If there’s one person who never seems to fade from our fashion lookbooks, it’s Princess Diana. In the two decades since her death, she’s become known as one of the best dressed women in history. A style icon, if you will.
There are countless style guides dedicated to her look, various documentaries and now, Diana even has an exhibition charting her style – ‘Diana: Her Fashion Story’, at Kensington Palace.
But do we emulate Diana’s style because it’s fashionable, or because we liked what it said about her as a person? This is not to say that she wasn’t well dressed, because any self-respecting influencer would definitely agree that her looks were well worth the attention. But the best thing about Diana was how she didn’t dress the way she did for attention or to capture the media’s eye, but rather for something far more closer to home: to help and comfort people.
Diana didn’t regularly wear gloves, because she liked holding peoples’ hands. She would sometimes wear chunky jewellery, not just because it was in fashion but also because her children liked to play with it. Most famously, she never wore a hat when visiting children’s hospitals because she said that she “couldn’t cuddle a child in a hat.” Diana’s fashion choices were made not just for her, but for the comfort of those around her. Perhaps, in this day and age when so much is in turmoil, her fashion sense remains to compensate for what seems to be lacking in everyone around us.
Her outfits weren’t always mild and comforting, and ‘Shy Di’, as the press liked to call her, most definitely had her fair share of inspirational and daring outfits. After a while in the eyes of the press, Diana evolved from feather-haired Sloane Ranger fiancée of Prince Charles in pie-crust blouses and pastel ruffles to sleek and regal woman with confident stride in embellished gowns and bodycon velvet.
Her confidence grew as the years went by, and she developed a glamorous, regal style for overseas trips that paid homage to the host nation. During a trip to Saudi Arabia, she wore a dress emblazoned with gold falcons – the emblem of the country.
When she wasn’t abroad, Diana’s style often differed from that of a ‘typical’ princess. She was the first female member of royal family to be photographed wearing trousers to evening events. Often, she teamed them with tuxedo jackets and bowties – a look not expected from a princess. This confidence – teamed with her ability to innately choose pieces that suited her, rather than what seemed to be ‘in’ at that moment – earned her worldwide approval.
When she married, Diana was required to wear and support British designers. We don’t tend to see her favourite choices around anymore – David and Elizabeth Emanuel (who made her wedding dress), Bruce Oldfield, Arabella Pollen and David Sassoon. But other designers, like Catherine Walker, are still seen sometimes on the Duchess of Cambridge.
The majority of Diana’s clothes reflected her personality – kind and caring. But on some occasions, Diana’s traits could be seen even more so through her outfits. While most of the time her looks conveyed approachability and warmth, sometimes it was clear the princess wanted to suggest the complete opposite.
Take the Revenge Dress, for example. She wore it to the Serpentine Summer Party which happened to fall on the same night a TV documentary revealed Prince Charles’ affair. The week following the Diana documentary, which showed this revenge dress, the royal LBD once again saw a spike. Fashion sourcing website Lyst found that little black dress sales increased by 61%, despite white being the most popular dress colour the week before.
The new, daring Diana continued this pattern after separation from her husband and royal duties, and adopted a more global approach, donning Versace, Christian Lacroix, Chanel and Dior. It was here when we really saw Diana’s fashion come into its own. Her experimental and cutting edge approach to fashion continued until the fatal accident.
It was obvious that the princess’s style would grow in popularity after her death, because of the level of popularity she’d held across British and global media. But what might not have been so obvious is that way that, even now, designers still continue to emulate her looks.
“She is stepping into that same sort of space as an Audrey Hepburn or Jackie Kennedy,” Curator Eleri Lynn told Vanity Fair, “a fashion icon whose style is so emulated and so loved, really.”
“It is very surprising how little footage there exists of the Princess actually speaking. We all have a sense of what we think she was like,” she continued, “and yet so much of it comes from still photographs, and a large part of that [idea] is communicated through the different clothes that she wore.”
In the same way that we’ve seen Hepburn and Kennedy’s style choices replicated on the runway, Diana has worked as inspiration for a number of brands. In 2016, ASOS released a Princess Di-inspired collection by Sharmadean Reid, head of Wah Nails. The 20-piece collection included sweaters, jewellery, denim and shoes – all based on Di’s late 80s style. Had this been styled on many other celebrities, the pieces would probably fade into the backs of wardrobes as a spontaneous purchase, but the black dress with pearl straps and the ‘Princess’ bracelet worked as the perfect millennial tribute.
And this wasn’t the only collection to bring some Princess Diana back into our lives through our fashion choices. Her 80s and 90s themes of flashy lame and ornate embellishments have stayed as firm trends throughout the years, and brands across the board have followed suit.
In September of the same year, Vogue credited Diana with being the muse of the SS17 shows. We saw Tome’s ruffles at NYFW first, before designers Ryan Roche and Brandon Maxwell also credited Di as inspirations for their collections.
A year later, and Diana’s style is still present. Just recently, Off-White designer Virgil Abloh revealed the inspiration behind his SS18 collection, which will be seen hitting the runway during Paris Fashion Week later this month. The invite for his show features an image of Princess Diana sitting on the diving board of a yacht owned by Mohamed Al Fayed – her lover Dodi’s father – overlaid with the phrase ‘Natural Woman’. It was captioned ’40 looks c/o the muse Diana, Princess of Wales’.
Earlier this summer, he posted a concept board, covered in images of the late Princess each of which was divided into themes. There was ‘Countryside Girl’, ‘Young Diana’, ‘Jogging’ and ‘Being a Princess’.
While we could just think it was a coincidence that Diana-themed cuts and styles are still in fashion, Lyst has seen a direct correlation between the princess’s choices and what the people want to wear. Yasmine Bachir, of Lyst, said: “We’ve always seen the royal effect – with Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle being top fashion influencers, affecting buying behaviour. But since the Princess Diana exhibition earlier this year, we discovered that the royal effect is still present, even after death.”
After the documentary aired, searches for Diana’s outfits soared. A leopard print swimsuit worn by Diana proved to be a huge inspo hit, with searches increasing by 39% compared to the previous week. At its most popular point, 318 customers were searching for ‘leopard print swimsuit’ every hour. ‘Shoulder pad blazer’ searches increased by 47%. The most popular colour being clicked on was black.
And now? The 20 year anniversary of the Princess’s death is sure to encourage designers to replicate her styles once more. As London Fashion Week draws closer, are we likely to see more Di-inspired looks, or will designers stick with the trends they’re expecting? We expect trends to come in and out of fashion – just look at how flares went from being ‘the look’ in the 1970s, were swiftly replaced with only the skinniest of bottoms, only for them to complete the full circle in 2016.
Diana’s style is similar, except instead of leaving, it’s stayed with us the whole time.
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