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There may not have been a fairy-tale ending, but it was a beautiful first chapter when Lady Diana Spencer married the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, on July 29, 1981.

Spencer was a 20-year-old kindergarten teacher when the 32-year-old prince, under pressure to choose a suitable bride, proposed during a private February 1981 Buckingham Palace dinner.

Gallery: Royal Engagement Portraits

Their royal engagement was a state secret until the shy princess-to-be handpicked her diamond-and-sapphire engagement ring from royal jeweler Garrard. As soon as the iconic gem's provenance was revealed, a royal fashion scandal erupted: Since the $65,000 bauble was prominently featured in the jeweler's catalog, the prince was criticized for not creating an original royal keepsake for his bride-to-be.

Gallery: Wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer

Their summer wedding before 3,500 international guests at St. Paul's Cathedral was hailed as the "wedding of the century." The royal display fit the bill, down to Lady Diana's 25-foot train and voluminous, shimmering layers of her Emanuel wedding dress.

Gallery: Royal Wedding Gowns

The billowing gown -- which some critics would later describe as a meringue puff ball -- would influence a generation of brides and become a symbol of '80s fashion excess. Its commission was a coup for the relatively unknown husband-and-wife design team of David and Elizabeth Emanuel.

Anwar Hussein, Getty Images

The dress design was initially inspired by a frilly blouse the Emanuels submitted to Vogue editors, who had approached the designers seeking something with a "high, romantic neckline" for a photo shoot. The blouse was for Lady Diana, who fancied it enough to seek out the designers for frocks to wear to formal occasions with her new fiancé.

Their first ensemble for the future Princess of Wales was a sexy black evening dress she wore to a black-tie event with Prince Charles. The knockout floor-length dress made waves for its revealing neckline and stark, therefore unroyal, color.

Speculation over every detail of the wedding dress was so intense the Emanuels hired two full-time security guards and began to play games with snoops. They put decoy scraps of fabric in the trash and even created a replica dress, in case the original was stolen. Their famous client had a code name (Deborah) and amazed the designers by tending to most design details on her own.

Gallery: Royal Tiaras - Will Kate Middleton Wear the Spencer Tiara Princess Diana Wore?

"Nobody really came to the fittings with her. In the beginning, she would come with her mom, then she came alone," Elizabeth Emanuel recalled in a 2006 interview with CBS News, describing her client, as seeming "lonely" during the process.

ABC News' Barbara Walters reported that Lady Diana had lost 15 pounds by her wedding day and had grown out some layers of her short hair to complement her veil.

The public got its first glimpse of the dress when the bride descended from a traditional glass carriage accompanied by her father, the since-deceased Earl of Spencer. Its train was so massive that after being stuffed into the carriage, the dress came out looking rumpled (something the Emanuels would bemoan in later interviews).

The ivory silk-taffeta and vintage-lace dress with a fitted, boned bodice featured massive sleeves embellished with hundreds of tiny ribbons. The dress, which had an allover shimmer produced by 10,000 hand-sewn pieces of pearl and mother-of-pearl sequins, is currently in Grand Rapids, Mich., as part of a traveling exhibition called Diana: A Celebration.

The prospective queen's veil featured 100 yards of netting that was fastened to a Spencer family tiara.

Lichfield / Getty Images

Diana's bridesmaids, who in keeping with tradition were girls with ties to the royals, wore miniature versions of her wedding gown.

Prince Charles wore his full naval officer's dress uniform and was attended by his younger brothers, princes Andrew and Edward.

The wedding vows, presided over by an international contingent of clerics, were notable for nervous Princess Diana's flubbing of Prince Charles' long first name and the couples' modern choice to omit the word "obey" from their vows.

Their ceremony was followed by breakfast for 120 at Buckingham Palace. Then there was a public balcony kiss that thrilled cheering crowds on London's streets, as well as an estimated 1 billion television viewers.

The royal marriage, of course, was sadly doomed. Prince Charles never abandoned his affections for then-married ex-girlfriend Camilla Parker-Bowles. Princess Diana's own frailties were exacerbated by life in the royal spotlight. The couple, parents to princes William and Harry, divorced in 1996.

Gallery: Royal Weddings of Windsor

The Princess of Wales, who would dub herself "the People's Princess," went on to engage in extensive charity work before her death on Aug. 31, 1997.

In happier royal wedding news, read why Prince William gave his mother's engagement ring to fiancée Kate Middleton.

And read about the fashion photographer the couple chose for their official engagement portrait, who also has ties to the late princess.

Meanwhile, read where "Say Yes to the Dress" star Randy Fenoli placed Princess Diana's wedding frock on his list of best and worst wedding gowns of all time.

For more details on Prince William and Kate Middleton's royal wedding visit!

Royal Wedding Videos

  • flashygrrl21

    Saw the dress last weekend. It is a puff ball and not her finest moment. I wonder if the creators browbeat her into wearing it or something. The display case takes up an entire room for heaven's sake.

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