Princess Diana’s most famous dresses

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.

Wedding dress

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.

Princess Diana’s wedding dress was designed by young married couple David and Elizabeth Emanuel. Diana and Prince Charles (L) photographed on their wedding day, July 29, 1981. And (R) a sketch for the Emanuels’ dress, 1981.
Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images/Bettmann

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.

Travolta dress

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.

Princess Diana White House 1985
Princess Diana wore a midnight blue velvet evening dress by Victor Edelstein to dance with John Travolta at the White House on November 9, 1985.
Terry Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images/Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images

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.

Princess Diana Germany 1987
The Diana Princes wore this romantic ballgown while visiting Germany while watching a performance by the Royal Ballet Berlin. November 1, 1987.
Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images/Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

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.

Princess Diana, Cannes 1987
Princess Diana wore a blue chiffon Catherine Walker dress replicating the one worn on screen by Grace Kelly at the Cannes Film Festival, May 15, 1987.
Anwar Hussein/Getty Images/Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

Elvis dress

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.

Princess Diana Hong Kong 1989
Princess Diana wore a beaded evening gown and bolero by Catherine Walker during a visit to Hong Kong on November 8, 1989.
Tim Graham photo library via Getty Images/Georges De Keerle/Getty Images

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.

Princess Diana Rio 1991
Princess Diana wore this Gina Fratini dress for Norman Hartnell during a visit to Brazil on April 26, 1991.
Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

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.

revenge dress

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.

Princess Diana Serpentine 1994
Princess Diana attended an event at the Serpentine Gallery in London, June 29, 1994.
Jayne Fincher/Getty Images/Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

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.

Princess Diana Met Gala 1996
Princess Diana attended the Met Gala in a Christian Dior dress on December 9, 1996.
Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

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.

Princess Diana Tate Gallery 1997
Princess Diana attended a gala at the Tate Gallery on the evening of her 36th birthday, July 1, 1997.
Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

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.

Princess Diana Christies 1997
Princess Diana wore a blue Catherine Walker cocktail dress to the Christies auction preview of her dresses in London, June 2, 1997.
Antony Jones/UK Press via Getty Images/Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

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.”

For more royal news and commentary, check out Newsweek’s The Royal Report podcast:
Princess Diana's dresses
Princess Diana became an enduring fashion icon, with the dresses she wore in the 1980s and 1990s still remembered and replicated today. Photographed (L) in Hong Kong, November 8, 1989. And (R) in London, July 2, 1997.
Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images/Antony Jones/UK Press via Getty Images

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