was a surprise. We wanted to make sure that we had something there; it was for our own peace of mind, really.” Interestingly enough, one person had no idea about the second gown: Diana herself.

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David said they “never even discussed” their plan B with the princess. Elizabeth explained why to CBS News in 2005, saying “…Trying on a second dress was the last thing Diana would have done. She was so busy, we had to fit all our fittings around her schedule. There was absolutely no way she could have tried on that dress.”

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The alternative looked similar to the original gown, but it was slightly muted. Well, in comparison to its ornate counterpart, at least. The backup frock had a neckline that plunged further than the original, and its sleeves weren’t as long. Even the hem of the ball skirt lacked the same lace edging that Diana’s real dress had.

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The lack of detail may have been down to the Emanuels’ time constraints, though. In fact, they never actually completed the work on their backup wedding dress. Elizabeth told the Daily Mail in 2017, “It was only three-quarters finished – we simply didn’t have time to make it in its entirety, so none of the embroidery or finishing touches were done.”

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One event from Lady Diana’s wedding day almost necessitated the use of this backup dress, though. Her makeup artist, Barbara Daly, recalled the soon-to-be royal dabbing on her favorite perfume – and then spilling some onto the front of her dress. They couldn’t remove the stain, but they figured out a way to camouflage it.

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Daly recalled to People that she told Diana to just hold the dress right where the perfume droplets had fallen. It would look like the princess was just lifting the frock so she wouldn’t step on it. She hovered her hand in the right spot even as she approached the altar, undetectably hiding the stain while all eyes were on her.

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Even with that crisis hidden and the backup dress kept in the closet, there was still another big problem with Diana’s wedding gown. The Emanuels noticed it as soon as their client stepped out of the glass carriage on her wedding day. As Elizabeth recalled to the Daily Mail in 2017, “I remember whispering to David, ‘Oh my God, it’s creased.’”

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Elizabeth and David had foreseen that the taffeta would wrinkle a little on the way over, but not as much as it had. She said on ITV in 2018, “We did know it would crease a bit. But when I saw her arrive at St Paul’s and we saw the creasing I actually felt faint. I was horrified, really, because it was quite a lot of creasing. It was a lot more than we thought.”

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Indeed, the Emanuels had gone through several dress rehearsals to prepare for Diana’s big day. But they had failed to consider the size of the carriage in which she’d travel to the church. Plus, they didn’t factor in that the princess-to-be would have her father Earl Spencer inside of the coach with her.

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On top of that, Diana kept asking the designers to extend the length of the train on her dress. This meant that she had to fit quite a bit of fabric into a very small space. Elizabeth told the Daily Mail, “In the tiny carriage, it had crumpled far more than we’d anticipated.”

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Elizabeth continued, “We’d done a rehearsal, but not with her father Earl Spencer in the car, too – and he was quite a large man.” And then, of course, Diana started getting anxious about the huge day ahead. Her designer said that affected the dress, too, explaining, “It was a hot day, there was so much volume in the net and she was nervous, so she kept grabbing hold of it in her hands.”

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Luckily, though, Elizabeth – and the rest of the world – only saw Diana’s beauty when she did emerge from the coach with a wrinkled dress. The designer said, “When she came out of that carriage, it was the most wonderful vision I’d ever seen. She looked like a butterfly emerging from her chrysalis, unfurling her wings and about to fly… ”

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In fact, Elizabeth felt that the creases only enhanced Diana’s wedding-day look, in spite of her initial horror in seeing the lines. She said, “It was so romantic. Oddly, the imperfections seemed to make her even more beautiful.” The world seemed to agree, considering how many consider the gown – wrinkles and all – to be among the most significant looks ever.

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Recently, a new set of designers had a hand at recreating Diana’s iconic wedding show for the hit Netflix series The Crown. The show supposedly had a budget of well over $130 million. So, they had the funds to call in original designer David to consult them on their recreation.

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David brought with him a press release from the day of Diana’s nuptials. The statement arrived just as the princess emerged from her glass carriage and presumably described the details of the frock to media outlets the world over. He handed this over and gave his own advice to The Crown’s costume designer Amy Roberts.

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David told the Daily Mail in November 2020, “I gave them plenty of tips: putting net in the sleeves, getting lots of twinkle in the veil; choosing exactly the right color for the fabric.” But it was up to the show’s team to put the massive garment together, a task that took them a whopping 600 hours. This equates to about ten whole weeks of working days lasting 12 hours.

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Actress Emma Corrin played Diana in the series, and she got to experience the magic of stepping out in that same extravagant gown for the first time. She said that the room fell silent, the same kind of awe that the princess herself had once inspired. And that was all thanks to the Emanuels, who designed her a fairytale dress – wrinkles and all.

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