Before there was Princess Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (who just stole the spotlight by borrowing Princess Diana's tiara this week), there was the "people's princess"—the incomparable and inimitable Lady Diana Spencer. Lady Di famously became Princess Di on July 29, 1981, in what was dubbed the Wedding of the Century. Today, on Princess Diana's birthday, we're looking back at the iconic bride of her generation.
After a 20-year-old Diana first appeared wearing an 18-carat oval sapphire and diamond engagement ring from Prince Charles (the ring now sits on Princess Catherine's finger), she became the girl who nabbed the world's most eligible bachelor. And her wedding day was absolutely, 100 percent fit for a princess. Over 750 million people all over the world tuned in to the first televised royal wedding, and of course all eyes were on the bride.
Most awe-inspiring was Lady Di's David and Elizabeth Emanuel gown and its famous train. The silk-and-taffeta creation took the breath away of aspiring brides the world over. Hand-embroidered with mother-of-pearl sequins and an estimated 10,000 pearls, the gown took the designers months to prepare. And they did so in complete secrecy (much like Sarah Burton did with Kate Middleton's Alexander McQueen wedding gown) code-naming their famous client "Deborah" and hiring security to keep Princess Di's design under wraps. Most famously, the 25-foot long train, adorned with lace that once belonged to Queen Mary, defined a decade of brides in the 1980s, who all longed for that show-stopping dramatic entrance.
Royal cobbler Clive Shilton created the matching shoes, which featured the letters C and D (you guessed it, for Charles and Diana—so sentimental) in pearl-encrusted lace floral appliqués.
Princess Diana completed the famous look with the Spencer family tiara atop her 40 foot-long veil. The cascading bouquet of gardenias, stephanotis, freesias, orchids, lily of the valley, Earl Mountbatten roses (a tribute to Charles's late uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten), ivy, veronica, and myrtle (a royal wedding tradition), set the tone for 1980s brides looking for that royal touch.
Much like Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge's long-sleeved lace Sarah Burton creation, Princess Diana's wedding dress sparked a thousand knockoffs—with the first copycat design hitting a department store just five hours after the royal ceremony. Princess Di's big-shouldered dress still stands the test of time and continues to inspire brides, and royal wedding aficionados alike, all over the world.
More than three decades later, the world's fascination with Princess Diana and her wedding day lives on, with recent never-before-seen photos of the royal nuptials being sold at auction in Boston for over $12,000 last year.