Every little girl dreams of one day marrying a prince and becoming a princess. As we know, this doesn’t happen to everyone, unless you’re Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle. On May 19, 2018, the world tuned in to watch the wedding of Markle, now Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry. But Markle wasn’t the first American actress to marry a royal prince.

On April 19, 1956, Hollywood icon Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco in a lavish and televised wedding. Audiences had always loved Kelly and her performances, but now she had the greatest role of all: becoming a princess. To this day, Grace Kelly’s wedding dress is still regarded as one of the most beautiful dresses of all time.

Grace Kelly, before the wedding

Kelly had been in the public eye since gaining stardom in 1953 in director John Ford’s film Mogambo, starring fellow Hollywood icons Clark Gable and Ava Gardner. The film won her a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination, and critics knew Kelly was a force to be reckoned with. They weren’t wrong.

Kelly continued to star in multiple films throughout the 1950s, working specifically for Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer (MGM). This includes appearing in The Country Girl with Bing Crosby and William Holden and three Alfred Hitchcock films: Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and To Catch a Thief.

Kelly’s impeccable beauty made her a stunning figure for Hollywood pictures. She was a favorite with directors, and her fashion sense largely influenced the American fashion industry. To this day, Kelly is listed 13th among the American Film Institute’s 25 Greatest Female Stars of Classical Hollywood Cinema.

Meeting her prince

In April 1955, Kelly attended the Cannes Film Festival. While there, she was invited to participate in a photoshoot with Prince Rainier III of Monaco. The two met and appeared to enjoy each other’s company. They entered a year-long courtship, containing “a good deal of rational appraisal on both sides.” It took some convincing for the Napoleonic Code of Monaco to approve of Kelly, but who would deny that she was anything but a princess in the making?

Kelly retired from acting when she was just 26 years old. Then, on April 19, 1956, she married Prince Rainier in two ceremonies—first a civil ceremony and then a religious wedding. The religious ceremony was held at Monaco’s Saint Nicholas Cathedral and had 700 guests, including David Niven, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, and other famous stars from Kelly’s beloved Hollywood days. The ceremony was watched by over 30 million American viewers on live television, making it one of the biggest television spectacles of all time. Biographer Robert Lacey described the wedding as “the first modern event to generate media overkill.”

No one could stop talking about the royal wedding. But what stunned everyone was when Kelly walked down the aisle, wearing one of the most beautiful wedding dresses of all time.

The woman behind the design

There are many rumors circulating the designer of Kelly’s iconic wedding dress. It was once thought Kelly asked her close friend and famous costume designer, Edith Head, to design her wedding gown. After all, Head received a record-breaking eight Academy Awards for Best Costume Design. She designed Kelly’s iconic gown in Hitchcock’s 1954 film, Rear Window.

But this rumor is just that—a rumor. Instead, Kelly asked Helen Rose, a costume designer for MGM Studios. Rose earned two Academy Awards during her career and was well-known for designing gorgeous wedding gowns in the 1950s. Perhaps that’s why Kelly approached Rose to design her own wedding dress to Prince Rainier.

Rose worked closely with Kelly while designing the elaborate wedding dress. The gown itself used over 400 yards of fabric, including a 125-year-old rose point Brussel lace fabric.

More about Grace Kelly’s wedding dress

When Kate Middleton married Prince William in 2011, brides wanted the “Kate Middleton effect.” They were envious of her gown; you can guarantee brides were envious of Kelly’s gown in the 1950s.

The dress was delicately created, piece by piece, and broken down into ten individual parts. The skirt included three petticoats made of ivory faille: a smoothing petticoat, ruffled petticoat, and a foundation petticoat. The gown was also made of 100 yards of silk net, with an attached under-bodice and skirt support.

Kelly’s stunning attire also included a headdress, shoes, plenty of lace, and one of the longest veils in history. The veil ran 90 yards long and was made of very fine, lightweight netting. It was specially designed to showcase Kelly’s impeccable face for everyone to admire—and they did. Just in case you’re wondering, she didn’t wear a tiara—because she was already a princess. She didn’t need a tiara to prove her royal status.

Grace Kelly’s wedding dress is widely considered to be the best wedding dress of all time

When Kelly walked down the wedding aisle, it’s not surprising that all 700 guests couldn’t take their eyes off of her. Every viewer back home in the United States couldn’t look away from the stunning sight. Here she was—an American actress marrying a European prince. It was a dream come true for many.

In 1956, Grace Kelly’s wedding dress cost $7,266, but the actress didn’t have to pay for her gown. Instead, it was a courteous wedding gift from MGM Studios to their beloved actress. While she had to retire from the film industry for her new royal title, she would never be forgotten as a member of Hollywood’s famous stars.

Everyone loved Grace Kelly, and we wouldn’t blame them. She had it all: the beauty, talent, and impeccable charm that has made her a timeless, unforgettable figure.