Princess Diana’s Fashion Legacy
In the metaphorical hall of fame of fashion icons, actresses, first ladies and singers scramble for attention. However, there is one woman who rightly reigns as queen of all: Diana Spencer, beloved Princess of Wales. A 19-year-old girl with bright eyes was propelled into the limelight after her engagement to Prince Charles in 1981, and with the new attention came the need for a whole new wardrobe. It won’t be long before the wardrobe in question becomes one of the most famous in fashion history.
“It was the embodiment of the real-life princess fantasy of every little girl who sat rapturously in front of her television”
The watchful eyes of 750 million viewers of the July 21, 1981 wedding couldn’t be torn away from the new princess, and the dress designed by Emanuel has often been dubbed “the best-kept secret in fashion history.” . For such a precious dress and such an important woman, it is no wonder that Elizabeth Emanuel found herself “horrified” to see the bride come out of her coach, her skirt covered in pleats. However, the record breaking 25 foot train, huge puffed sleeves, antique lace, pearls and sequins could not fail to doom the gown to become one of the best-known wedding dresses of all time. It was the embodiment of the real-life princess fantasy of every little girl as she sat rapturously in front of her television. Ex-Vanity Show and Tatler Editor-in-chief Tina Brown reveals “she always knew exactly what she was looking for, right down to the diamond-studded horseshoe sewn into the belt for good luck.” It seems that Diana too was excited to see her own fairy tale come to life.
But we all know how this fairy tale ended. After years of conflict and tension, the marriage broke down with catastrophic implications, especially for Diana. But even in the toughest times, fashion was there to back it up. In 1994, a documentary titled “Charles: The Private Man, The Public Role” aired on ITV in an attempt to portray him more favorably after his split from Diana in 1991. In the documentary, he admitted his adultery with Camilla Parker-Bowles. While many cheated on wives might have marked the date in her diary to sit on the couch with a pot of ice cream, Diana did the opposite, arriving at a Vanity Show that night in what has become the “robe of revenge”. An off-the-shoulder Christina Stambolian silk bodycon, paired with tights and stilettos, made her untouchable that night that could have so easily reopened old wounds. By wearing a dress that Stambolian claims to have found “too daring”, she showed that she had truly evolved, assured of her own identity.
But it’s not just the princess taffeta or the killer cocktail dresses that mean Diana so deserves the fashion icon accolade. In fact, it’s her significantly less formal wardrobe that continues to influence the style of a generation that isn’t even old enough to remember her. The college sweatshirt, cycling shorts, and white sneaker combo have found their way into the laid-back yet cool repertoire of many resting models, as well as the wardrobe of many Millennials or Gen-Zs. One of the most iconic images of the People’s Princess is the touching and intimate one as she sits on the steps of her Gloucestershire home in 1986, gorgeous in fuchsia gingham pants. The trend for on-trend pants is in full swing, and it seems fashion brands haven’t forgotten who to pay homage to in the style’s resurgence – this summer, Zara sold nearly identical pants. The down-to-earth nature generated by the frequency of these casual looks enhances her relativity – if a princess can pull on an oversized sweatshirt and look effortlessly cool, then so can we.
It is undeniable that there is a renewed interest in Diana: her life, her heritage, her fashion. Through the fourth series in the hit Netflix series The crown, and the next biopic Spencer, it is again pushed into public discourse. The sympathetic light in which she is invariably portrayed evokes a universal pathos and a desire to be closer, to comfort, someone whose calls for help have too often gone unanswered. Maybe that desire manifests itself in interest in her style, because that’s where you see the real Diana. Often without the support of a stylist, her outfit choices give us one of the best glimpses of who she really was, invited to observe her individual choices that frequently rejected the boundaries that surrounded her as a royal. This is where we see the real heart: She often chose to wear velvet when visiting children in hospitals so that she felt warm and soft. Using her fashion to serve others – and herself, as evidenced by the Revenge Dress – is what makes her a style icon. Her clothes weren’t just something she wore, they conveyed an idea of who she really was, whether sporty or vengeful, maternal or glamorous. How fashion has contributed to this diverse understanding of her as a public figure is an undeniable factor in establishing her as a beloved princess flawlessly, with dedication and eternally.
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