During this memorial summer of the 20th anniversary of her death, I'm sharing excerpts from my book, The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding.
Chapter Three: "A Whiter Shade of Pale"
By the time Diana’s wedding came along, the notion of “virgin white” had not been completely swept away with the sexual revolution. There was still an underpinning of deeply embedded beliefs about the “rules” of wearing subtle shades of white—ivory, cream, beige—inferring one’s virginal status. “Symbolism of color in the bride’s wedding dress seems almost universal,” wrote historian Donald Clay Johnson in 2003. “In Europe and North America, white, symbolizing ‘purity,’ remains the preferred color, a reflection of the pervasive power of English Victorian society to impose its value system throughout many parts of the world.”
Women’s studies scholar Colleen Denney pointed out the sexual ambiguity of Diana’s gown, following in the “fairy-princess ideal” of nineteenth-century royal brides. Denney considered the über-feminine, fluffy, virginal-like gowns of both Princess Alexandra and Princess Diana—two Princesses of Wales marrying almost 120 years apart—representative of “their newly confined circumstances.” The crinoline-style gowns portrayed the “insistence on the continuity of history and tradition, an ever-present cultural memory, and the demands of royal protocol.”
Nonetheless, ruffley-romance was the new again, Vogue-approved fashion of the early 1980s—whether a “throwback” or not. And for these times, the look was fresh, light and feminine—and what Diana Spencer truly wanted to wear. It seems her lack of worldliness and attraction to fairy-tale romance actually worked for her when selecting the designers and her gown. Diana made her choices before she was so wrapped up in an emotional struggle to please everyone—the palace, the public, the media. She was guided by her own intuition as well as the two designers’ vision where silhouette, color, accessories, length of train, and veil style were created to compliment the woman, the setting, perhaps its symbolic place in history, but, definitely, the heart’s desire of the bride.
Since we know now that Diana’s life had a broader arc, was her queenly, Victoria-inspired, femme-femme bridal silhouette a key ingredient in a powerful “modern mythology” being created? Was it all part of some Divine Feminine plan to help usher in a new spirit stirring the cosmos as we approached the end of an old, tired patriarchal millennium?
It may always remain a heavenly secret, but this query beckons. What, indeed, becomes a bridal legend most? An iconic white gown that truly captures her essential self, yet stands out in some fashionably-designed, breathtaking way; where the woman is the star, the gown only her complement, and we are left with a feeling that a goddess just entered the room. ~
[Excerpts from The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding, pages 42, 44 and 51.]