Princess Diana - Style Icon
August 31st, 2018 marks the 21st anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Famous for her marriage to the future King of England but also known for her compassion and altruism, her tragic death caused an unprecedented reaction as the public mourned their English Rose. From the moment she stepped into the limelight – a shy and demure nursery school teacher, to the elegant and confident Princess, attending events in dresses by Catherine Walker, Versace and Dior – we look back at the life and fashion of a true style icon.
Diana Frances Spencer was born on July 1st, 1961, the fourth of five children born to John Spencer, Viscount of Althorp and his first wife Frances. The Spencer family had long had ties to the British Royal Family with both of Diana's grandmothers having served as ladies-in-waiting to the Queen Mother and, growing up in Park House - situated on the Sandringham Estate - a young Diana would play with Princes Andrew and Edward. However, Diana described her childhood as "very unhappy" and "very unstable, the whole thing". She became Lady Diana after her father inherited the title of Earl Spencer in 1975, at which point the entire family moved from Park House to a stately home at Althorp.
Diana first met Prince Charles, the Queen's eldest son and heir, when she was sixteen – he was, at the time, dating her older sister, Sarah. However, by the summer of 1980, Charles had taken a serious interest in Diana. Their relationship progressed quickly, and she was invited for a sailing weekend aboard the royal yacht Britannia, and to Balmoral to meet the Royal Family. Having been well received by the Queen, Prince Philip and the Queen Mother, Charles continued to court Diana in London and on February 6th, 1981 they were engaged to be married.
The press and public fell in love with Diana from the moment she was introduced as Prince Charles’ girlfriend. However, the attention she garnered, from an at times volatile media, only intensified following their engagement. She was followed everywhere, and every detail of her life was scrutinised.
One aspect of Diana’s life that the media paid great attention to was her fashion sense and it seemed at times that Diana used her clothing to communicate with those around her. She developed a very glamorous regal style for trips overseas, often paying homage to her hosts. For a state visit to India in February 1992 Catherine Walker designed a Mughal inspired lavishly embroidered, pink slubbed silk evening gown and bolero dress. Great care was taken when choosing the colours of the needlework for the elaborate embroidery - it needed to be exuberant to reflect the country of her visit. The long line of the bodice with the dropped waistline, combined with the short boxy shape of the bolero helped to emphasise the height and slimness of the Princess - a technique Catherine Walker often employed in clothes she made for the Princess.
Diana also had a sense for how clothing would enhance her physical presence. She would purposely choose cheerful, colourful clothes to convey approachability and warmth. She was known to wear velvet outfits when visiting blind people so that when they reached out to touch her, they would feel warmth and softness. Eleri Lynn, curator of “Diana: Her Fashion Story,” an exhibit currently running at Kensington Palace says “She didn’t wear gloves because she liked to hold people’s hands. She would sometimes wear chunky jewellery so that children could play with it, and she never wore hats to children’s hospitals after a while, because she said you couldn’t cuddle a child in a hat.”
When it came to style, Diana’s transformation from the bashful “Sloane Ranger” who earned the epithet “Shy Di”, to the elegant, regal woman whose confident appearance at official engagements made her the most-photographed women in the world, was almost Cinderella-esque.
“She is stepping into that same sort of space as an Audrey Hepburn or Jackie Kennedy,” said Lynn, “a fashion icon whose style is so emulated and so loved, really.”
Princess Diana’s India dress, engagement blouse and “Revenge Dress” are all on permanent display at Newbridge Silverware’s Museum of Style Icons. Tickets cost €7 for an Adult and €5 for students and senior Citizens. Children under 12 go free with a paying adult.