Will Kate Middleton follow in Diana's dress steps?
People who saw Diana marry Charles say the world seemed to stop. Some 750 million people watched the 1981 royal wedding on television, gasping and fawning while a glittering storybook illustration exploded in England with actual living, red-blooded human beings. No matter that the union was bred in archaic traditions of purity and breeding and wealth, that it would end lovelessly, scandalously, tragically.
At the center was that dress, a masterpiece of silk taffeta, ivory tulle and antique lace, with a train 25-feet long and towering princess sleeves. It symbolized unmarked perfection, idyllicism, happy endings tied with a bow -- things that fantasy creates and reality denies.
I didn't see that wedding, nor did the rest of the generation now pushing 30. I was born two years later. But I read about Diana on the cover of my mom's People magazines, and curled into the living room carpet as the newscasters said she died, and sat in freshman math class watching Elton John perform at her funeral, his eyebrow twitching up like a nervous tick.
And I remember seeing the dress, encased in glass at the Florida International Museum in 2004. The craftsmanship was incredible. It was breathtaking, almost overwhelmingly. Even so...
Who would really wear something like that? It seemed excessively old-fashioned for anyone now, in this age when women wait to marry, live with boyfriends, have kids out of wedlock, focus on careers. It seemed oddly fantastical, even for a princess. Maybe since I missed that moment decades before, I just didn't get it.
Tuesday, Prince William and Kate Middleton announced their engagement. She wore a stunning royal blue wrap dress in front of the press, the color of which matched Diana's sapphire ring on her finger. Will looked a little wonky, right? Nervous, perhaps. But no one was looking at him.
I nerded out a little with the news. I got legitimately excited, because for the first time, a new crop of women would have the chance to witness this crystalline cultural moment for ourselves. In a new way.
Kate is not Diana. She is 28. She has dated William for eight years, meanwhile forging her own career. She got labeled "Waity Kate" by the British press, as if waiting more than two years to get married, even to a prince, makes you some crazy cat lady. Unlike Diana when she got married, Kate's city girl style is fully developed, cast with trench coats and blazers and pumps and belts. She has a traditional streak, honoring England's elaborate hat tradition at a number of dignified events.
Kate represents a generation of women who did things differently, a little older with a splash less artifice and a dash more grit. What will her wedding dress look like? Simple and classic? Huge and ceremonial? Something in between?
This time, I'll be watching.
Deal Diva Stephanie
Photos: AP, Times files