Princess Diana was a style leader during her lifetime and has become a fashion icon since her untimely death in 1997.
From Sloane Ranger to Dynasty Di and beyond, the princess has gone through a series of style evolutions that have seen her transform in the public eye.
Newsweek looks back at ten of Diana’s most famous dresses, elements she used to convey messages, signal her strengths and hide her weaknesses.
The most important dress ordered in Diana’s life was that of her wedding dress. She had said that until her engagement she only owned one prom dress suitable for parties and it was a 1970s blue tulle dress by her mother’s designers, Regamus.
For a royal wedding dress, and the wedding dress of a future queen no less, the design had to be something special. Lady Diana Spencer at the time sent sketches of proposed wedding dresses to various London dress designers, but in the end settled on the relatively young and inexperienced couple, David and Elizabeth Emanuel.
The couple made the dress in secret until it debuted in front of millions of people around the world who tuned in to watch the wedding.
The tall bell-shaped dress with huge puff sleeves and the longest train in royal wedding history caused a stir when it was first seen. The paper taffeta had creased in the car on the way to St. Paul’s Cathedral and it looked like a crumpled bride was going to walk down the aisle. Luckily for the Emanuels, the pleats fell away and beautiful Diana set a visual standard for the rest of her tenure as Princess of Wales.
Diana never parted with her wedding dress and it was still part of her possessions when she died. It was inherited by his two sons, Princes William and Harry.
A midnight blue velvet evening dress worn by Diana at the White House in November 1985 has gone down in history as “The Travolta Dress”.
It’s called that because that night at the White House Diana danced with Hollywood actor John Travolta who twirled her around the dance floor in the best of the dress which unfurled in a whirlwind dramatic.
The dress was designed by London fashion designer Victor Edelstein and sold in 1997 for a record $222,500.
In 2019, the dress was again offered at auction and sold for over $346,000, acquired for the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection owned by the Historic Royal Palaces charity. The dress has since been displayed at Kensington Palace, Diana’s former home.
Princess Ball Gown in Pink
This pink prom dress was designed for Diana by her close friend and favorite clothing designer, Catherine Walker.
Walker would have the distinction of making more dresses for the princess than any other designer and the pair formed a strong working relationship that spanned more than two decades.
Diana wore this pink and white ball gown during an official visit to Germany in 1987. The princess also wore the dress during a visit to Turkey in 1988 and for an official portrait session. The dress was included in Christie’s auction of her dresses in 1997 and sold for $28,750.
Dress “To catch a thief” by Grace Kelly
This simple blue chiffon dress by Catherine Walker was worn by Diana during a visit to the south of France in May 1987 with Prince Charles. For the visit to the Cannes Film Festival, Diana paid a special tribute to one of the silver screen’s most iconic princesses, Grace Kelly. The Walker dress was a tribute to the costume designed by Kelly’s Edith Head in the classic Alfred Hitchcock film, To catch a thief.
This bead-encrusted evening dress and bolero jacket were designed for Diana by Catherine Walker in 1989, to be worn during an official visit to Hong Kong.
In true Diana style, she couldn’t keep the dress locked away in a wardrobe until then, so she decided to present it for the first time at the British Fashion Awards at the Royal Albert Hall the same year.
Writing in his autobiography, Catherine Walker: an autobiography from the private designer to Diana, Princess of WalesWalker wrote: “Every time I saw the princess in that dress, I couldn’t help but think that it wouldn’t be possible for someone else to wear that dress and that bolero. She shone in the dress and the dress shone around her in a shimmering column of sparkling pearls.”
The dress sold in 1997 for $151,000 and was acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
White Chiffon, Rio Dress
This romantic one-shoulder evening dress with an asymmetrical neckline and hem was worn by Diana during a visit to Brazil in April 1991. The dress was designed by Gina Fratini under the Hartnell house label. Sir Norman Hartnell had been a favorite designer of Queen Elizabeth II and had designed for her from the 1930s until his death in the 1970s.
The Hartnell brand continued under several new design proteges and Fratini’s dress for Diana caused a flurry of headlines in the fashion press as the princess entered the new decade of the 90s on a simpler, more elegant footing. .
The Rio dress was included in lot 1 of the Christies auction of the princess’s dresses and raised $85,000 for charity.
The revenge dress gets its name from the circumstances surrounding its wearing. The black cocktail-length dress with a flowing chiffon tail was designed by Christina Stambolian and purchased by Diana with no occasion in mind to wear it for.
According to Princess Paul Burrell’s Butler in his book A royal dutythe princess decided to wear the dress the night a TV interview with Prince Charles aired in which he confessed to being unfaithful to his wife during their marriage.
Diana wore the black dress to a preview at the Serpentine Gallery in London in 1994 and her jaw-dropping appearance ensured her image was front-page news the next day.
The dress sold for $74,000 in 1997.
John Galliano Met Gala Dress
In 1996, Diana traveled to New York and attended the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute’s famous fundraiser, the Met Gala.
For the occasion, Diana wore an elegant black silk evening dress by British designer John Galliano for the Parisian fashion house Christian Dior. Diana’s appearance in the dress was praised by the fashion press covering the gala.
The princess changed her attitude towards her wardrobe in 1996 after filing for divorce from Prince Charles. Before that, Diana’s wardrobe came mainly from British designers. In 1996 and 1997, her fashion vision changed to include designers based in Paris, Milan and New York, as well as British designers.
36th Birthday Dress
On her 36th birthday, which would tragically be her last, Diana attended a Red Cross fundraising gala at London’s Tate Gallery wearing a shimmering black evening dress by young designer Jacques Azagury.
The dress was a column-cut gown with bow detailing on the straps and was accessorized with some of Diana’s most important jewels, emeralds, which were a wedding gift from Queen Elizabeth II.
The auction dress
For the London auction preview of the sale of her dresses at Christies in 1997, Diana appeared in person alongside a host of designers whose work was featured in the sale.
For this event, the princess wore a now iconic ice blue dress with floral embroidery by designer Catherine Walker.
Writing in her autobiography of the auction, she said: “I was delighted to know that my designs, thanks to the Princess’s charity work, were now going to be used to save lives.”