Belfast Telegraph

How 'that' little black dress helped make shy Diana a queen of British style


Frances Wright charts the fashion journey of the People's Princess.

It's 20 years ago this month since Princess Diana's untimely death, but her status as a fashion icon seems stronger than ever. Whether it be her face emblazoned on Rihanna's T-shirt, or hordes of hipsters breathing new life into Diana's definitive Sloane ranger look, her connection to the fashion world endures.

From her wedding dress to the 'revenge dress', and with the odd tuxedo thrown in for good measure, we doff our John Boyd hats to her eternal fashion legacy and look back at key moments that helped shape the People's Princess into the Queen of British style.

The engagement dress - and the wedding dress

Diana in her wedding dress at Buckingham Palace

The royal couple posed for photos in the grounds of Buckingham Palace as they officially announced their engagement to the world. Diana wore a demure royal blue ensemble, which echoed the colours of her - now Kate's - sapphire and diamond ring. She'd bought the modest outfit from Harrods.

Shy Di, as she was then referred to in the Press, was finding her feet in the world of fashion, and at the tender age of 20 was applying some caution.

Her professional relationship with Welsh fashion designer David Emanuel began when he designed her a strapless black dress for her first official engagement at Goldsmith's Hall in London, and culminated in her extraordinary wedding dress.

The dress was a gigantic mass of ivory silk taffeta and antique lace, with a 25ft train.

It was deliberately dramatic and launched Diana into a new era of dressing.

The glam Di of the Eighties

Diana in 1994; on her engagement to Prince Charles

Diana embraced the bold, broad cuts of Eighties fashion, much like Joan Collins' Alexis Carrington in TV show Dynasty.

She was often seen in ruched silk, sequins, bows and overly-padded shoulders, and collaborated with classic British designers like Bruce Oldfield and Catherine Walker to give these bright colours and fabrics an overall elegance.

She was bringing glamour back to the royal family, helping put their frumpy image to bed.

Diana knew how to dress down too.

While we remember her as a doting mother and humanitarian, even when she was fulfilling these duties, she managed to do so in style. She was as much at home in a pair of chinos and a simple white blouse as she was in crushed velvet and pearls.

Who can forget her walking through the Angolan minefields in a pair of stone-coloured slacks and a crisp white shirt? Her Wetherby school-run Sloane style continues to inspire the cool young things of today, who are embracing normcore and pulling on their mum jeans.

Suited and booted

Changing look: Diana in 1994

Just like Woody Allen's Annie Hall, Diana wasn't scared of masculine tailoring. She was known to dabble with the occasional tuxedo or bow tie - a daring move for someone who was under societal pressure to always look demure and feminine, but one that certainly cemented her position on the fashion map.

She made like musician David Byrne in oversized yuppie-styled suits, and was the first female royal to wear trousers to an evening function, although she did give her outfits a twist with heels and statement jewellery pieces.

Diana never did what was expected of her sartorially.

The 'revenge' dress

Diana at the Serpentine Gallery in 1994

Who wouldn't recognise Diana's revenge dress, the Christina Stambolian-designed take on the LBD? Diana allegedly thought the dress too risque when it was originally designed for her three years prior to the Serpentine Summer Party in 1994, but the night of the party an ITV documentary aired in which Prince Charles appeared to admit his infidelity with Camilla Parker Bowles. Diana decided to seize the moment.

It became her most iconic fashion moment, turning heads in the off-the-shoulder number which she accessorized with a pearl choker, heels and sheer black tights. It was a turning point in Diana's style chronicles, and saw her well and truly shake off the shy Di moniker.

Diana was in her 30s, looking good and feeling confident, thanks in part to the help of designers Jacques Azagury and her dear friend, the late Gianni Versace.

She was maturing into a powerful and stylish independent woman.

Belfast Telegraph


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