Princess Diana, who will eternally be known as ‘the people’s princess’, was a beautiful and elegant woman, who is still recognised globally as a style icon. As Diana went about her royal duties and public engagements, people all over the world watched to admire the latest outfit worn by this glamorous princess. Throughout her sixteen years in the public eye, Diana’s clothes ranged from exquisite evening gowns to short cocktail dresses, always maintaining her beauty and sophistication.
I recently went to ‘The Diana’s Dresses’ exhibition at Bath’s Fashion Museum; an exhibition showcasing ten of Diana’s dresses. I was too young to appreciate the princess’s style when she was alive, so seeing a small sample of her spectacular clothes was a wonderful experience. The dresses were lent to the museum by various collectors and are part of a larger collection which has recently been displayed at Kensington Palace.
Walking around the exhibition, I noticed that Diana’s life seemed to be reflected by the dresses. From a young girl on the edge of adulthood to the most famous woman in the world, Diana’s incredible journey could be seen through her fashion. The first dress in the exhibition was a dotted net dress and shawl, which Diana wore at a family party in 1978. Diana was only seventeen years old at the time and the dress seemed to capture the youth and innocence of a young lady through its simple style and natural blue hue.
As Diana’s life moved on so did her fashion style. After her marriage to Prince Charles, the majority of the dresses were full-length, a suitable style for a royal princess. For example, Diana’s gorgeous black and white asymmetrical evening dress, which she wore to the 1991 film premiere of Hook, is a unique, chic gown. Similarly, the periwinkle blue long silk evening dress, which she wore in 1983 to the ballet Coppelia, is a stunning dress, which would definitely have ensured that she stood out from the crowd.
However, my favourite dress in the exhibition was an ice-blue pleated chiffon dress with exquisite sequin embroidery. This dress was designed by Catherine Walker, the French-born British couturier who supplied many of Diana’s formal evening dresses in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Diana wore the dress on at least five public occasions and it is now owned by collector, Suzanne King.
The exhibition showed a noticeable change in Diana’s style after she divorced Prince Charles in 1996. The final dress in the exhibition was a short black cocktail dress. As Diana no longer had to adhere to the royal dress code, she was free to dress as she wished and this short, figure-hugging dress signalled an independent woman who was happy to show off her slender figure.
Now the nation’s eyes are on Prince William’s bride-to-be, Kate Middleton. Magazines regularly feature Kate on their fashion pages and there has been much speculation over the style of her wedding dress, making Kate the new royal fashionista. Kate seems to ooze the same regal beauty and sophisticated style as Princess Diana but, instead of comparing the two women, we should recognise Kate in her own right and await to see what effect she will have on the world of fashion.