The bitter story behind Princess Diana’s ‘revenge dress’ and what The Crown got right

Diana’s so-called revenge dress is iconic for a reason: the same night Charles’ documentary – in which he would finally admit being unfaithful to his wife – was due to be released, Diana stepped out in her sexiest dress. The headlines, if nothing else, would still be hers. Yahoo UK’s executive royal editor – Omid Scobie – explores how this unforgettable moment was depicted in the newly released season five of The Crown. He explains why Diana wasn’t even meant to be wearing the Christina Stambolian design that night, and how the look could easily have never ended up in the history books – or on Netflix. Scobie breaks down everything about Diana’s moment of triumph, from the pressures on Elizabeth Debicki to pull the look off on-screen, to why this was the most strategic fashion choice of modern times.

Video transcript

- It was 1994, the eve of the release of Charles's prime time interview on ITV, where he was finally going to admit to adultery during his marriage to Diana. Not to be outdone, the Princess also had a statement of her own to make. That evening, Diana was due to attend a party at London's Serpentine Gallery. However, it wasn't her decision to appear publicly in the immediate wake of Charles's revelations that raised eyebrows, but instead what she wore to the event.

You see, Diana had originally been set to wear Valentino that evening until the design house put out a premature press release. Diana was reportedly incensed by this, and quickly opted to wear something else in her wardrobe, her sexiest dress. Christina Stambolian, who designed the dress for Diana three years earlier, said that at the time she thought the dress was too daring.

However, Diana acted against those fears this evening, choosing to wear that iconic black dress. When she stepped out of the car that evening, the world collectively gasped. The dress featured a plunging sweetheart neckline, a flowing black trail, and this was paired with black tights, silk high heels, a bold choker necklace. It was fashionable, it was sexy, and eye-catching. And as a former stylist, Anna Harvey, put it, she wanted to look like $1,000,000. And she did.

The dress got its name due to the timing of its appearance. Hot on the heels of Charles's admissions, it was aptly named "the revenge dress." Fans of the crown were treated to this iconic moment in season 5 with actress Elizabeth Debicki donning the famous black dress.

Thankfully, "The Crown's" Emmy-winning costume designer, Amy Roberts, was granted permission by Stan Bowlen to recreate the dress and the iconic moment in full. Debicki has since spoken of the pressure of wearing this dress, which was considered incredibly risque not only for the time, but even more so for a Royal.

That gowns daring nature catapulted photos of Diana onto all the front pages. Cheeky headlines such as "The Thriller He Left to Woo Camilla," filled the tabloids as the country digested the beauty of Diana and the infidelity of Prince Charles. "Vanity Fair" saw this as a significant public win for the Princess, stating, "For Diana, it was a moment of triumph. And for Charles, it was a crushing defeat."

The dress' impact was undeniable, with author Georgina Howell declaring it years later as possibly the most strategic dress ever worn by a woman in modern times. It's safe to say that despite "The Crown" airing almost 30 years later, that dress remains a truly iconic moment, fixed in time. In fact, Debicki revealed that one of the most commonly asked questions she had before the show was are you going to wear it?